Northwood has convinced me its red-light cameras are more about safety than revenue. That wasn’t always the case.
Oh, there’s revenue. Most goes to Redflex, the company that supplies the cameras. I estimate more than $2 million in five years was diverted from our local economy and sent to Arizona.
Consider, however, most of those fines were incurred in the first two years. Consult the chart above and you’ll see that in the last three years motorists have slowed down and accidents have decreased, nine percent at Woodville and Lemoyne and 47.6 percent at Oregon and Wales, according to Northwood police.
Police Chief Tim Cairl said that between 2003 and 2005, when photo enforcement started, the Oregon-Wales intersection experienced 27.7 accidents annually. But, after the city spent $55,642 of red-light camera revenue to install a continuous right turn lane from Wales onto Oregon, accidents declined to an average of 14.5 over the two year period of 2007 and 2008. There have only been 6 accidents in 2009, but Chief Cairl attributes that to the closing of the northbound access ramp to I-75.
Northwood officials have said all along the cameras were about safety, not revenue. To this end, former Police Chief Gerald Herman made three significant changes at both intersections. First, he installed a flashing-speed-awareness sign on Woodville Road at Lemoyne. East bound motorists are flashed their speed as they descend the I-280 overpass and approach the light. In the month prior to its installation, the city issued 216 speeding and 53 red light citations. In the first month after installation, the city issued only 63 speeding and 27 red light citations. That’s 179 less citations in one month.
Second, he moved the No-Right-Turn-On-Red sign at Woodville and Lemoyne to ground level in response to citizen complaints that a cable was blocking its view.
Third, the trip point for the cameras was reset. While Chief Cairl wouldn’t disclose it, I think you would be safe to keep in mind the old police saying, “Nine is fine, ten you’re mine.”
These changes have helped road safety, but the most welcome change is one in state law. That change increased the duration of the yellow light in most instances by one second. In any given line of traffic there will inevitably be those motorists caught in no-man’s land--that point where the better decision is to increase your speed through the yellow light versus braking and risking a rear-end collision. Other cities have recognized this. One of them, San Diego, increased the duration at six intersections. At one, the duration increased from 3.1 to 4.7 seconds. Violations dropped by 88 percent. The other five intersections also showed dramatic reductions, from 55 to 30 percent.
Ohio’s law took effect January 2.
“If it was all about the money we wouldn’t have put those up there. We do it for safety,” Chief Cairl said. “The cameras have done some good for the city. The biggest thing for us was slowing people down. Speed is the number one contributor to accidents. If you slow them down, the accidents will be a lot less and the severity of accidents will drastically go down.”
One more change should be considered. A few intersections in the Toledo area have crosswalk countdown lights. The lights countdown the seconds until the light turns yellow, helping motorists determine if they have enough time to make the light, or if they should brake to make a safe stop.
The city’s share of camera and speed van revenue, $603,822, has funded a number of safety projects including the flashing speed-awareness sign, the continuous right turn lane, school crossing lights at Lark and a salt building. About $79,000 also has been earmarked to fund one police officer scheduled to be laid off for 2010, Chief Cairl said.
City council is currently negotiating a new contract with Reflex for the cameras. The two sides had reached an impasse, but a 4-3 council vote restarted the process. There are legitimate concerns besides the philosophical one about Big Brother casting its ever-present eye on its subject. Four cities in California were cited for decreasing the yellow light in an effort to boost citations and in San Diego a ticket can cost as much as $436. In Northwood, it’s $110. Where do you draw the line between issuing a citation to correct behavior and plunging a working stiff into a debt spiral? And, sure as rain falls on those cameras, if the number of violators continues to decrease at the rate it has, the price for those tickets will go up.
Citizens, as well as council, should be vigilant to assure these abuses don’t occur here. However, the city has demonstrated it is more concerned with safety than revenue and it should renew the contract.