By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog
Since 2001, when Toledo became one of the first Midwestern cities to install red light cameras, we’ve been told it was all about safety. Any revenue associated with making dangerous intersections safer was an unintended bonus.
“We are not looking at this as a revenue-producing thing, but as a traffic crash-reduction program,” said Toledo Police Lt. Louis Borucki.
In 2002, TPD Chief Mike Navarre told the Toledo Blade “It’s never about money. It’s about reducing accidents.”
In 2003, Toledo considered adding speed cameras. Apparently afraid of getting a ticket for running a red light, motorists were speeding up to get through an intersection. Who would have expected that?
In 2004, the city added more cameras, including speed cameras, bringing the total to 21.
“This is for personal safety. It’s not for balancing the general fund,” Tom Crothers, the city’s acting finance director, told the Blade.
But the financial impact was significant. In 2004, Toledo’s 25 percent take of the ticket amount was $279,700. Redflex, the company that won the contract for the cameras, got the rest.
In 2007, as the city considered an increase in the red light camera fines, safety was, again, the focus:
The additional revenue would make a major dent in the potential $10 million deficit next year, but the chief said that was not the intent.
“The job of the police department is to do enforcement and reduce accidents,” Navarre said. “If we increase revenue while we do that, that is a fortunate byproduct. It is certainly not our objective.”
In 2008, the Toledo council voted to increase the fine – from $95 to $120 – and negotiated 55 percent of the take. The city projected revenue from the cameras would increase from $606,025 collected in 2007 to $2.5 million.
But a funny thing happened. As more people became aware of the cameras and either adjusted their driving or avoided the targeted intersections, revenue fell below projections.
In discussing the shortfall in 2009, Navarre continued the safety theme, saying “money is absolutely not the reason for the cameras.”
As a group was gathering signatures to place a red light camera ban on the ballot, Navarre again said, “The fact that revenue is generated is a fortunate by-product.”
Clearly, the revenue was important, more so as the city expanded the number and type of cameras it used.
If we are to take the politicians, law enforcement personnel and advocates at their word — that it’s all about safety — where are the studies showing why the intersections so unsafe? What is it about certain intersections that make right-angle crashes more prevalent?
Barnet Fagel, a traffic researcher and a highway safety advocate with motorist advocacy group the National Motorists Association, said:
“There’s no need for cameras if intersections are safe,” explains Fagel. “Cameras document traffic engineering errors. They don’t prevent collisions, they only record them.”
And, “If an intersection is properly engineered you don’t need cameras. I feel as long as intersections are inherently unsafe they will be profitable for the camera company and the village.”
When trying to determine problems at an intersection, the National Traffic Safety Board recommends conducting studies of intersections and approaches to determine why red-light accidents happen. They identify several countermeasures to consider, including increasing yellow light times, having red lights in all directions before any light turns green and creating designated turn lanes.
The Federal Highway Administration on its intersection safety web page says:
Research shows that yellow interval duration is a significant factor affecting the frequency of red-light running and that increasing yellow time to meet the needs of traffic can dramatically reduce red-light running.
The FHA links to this report, which estimates results if a specific countermeasure or group of countermeasures is implemented. A crash reduction factor is the “percentage crash reduction that might be expected after implementing a given countermeasure.”
Red light cameras have a CRF of 16 for right-angle fatal/injury crashes and a CRF of 25 for all injuries from right-angle crashes. But their impact on rear-end crashes has a CRF ranging from minus 15 to minus 57, meaning they actually increase the chance of crashing.
The CRF for all types of crashes and all types of injuries using the red light cameras is minus 12.
Adding an all-red clearance interval has a CRF of 30 for right-angle crashes, which makes it more effective than a red-light camera.
Other measures listed with higher reduction factors than cameras are:
- Improving signal timing — CRF of 30 for right-angle fatal/injury crashes
- Increasing yellow change interval — CRF of 30 for right-angle fatal/injury crashes
- Provide protected left-turn phase — CRF of 80 for right-angle crashes and 30 for all types of crashes
- Converting intersections to roundabouts — CRF of 78 for fatal/injury crashes at signaled intersections.
All would be better at improving intersection safety than installing a red light camera — if safety is really the issue.
In 2012 when Toledo added 11 more cameras, officials admitted that revenue was the only reason.
Finance Director Patrick McLean said the city selected the new intersections with the help of the Arizona-based company American Traffic Solutions.
The firm used a computer program to analyze traffic volumes and patterns across Toledo to determine intersections where red light violations are most likely to occur, he said.
Despite clear advice from experts in traffic safety, Toledo has never conducted a traffic engineering study of the numerous intersections they say are so dangerous. In this latest vote, they placed the cameras at intersections were violations were “likely.”
Why did they want the extra cameras? To raise $320,000 to fund the city’s recreation department.
Apparently it is just about the money.