When red-light cameras were first introduced to Spokane, resistance was strong.
Cash grab. Won’t improve safety.
After the first year, the program produced more than 5,600 tickets, but crashes and injuries didn’t decline. Critics wanted the cameras taken down.
Fortunately, the Spokane City Council had the foresight to establish a longer timeline for evaluation, because the figures at the five-year mark show the cameras are improving driving habits. Council members Mike Allen and Mike Fagan, who were once opponents, voted to renew the contract for American Traffic Solutions, an Arizona-based company that runs the red-light program.
Fagan’s change of heart is particularly interesting, because his ballot initiative partner, Tim Eyman, has run campaigns to remove the cameras in other cities.
“We were going into this very skeptical,” Fagan told The Spokesman-Review, but “there’s no way to refute the data.”
Crashes have declined at all three intersections where the cameras were installed in 2008: Browne Street and Sprague Avenue, Francis Avenue and Division Street and Mission Avenue and Hamilton Street. Studies elsewhere had shown the cameras decrease the number of “T-bone” collisions, but could increase rear-end accidents, as drivers slam on the brakes to avoid running the lights. However, at two of the three Spokane intersections with cameras, rear-end collisions also have declined. At the other, there was no change.
Collisions have also declined at the seven intersections where cameras were installed in 2010 and 2011.
It should be noted that vehicle accidents in general have declined in recent years, because Americans, particularly young people, are driving less. Nonetheless, the city’s figures don’t support the call to remove the cameras.
And then, of course, there’s the money.
Last year, the city cleared $860,000 after paying the vendor. The original intent was to put those dollars to work improving safety, but some money has been diverted for such things as graffiti removal.
Consider, though, that 40 percent of red-light tickets are issued to drivers who fail to make a complete stop in front of the white lines before making a right turn. Instead, scofflaws roll over the line and merely slow down before turning. This maneuver is particularly dangerous for pedestrians, because drivers are looking for traffic coming in the opposite direction, not at them.
As traffic erases the white lines, especially during the winter, the city should make sure they are maintained, and visible. More pedestrian lights that count down the remaining seconds to cross are another good use.
The pressure to spend that money elsewhere will mount as the 10-year program to finance city street repairs comes to an end this year. But the link between red-light cameras and traffic safety must be preserved in the name of public trust.
Otherwise, we see no reason to halt a program that is measuring up.