It may not be the level of fireworks one sees on New Year’s Eve, but 2018 may indeed feature a fiery start for Bradenton’s first workshop of the new year, with red-light cameras topping the agenda.
Vice Mayor Gene Brown wanted to resume the debate on whether to return red-light cameras to specific intersections as soon as possible in 2018. He’ll get his wish as officials resume the conversation at the city’s first workshop of 2018 at 9 a.m. Wednesday at city hall.
The conversation died down late last year until Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan could present crash statistics at the city’s intersections to determine which are considered to be the most dangerous in relation to data. Bevan, who has remained neutral about the red-light camera program, will present her findings Wednesday morning.
The city terminated its red-light camera contract with its previous vendor in August 2016 after officials expressed displeasure over the locations chosen. The council voted to let the cameras go dark and they were subsequently removed.
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Brown has been a staunch supporter of the cameras, while Ward 4 Councilman Bemis Smith has long opposed them, saying the cameras penalize everyday working citizens. Smith said more than 80 percent of the violations are less than a second and people shouldn’t be financially burdened for something that happens in a fraction of a second.
Brown argues that if the program saves one life, then it’s worth it, but Smith said there is no evidence that argument is true.
Brown said in December, “I’ve also always argued that if you break the law, shouldn’t there be a punishment? Whether it’s a millisecond or 3 seconds, if you hit someone and injure or kill them, they are still injured or dead.”
Smith counters with, “We had these cameras for a long time and I never saw a significant improvement in accidents or a reduction in death, which there haven’t been a lot. I’m just going to take the position that these cameras can hurt people, too. One can argue they save lives, but there is no definitive evidence in Bradenton that that’s true.”
The remaining council members, including Gene Gallo, Patrick Roff and Harold Byrd Jr., said after the 2016 vote that they supported the cameras, but did not support the vendor. Roff and Gallo expressed frustration that the intersections were chosen to make money, not prevent accidents. Since then, new technology is advancing with sensors that can delay the opposing light for up to 2 seconds if it senses a red-light runner in the intersection.
That technology has garnered plenty of support on the council, but whether it will accompany red-light cameras as well remains to be seen.
The reason the debate went quiet for 18 months has largely been due to the uncertainty in the Florida Legislature, which has attempted to ban the cameras since their inception in 2010 under the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act. Wandall, a Manatee County resident, was killed by a red-light runner and his wife, Melissa, championed the bill in her husband’s name. She has fought attempts to ban the cameras every year since.
Melissa Wandall is now the president of the National Coalition for Safer Roads among other safety-related organizations, including those that address pedestrian and bicycle safety issues.
“We are not protecting our own citizens by not affording law enforcement to utilize a tool that simply acts as a safety net,” Wandall said last month in anticipation the city would renew the debate this month.
Though Manatee County briefly debated doing the same, 10 county intersections currently have active red-light cameras.