Accident numbers at city intersections before and after red-light cameras went dark — numbers meant to help guide upcoming debates on whether to reactivate the red-light camera program — are largely inconclusive, an early draft shows.
Police Chief Melanie Bevan cautioned that the report, received Thursday by the Bradenton Herald, is just a draft. The report took into consideration only a three-month span from the time the city terminated its contract with Colorado-based Xerox in August to November 2016. The report then compares that same three-month time period to when the camera program, consisting of seven cameras, was fully activated in August 2009.
The report shows a decline in red-light accidents after the cameras went dark. In the three months following the deactivation of the program, five red-light related accidents were recorded compared to nine the two previous years, and 10 in 2012 and 2013. The most accidents, 17, were recorded in 2010 within the three-month sampling period.
When the city council deactivated the program, council members argued that Xerox had too much control of where the cameras were located and said some of the intersections chosen were based on revenue and not safety. However, the contract with Xerox states that the city did have control.
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According to the original contract, the city and Xerox worked together to study selected intersections, and that both sides had to “mutually agree” on the intersections prior to camera installation. The report states that the “designated sites was actually a team effort between the city and (the contractor) with most of the decision being made by the city.”
Bevan reports that accidents in Bradenton are on the rise, but “a very small percentage have been due to vehicles failing to stop at steady red light signals, which are at their lowest numbers since 2007.”
Safety vs. revenue, the debate continues
Bevan remained neutral during the August city council vote to temporarily deactivate the program. The chief cited contradictory data across the nation that both defends and argues against the effectiveness of red-light cameras.
Councilman Bemis Smith has been the lone official in favor of permanently removing the program. He does not believe the cameras are an effective safety tool. He reiterated his argument at Wednesday’s first red-light discussion and said again Thursday, “I’m where I’ve always been on this.”
Smith said the BPD report only solidified his position in that it doesn’t show enough information to prove cameras are a safety benefit.
“For me, I want to save lives as much anybody,” Smith said. “I would have loved to see, hey, here is more proof, but that’s just not happening. If I could see data that we are saving lives, then I’d be all for it.”
Smith said he will argue to look into other forms of technology, including a sensor that detects a red light runner and holds the opposite red light for an additional second.
“About 70 percent of the infractions occur within a second,” Smith said. “The technology available is very doable and to me, that would do more to prevent accidents. Cameras only catch someone breaking the law but doesn’t stop anyone from hitting you.”
Though Bevan has called data associated with red-light cameras “convoluted,” she did note in August that the more dangerous T-bone, or angled, type accidents decreased overall by 7 percent while minor rear-end collisions increased.
Melissa Wandall, president of the National Coalition for Safer Roads, and whose husband, Mark, was killed about 14 years ago by a red light runner, said that is a significant standalone number.
“It’s a number that is important to remember, Wandall said. “Even if these cameras are reducing the more dangerous angled crashes by 7 percent, they are saving lives because the driver running the red light is going at a much higher rate of speed in those types of crashes. They are deadly crashes and are exactly what we are trying to cut down on and the main reason why the cameras were implemented in the first place.”
Wandall said all crashes are up 33 percent across Florida because there are more drivers on the road than ever before. She said data collected over the past few years are already out of date. She also pointed out that red-light cameras aren’t always about motorists.
“Bradenton is investing in a walkable community,” Wandall said. “Alert Today Florida, which is run by the Department of Transportation, is working with the city to make it more walkable. Why would you not get a company out there and get the cameras reinstalled? Let’s do everything we can do to protect the most vulnerable road users, which are pedestrians and bicyclists. If you ask most Florida communities why they are installing cameras, they would tell you it’s not just about the motorists.”
Revenue fact and fiction
Public opinion on red-light cameras is divided, but the fact that red-light tickets create vast revenue is true. However, who gets the money is often misconstrued in social media arguments for or against the camera program.
The vast majority of money goes to the state of Florida. In Bradenton’s case, Xerox was contracted to receive $4,637 a month, which was paid regardless of how many citations were issued by BPD.
Since 2010, when the camera program was fully active, $5.5 million was paid through violations at Bradenton’s red-light intersections. The state claimed $2.8 million of that revenue and the city collected $269,187 over the six-year period.
The red-light debate continues to rage across the state. Last year, the Tampa area ended its red-light program while other cities like Orlando increased the number of cameras. Manatee County, as well, continues its red-light camera program and recently added its 10th camera.