Red Light Cameras in Bellingham

red lightThe news in town is that the City of Bellingham just voted unanimously to install Red Light Cameras.  Well, actually it looks like in a work session on the police budget, they voted unanimously to “include revenues and expenditures from the cameras in the 2011 budget” but one would assume that in order to derive revenue from cameras that they must first install them.

I also just read in The News Tribune that the “The council’s No. 1 goal is public safety” in this matter and in a  King5.com article Bellingham City Councilman Michael Lilliquist is quoted in a  as saying “We are doing this for safety reasons only,”

Hmmm.  It is important not to miss the part about  the decision being made during a budget meeting in spite of  the city’s insistence that this is a safety concern.    The fact that it was decided in a budget meeting though,  goes hand in hand it seems with the goal of American Traffic Solutions who is apparently the camera supplier.  Here’s a glimpse at their mission statement,

Our mission is to deliver the most effective technology and services that reduce operating costs or generate revenue to pay for its use.

Had the goal of public safety been a prime concern to the City of Bellingham, I would have expected to read of all the safety improvements that were needed at these intersections.  Instead I’m reading far too much about generating revenue.

I won’t say that intersections with Red Light Cameras won’t be more safe.  I’m sure there will be a reduction in traffic through those intersections by drivers who will find alternate routes rather than risk a ticket.   Who knows what things will be like on the now more trafficked alternate routes?  Will there be a net improvement in public safety?  Are Red Light Cameras really the best way to improve intersection safety?

In a brief on Intersection Safety Issues the Federal Highway Administration provided this summary of Engineering Countermeasures to Reduce Red-Light Running.

Improve Signal Visibility/ Conspicuity Increase the Likelihood for Stopping
  • Signal for Each Approach
    Through Lane
  • Install Backplates
  • Modify Placement of Signal
    Heads
  • Increase Size of Signal Displays
  • Install Programmable Signal/
    Visors or Louvers
  • Install LED Signal Lenses
  • Install Signal Ahead Signs
  • Install Transverse Rumble
    Strips
  • Install Activated Advance
    Warning Flashers
  • Improve Pavement Surface
    Condition
Remove Reasons for Intentional Violations Eliminate the Need to Stop
  • Adjust Yellow Change
    Interval
  • Provide or Adjust All-Red
    Clearance Interval
  • Adjust Signal Cycle Length
  • Provide Dilemma Zone
    Protection
  • Coordinate Signal
    Operation
  • Remove Unwarranted
    Signals
  • Construct a Roundabout

Now, I don’t know if all or even any of the above listed items are in place on the target intersections, but I can see that Red Light Cameras are not on the immediate list of things the Federal Highway Administration recommends to improve safety at intersections.   If safety is truly  the prime concern then it would seem obvious that many of the recommended measures would have been tried by now and a move to red light cameras is a last ditch effort.  Oh, or is it that the city can’t fund the actual needed improvements and revenue from the cameras will be used to fund recognized safety improvements?  Well no, remember the money goes into the police budget and not into the public works budget.  If these improvements are recognized ways to improve public safety and Red Light Camera are not on the list, then why the cameras?  Well we’ve already answered that question.  The camera’s are not about safety, they are about money.

I’ve had friends mention the “fact” that intersections will become more safe as the few worst violators  lose their licenses or have their insurance rates driven up so high they can’t afford to drive.  And I put the little quoty things around “fact” because referring to something as a fact, is usually restricted to things that are true. which in this case it is not.   State law tells us how Red LIght Camera tickets are to be handled.

(2) Infractions detected through the use of automated traffic safety cameras are not part of the registered owner’s driving record under RCW 46.52.101 and 46.52.120. Additionally, infractions generated by the use of automated traffic safety cameras under this section shall be processed in the same manner as parking infractions, including for the purposes of RCW 3.50.100, 35.20.220, 46.16.216, and 46.20.270(3). However, the amount of the fine issued for an infraction generated through the use of an automated traffic safety camera shall not exceed the amount of a fine issued for other parking infractions within the jurisdiction.

A police officer actually on site writing a ticket for a red light runner put’s that ticket on their driving record eventually leading to them losing their driving privileges, while an automated camera ticket is merely a glorified parking ticket aimed at bringing in revenue?   And they’ve even stretched the envelope for the amount of a down town parking ticket.  It won’t be 10 bucks as per usual, they plan on charging $124+ because the courts have allowed them to get away with it.

So what I see overall is that safety is just being used as an excuse to bring in more revenue for the city.   I wish someone at the City of Bellingham had the spheres to just say this is all about money.   While we are waiting for that to never happen I’m  reminded of an Irish saying,

Tax his tractor, tax his mule; tell him, taxing is the rule.
Tax his oil, tax his gas, tax his notes, tax his cash
Tax him good and let him know, that after taxes, he has no dough.
If he hollers, tax him more; tax him till he’s good and sore.
Tax his coffin, tax his grave, tax his sod in which he’s laid.
Put these words upon his tomb, “Taxes drove him to his doom.”
Once he’s gone, we won’t relax. We’ll still collect inheritance tax.

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