Saturday, December 12, 2009
Red-Light Cameras Face New Review
By Jeff Proctor
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque officials want a fresh set of eyes to look at the city's controversial red-light camera program.
So Mayor Richard Berry has enlisted the University of New Mexico's Institute for Social Research to study whether Albuquerque's streets have become safer in the five-plus years since cameras began snapping pictures of speeders and red-light runners.
The city's contract with RedFlex, the Arizona-based company that administers the camera program, expires Monday. RedFlex has granted a four-month extension to the city, city Public Safety Director Darren White said at a news conference Friday.
Camera ticket revenue will pay for the study, White said, although it was not clear Friday how much it will cost.
Researchers will determine whether driving habits have changed citywide — not just at the 20 intersections with cameras — as a result of the program, he said.
White said police will provide researchers with any additional information they need to conduct a comprehensive study, including citywide crash data and tickets written by officers at noncamera intersections.
The study also will look into whether the length of caution lights at camera intersections has been shortened in order to catch more red-light runners and, in turn, generate more revenue for the city, White said.
"There are a lot of myths, and there has been much skepticism about the camera program," he said. "When there are questions like (altering yellow light times), it goes right to the heart of the program."
City Council president Ken Sanchez said he was pleased to see that RedFlex had granted the city a contract extension.
"We knew we were going to have to have a study to justify it," Sanchez said. "I suspect we may see that fender benders have increased in the (camera) intersections but major crashes are down. The way I see it, as long as the program is saving lives, then it's beneficial."
The study's results will play a "major role" in the Berry administration's decision on whether to keep the cameras, White said. If the cameras stay, officials plan to look at whether the program provides enough due process for those who get tickets, whether RedFlex is the right company for the job and whether the city is getting its money's worth.
White pointed out the camera at Eubank and Montgomery, which averages a little more then one ticket a day.
"That camera doesn't even pay for itself," he said. "So there could absolutely be some changes to the program."
The city launched the program in October 2004 at two Northeast Heights intersections. Initially, it was designed to catch drivers who run red lights.
The program has since expanded to 20 intersections, and most cameras also are catching speeders. The city has added three camera-equipped vans to catch speeders as well.
For months APD had claimed a 30 percent to 40 percent decrease in crashes at red-light camera intersections during 2006. But according to data obtained from APD by the state Public Regulation Commission, accidents near some of those intersections increased.
As a result, an APD spokesman in 2007 conceded that he didn't know whether crashes decreased at red-light camera intersections in 2006.
That's why White said an independent study is the way to go.