Articles

Toledo, Ohio, Traffic Camera Data Reveals Offender Hot Spots

The cameras are equipped for speed and red lights, and the data gleaned from them has shown a 15 percent increase in tickets issued in 2016.

by David Patch, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio / March 6, 2017
Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

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Tallies from Toledo’s 43 fixed-location traffic cameras show the camera on northbound Douglas at University Hills Boulevard, on the northeastern edge of the University of Toledo’s main campus, yielded by far the most tickets during 2016, and its count went up by 15 percent.

Overall, the cameras last year nabbed 29,610 vehicles traveling substantially over the posted speed limit — the city gives about an 11-mile forgiveness — and pinched 14,674 vehicles for red-light violations.

The speeder count marked an increase of 310 over the year before, meaning that excluding the Douglas location, the number of speeding tickets was down by nearly 900.

The number of red-light citations issued, meanwhile, increased by just two over 2015.

So why is Douglas Road, which accounted for more than 31 percent of camera-issued speeding tickets last year, such a lead-foot hot spot?

Lt. Jeff Sulewski, head of the Toledo Police Department’s traffic section, said he’s hard-pressed for an answer.

“Everybody knows [the camera]’s there,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s because of turnover — you have new university students every year.”

The Douglas camera is at an intersection with a 40-mph speed limit. Lieutenant Sulewski said a year ago, when 2015’s count also showed Douglas to have by far the most speeders, that the wide-open street and higher speed limit simply seem to encourage drivers to hit the gas.

Five-year camera data points to another significant factor: Speeding on Douglas, already high, more than tripled in 2015, the year after the city resurfaced what had been a pothole-plagued 1½ miles of street between Kenwood Boulevard and Dorr Street.

The Douglas/?University Hills camera also tagged 315 red-light violators during 2016, 36 more than the year before. There is no southbound camera at that location.

School-zone safety

Before the Douglas site moved into the top spot, the most active speed cameras were on Alexis Road at Whitmer Drive, just west of Whitmer High School, and those have held second and third place for the last two years.

Lieutenant Sulewski said patrol officers’ observations are consistent with the camera reports: A lot of drivers still speed past Whitmer, although not as much as they did five years ago.

The fixed cameras are set up to enforce the 20-mph school zone for 80 minutes in the morning and 70 minutes in the afternoon. Lieutenant Sulewski said those times are shorter than the duration of flashing lights on nearby school-zone signs, so there’s really no excuse for drivers not knowing what the limit is.

The Whitmer school zone also became a regular target for officers using hand-held laser speed cameras after Toledo began using those last March, the lieutenant said.

“We’ll sit at Clegg Drive, at the east end of the Whitmer campus, and we will clock them right in front of the school,” he said. “We have people accelerating in there during school-zone hours. I wish I could understand it.”

While automated tickets are civil violations, any driver caught at 35 mph or above by a camera-wielding patrolman at 35 mph in a school zone is required to appear in court, the lieutenant said.

Officers using the hand-held speed cameras overall generated 42,873 speeding tickets, or nearly as many as the 44,284 combined speed and red-light tickets yielded by the automated cameras, the first of which Toledo installed in 2001.

The police department’s mobile speed van also ticketed 320 drivers last year, down from 649 in 2015. In 2012, the police department wrote up 1,620 tickets from the speed van.

Overall speeds are not documented, but Lieutenant Sulewski said the highest violation captured on a hand-held device was for 113 mph on a freeway.

Lieutenant Sulewski said the hand-held cameras are used mostly in school zones and construction zones.

“We get quite a few single-finger waves,” he quipped.

Toledo began using the hand-held cameras as a response to a controversial state law requiring an officer to be present when all camera-based violations are cited. The city continues to issue tickets based on its automated cameras pending the outcome of Dayton’s court challenge to the state law.

Generated revenue

Janet Schroeder, the city’s spokesman, said that $2,795,501 in fines based on tickets from the hand-held cameras had been paid so far. Revenue from the stationary cameras in 2016 was $2,304,319, while speed-van ticket payments totaled $23,284.

Ms. Schroeder said she had no information readily available about what percentage of tickets had been collected. At this time last year, only about half of the camera-based tickets from 2015 had been paid, producing $2.21 million in revenue.

Having outstanding tickets does not impact a person’s ability to renew a driver’s license, as often is the case with local parking tickets.

Right-on-red tickets

The top locations for red-light violations are all spots with lots of right-on-red traffic, Lieutenant Sulewski said.

Officers who review the camera tickets throw out ones involving motorists that trigger the camera by slightly overshooting the stop line but still come to a complete stop before turning, the lieutenant said. But drivers who don’t make a full stop — and many don’t even come close — get those tickets, he said.

One location with a big increase in red-light violations last year was Cherry Street at Delaware Avenue, where the number of northbound drivers running the light more than doubled and southbound violations rose by 73 percent.

“That’s one of the intersections with the most straight-through violations — people just drive right through when that light’s solid red,” Lieutenant Sulewski said.

Many such violations occur at night, when traffic is light, so crashes are relatively few — but when they happen, they’re often serious, he said.

Traffic-crash data

Traffic safety is routinely cited as justification for photo enforcement, but the city has not analyzed traffic-crash data more recent than 2014’s to assess the cameras’ effectiveness.

Between 2000, the year before the first cameras’ installation, and 2014, total crashes at camera-equipped intersections trended downward, from near 1,000 in 2000, 2001, and 2002 to fewer than 900 in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

At Douglas and University Hills, where the speed/?red-light camera was installed in February, 2005, crashes declined that year but then spiked in 2006 and remained above the long-term trend for two more years before tailing off again. In 2014, the year the street was under construction, the crash total of 12 was third-highest for the 15-year period, but only two of them caused injuries.

While the cameras at Cherry and Delaware are equipped for speed as well as red lights, the speed aspect was turned off in 2015 after a motorist challenged the city’s failure to have Cherry’s 35-mph speed limit approved by the Ohio Department of Transportation, as is required for city streets that are part of state routes.

Toledo recently obtained state approval for, and then posted, a 40-mph limit in that area and reactivated those cameras’ speed function in mid-February. Cherry is part of State Rt. 120 between Central Avenue and Summit Street.

Several other cameras remain out of service at various city locations because of street construction.

Those nine include two at the Anthony Wayne Trail and South Avenue; one at the Trail and Western Avenue, and two at Airport Highway and Reynolds Road that were completely removed, and Lieutenant Sulewski said they may not all be reinstalled because of changes to the street layouts at those intersections.

In that case, he said, the police department will study other candidate locations, although new cameras are unlikely to go in before Dayton’s lawsuit is resolved.

The end last summer of Trail reconstruction near Western and South may also be why speeding on the outbound Trail jumped in 2016 after being very low in 2015.

The construction zone “kept people from taking off” past the speed-only camera between South Avenue and the Toledo Zoo, Lieutenant Sulewski surmised.

©2017 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.