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Traffic Camera Numbers Disputed

By T.J. Wilham
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    Albuquerque's controversial red-light camera program dodged a bullet during the last legislative session.
    It might not be that lucky again, after numbers provided to a state agency cast doubt on safety claims by Albuquerque police.
    APD has claimed a 30 percent to 40 percent decrease in crashes at red-light camera intersections in 2006.

    But according to data obtained from APD by the state Public Regulation Commission, accidents near some of these intersections have actually increased.
    APD spokesman John Walsh conceded Monday that he didn't know whether crashes decreased at red-light camera intersections in 2006 and said his department is conducting an analysis to answer that question.
    He said the percentages quoted on the department's Web site and at numerous news conferences were based on an estimate of how many crashes would occur in the final three months of 2006 at two of the city's 20 red-light camera intersections.
    "The information was incomplete," he said. "It was strictly an estimate."
    Walsh said that, although the city provided the data for all 20 intersections to the PRC, the commission's numbers are "raw" and misleading— and include crashes within 1,500 feet of the intersection, and some on private property, such as parking lots and gas stations.
    The data used to make APD's estimates were also "raw," he said, but at a "different level" than what the PRC was given. APD's analysis includes wrecks "closer to" the intersection, he said.
    Walsh said APD did a "partial" analysis in August comparing 2005 to an estimate for 2006. Those numbers excluded any crashes that APD felt were not close to the intersection but included some crashes on private property.
Crash estimates
    On Monday, APD released the data supporting its analysis to the Journal.
    It estimated that crashes at San Mateo and Montgomery would go down by 25 percent and crashes at Eubank and Montgomery would decrease by 30 percent.
    APD has not been able to provide any data to support a 40 percent decrease at these intersections, let alone all camera intersections.
    "At the time, it looked promising," Walsh said. "We took a snapshot at a moment in time, and we are trying to update that at this time."
    The PRC requested the data about two months ago, after County Commissioner Michael Brasher asked the state agency to look into forcing insurance companies to lower premiums.
    Brasher had heard APD's claims that collisions were going down.
    According to the data obtained by the PRC, from 2005 to 2006 the intersection at Juan Tabo and Lomas had a 22 percent increase in collisions.
    At Paseo del Norte and Coors, crashes were up 11 percent; at Eubank and Montgomery, 8 percent.
    On the other hand, wrecks at San Mateo and Montgomery were down 21 percent.
    The four intersections had cameras installed before February 2006.
    Superintendent of Insurance Morris J. Chavez said the PRC will analyze the data to see if crashes had decreased. If so, he said, the PRC would pursue lowering insurance premiums.
    As for APD's percentages as quoted on its Web site, Chavez said, "I have no idea where they are getting their data from."
Analysis on OT
    Several months ago, APD started with a thorough analysis, Walsh said. In fact, last weekend, Albuquerque police employees were called in to work overtime, looking at every single crash reported at the intersections.
    The analysis will examine the causes of each crash to determine whether it was related to red-light running. Other factors such as weather, driver inattention and construction, are included in prior analysis.
    Mayor Martin Chávez said Monday he didn't believe APD has done anything wrong by posting percentages on its Web site.
    He said those numbers are very preliminary and acknowledged they could change to indicate crashes had increased.
    Nothing on the Web site labels the statistics as preliminary.
    He said APD was pressured to supply those numbers after it received numerous requests from the news media and his office.
    He said the data given to the PRC is not good enough to make "any policy decisions over."
    Mayor Chávez said APD is in the process of analyzing every crash at the intersections to get "meaningful data."
    "There are two things we absolutely know for a fact— that citations are down and fewer people are running red lights. That is indisputable," he said.
    "Everyone needs to take a deep breath. We need time to get meaningful data."
    The red-light camera program has been controversial because of the amount of the fines— $100 for first offense and up to $500 for third and subsequent— and because it's an administrative process run by the city instead of the courts.
    Legislators teed off on it this year, but the only measure signed into law required the city to add rumble strips and warning lights.
    The city fought to keep the program, relying heavily on the reduction in crashes.
    The city also promised to reduce fines.