Red Light Cameras in Pittsburgh: Good, Bad, Ugly?
Aggressive drivers will hate this, regular people may be annoyed by this, Pededstrians may like it, what do you think?
Will it reduce the occurrence of the Pittsburgh left or make people even more ready to mash the gas to make that left turn once the light changes?
Two days ago, I saw a car fly through an intersection at full speed, a full 10 seconds AFTER his light turned red.
Those are the kind of situations where I really wish for red light cameras.
The only negative I can see to having them is that some cities shorten the yellow to produce more tickets. I’m not ok with that.
In this article it says that Vancouver, Canada only cites 25% of drivers with their system, to make it appear like less of a money grab. I think that’s sensible, so long as it still acts as a deterrent to drivers.
Actually, it is that cameras are only active 25% of the time, not picking and choosing 25% of the violations.
I used to live in New Orleans, which has red light cameras all over the place. It was terribly annoying, because you’d get these $100 fines in the mail for running red lights, not stopping before making a right on red, going 20 mph in a school zone, etc.
That said, driving around Pittsburgh I think it could actually do good, pesky fines aside.
For instance, thanks to the cameras, I am conditioned to drive 15 mph in a school zone during school zone hours, and here in Pittsburgh I get honked at, tailed, and passed by other cars. (what?!) Further, it seems running red lights after they’ve turned is a bad habit of Pgh drivers – lots of times I have to go through the red light because the car behind me wont let me stop.
I triggered one of these in Chicago, because I didn’t want to slam on the breaks on a very slick winter road. Never got a ticket. So, there are times when the system is triggered & no ticket is issued after human review.
Still though, shortened yellows are the problem in my mind….they only lead to rear-end collisions with inattentive or out-of-town drivers.
This is an exercise in governmental transparency and willingness to listen to the general populace. I think they’d be better accepted if:
1) They did not farm out the work to a third party.
2) Made very clear that lights so equipped are guaranteed N seconds of yellow and X amount of time before the camera goes off.
3) That lights which are hung roughly even with the stop line are handled differently from those which hang 100 feet into the intersection.
4) That whatever rules are adopted are based on objective guidelines and the real experiences of some specific city.
5) That they actually listen to the concerns of the populace and make an honest attempt to answer those concerns.
Is there going to be any sort of recourse if you get one of these? If I go through the same traffic light 20 times a week, how will I know which time triggered the citation? If I trigger the thing 5 times out of those 20, and am honestly trying not to, then there’s something wrong with the mechanism, not me. That sort of thing certainly will happen.
“If I am in a car, and following a bicycle, and the bicycle runs the light, but I do not, do I get the ticket because I have a plate and the cyclist does not?”
That seems a reasonable question that I would want to see addressed and, better than that, tested. Otherwise, the cycling community will catch further hell from motorists, and understandably so.
Stu, These cameras usually take several pictures including one at the stop line, and one some time later. This shows the path of the car. So, if a bike trips the sensor, it’ll be obvious that the bike is running the red & not the car. You also get nice front (diver’s face) and rear (license plate) shots of the vehicle.
I like your list of criteria!
I think there is a long run vs short run issue with those cameras… in the long run, they might actually correct driver behavior but in the short run, I think that they make intersections more dangerous when drivers second guess their natural tendency to rush a yellow light. I’ve found myself slamming on the brakes while paying little attention to what is going on around me in order to avoid getting a ticket (usually when making a right turn on yellow/red… I’ll come to a complete stop on yellow now before proceeding, almost as an afterthought).
@Stu, they do a reasonable job at looking at a sequence of photos before issuing a ticket. Drivers only get a ticket when a combination of photos and recorded speeds can show a violation (usually a right turn on red, not a blatant running of the light). I think that most of this processing occurs in some private office somewhere in Phoenix Arizona by the company that sells the cameras.
@rsprake, you miss my point. I do pay attention, but my attention is directed away from driving safely with a new emphasis on not getting a ticket. The problem is, when I suddenly apply the brakes in a scenario to avoid getting a ticket for making a right turn on red, there is a good chance that a driver behind me will rear end me. Sudden stops are never safe and these lights encourage such behavior.
Anyways, it doesn’t matter if I “pay attention” if other drivers do not… that was my point. I was just using my own experience as an example, so don’t turn it into some sort of personal attack.
thy would be safe if people didn’t tailgate. 2 seconds of follow time people!
@rsprake — Why would anyone want to do that when they have their radio, cellphone, GPS, laptop, e-mail and maybe a TV to deal with while they drive?
There is no situation where turning right on red is acceptable without coming to a complete stop first. I don’t know how else you correct bad behavior without intervening in some way.
” I don’t know how else you correct bad behavior without intervening in some way.”
True. The cameras do account for speed too, so they aren’t going to start handing out tickets to someone who rolled through a red light at 2mph. I was referring more to yellow light behavior than red light. I guess my position is that these cameras make more sense at some intersections than at others.
@headloss: “Sudden stops are never safe”.
How is stopping for a red light “sudden”? All of a sudden, I have to follow the rules and actually stop at a red light?
What would I like to see, perhaps in coordination with cameras? Every major intersection should have walk signals with countdown timers. In my experience, I never have to second guess yellow lights and “OMG I’m an inch into the intersection and the light turned yellow!” moments go away because I have a visual cue as to whether or not the light will change before I get there.
Of course, such things could illicit bad behavior, too–a driver sees he has five seconds to make it, and guns it through the intersection. Perhaps the cameras function to check speed as well as signal state?
the fears of increased rear end collisions are valid, according to the (admittedly small amount of) research that i did. however, if you’re ever in a collision, you want to be in a rear end collision. data appears to indicate a slight increase in the potential of rear end collisions, but a significant drop in angle collisions, and a significant reduction in injuries and loss of life in intersections that have these cameras. thus, on the whole, safety is increased, even if there are more rear end collisions.
In my opinion most of the problems people cite with red light cameras could be avoided by addressing the conflict of interest/perverse incentives that result from a commission-based payment structure for the camera operator. Replace that with a fee-only structure, similar to what people sometimes choose to do with their financial advisors, and you get less retiming of the lights to increase the number of red-light tickets. Granted, the municipal government still has the perverse incentive, but they’re accountable to the taxpayer and any problems can be addressed in the media. The camera operator doesn’t have the same accountability.
I don’t see how these can be a bad idea in the long term, in terms of traffic control.
I think that lights have longer yellows if the speed limit is higher. But if people are going 25 and not tailgating, they shouldn’t have to slam on brakes to stop. The light patterns are engineered this way, correct?
I get ultra super pissed when I see people treat red lights or stop signs like yield signs. You have to come to a complete stop before turning says the law, right? I am so for the cameras. I would be pissed if I relied on breaking laws to get some place faster, but I don’t.
I like cameras!
I imagine though, that a politician who helps implement them will be voted out.
I dislike “automated” policing as a general statement. Most police cars are now equipped with cameras that automatically scan license plates of every car they pass in an effort to identify stolen or otherwise wanted cars. Sounds good on the surface, but what do they do with the log files? Can they go back a day or a month after a store was robbed to see who was parked in the vicinity? Do I suddenly become a person-of-interest just because my car was spotted by one of these cameras? Same thing for the red light cameras, and neighborhood crime watch cameras, etc. I want to know what they are doing with the data files!
I’m not of the paranoid conspiracy crowd, but did anyone catch the article about how Target Department stores can identify when a woman becomes pregnant by the type of everyday purchases she makes? We’re talking hand cream, not diapers.
I would rather spend the tax money on hiring real in the flesh police men and woman that can use judgment and be held accountable. I think the bigger issue for me should be how the police are currently being used, and how they are/are not being held accountable.
This is probably going to be a “The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese” form of acceptance. Whoever’s in charge when they get adopted won’t be re-elected, regardless of whether they had anything to do with them. (Mark my words, someone will blame red-light-camera tickets on Obama.) But a couple years down the road, they will be looked upon as a good thing.
Another thing I thought of is “3112” situations, i.e., malfunctioning lights. I routinely have to make a left-on-red at Perrymont and Perry because the sensor does not detect my presence on the bicycle. There are a few others like that. What are the chances that I might get my picture taken at one of these, and they somehow figured out to track me down, and issue a citation? I’m guessing it would be difficult but not impossible to fight such a ticket.
NYC may even be able to ID cyclists via camera. I’m not sure how legit this is, but it’s an interesting twist.
why not just make it a priority for our police to actually enforce traffic laws?
@Marko, I agree 100%, without trying to sound too tin-foil like.
@DMTroyer, there is such little monetary benefit for the laws to be enforced that most often the “normal flow” of traffic is accepted.
Philosophically, I’m invested in the fundamental notion that if you’re accused of a crime, you’re supposed to get to face and cross-examine your accuser. Innocent until proven guilty, n’at.
Although I am as geeky as the next nerd, I want it to take a human being who was on the scene to charge me with a crime, and a judge who gets to look the accuser in the eye who gets to determine my guilt. None of these are present when we abdicate law enforcement to devices.
But wait, there’s more…
I also think that government should have a monopoly on law enforcement. Most of these things are contracted out, and the contractor gets the business by charging a share of the revenue – so they have a vested interest in shaving the parameters.
I guess I’m going to take the exaggerated step of wrapping myself in the bloody shirt here, but I don’t think the American revolution was about letting robots convict me without checks and balances, at least not yet.
Harumph, harumph. Where’s my Nedd Ludd bumper sticker? < /rant off>
why not just make it a priority for our police to actually enforce traffic laws?
This morning, at the intersection of Negley and Penn, I watched a car drive very quickly through an intersection (via the left turn-only lane) and then swerve to the right and cut off a bus. There was a police officer sitting at the red light, and the cruiser would have likely been involved in the accident that was nearly caused. I watched carefully–the officer did not even bat an eye.
@Benzo: note the date of the Central Park red light camera article. 04/01/2011. April Fools!
I wouldn’t mind it if it stopped people from blocking intersections.
Most notably, the morons coming down Bates to the 376 West ramp who block off the entire Blvd of the Allies for full light cycles because they want to sneak into the string of cars stopped on the hill. DON’T BLOCK THE F’IN BOX! Nothing makes me angrier than these people…
@quizbot. Nice catch
Gotta play up the old fear of technology sometimes.
For what purpose?
Is there a serious problem with people running red lights, causing havoc and injuries?
For what purpose?
So that private companies can use a legitimate government function as a tap-in for private profit.
Whose life? Owner of the company?
I think everyone agrees that a private company shouldn’t be profiting from law enforcement. Law enforcement should be left to public law enforcement agencies. THEY should be controlling such camera systems. If a private entity has influence over the operation of the camera systems, or light timing, and is profiting from that operation, that’s an obvious conflict of interest and should never be allowed. It’s sad that some places have allowed that to happen.
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