Florida City's Red Light Camera Revival in Limbo as State Mulls Policy

Bradenton, Fla. installed its first red light camera in 2009, but dismantled the program seven years later. It's now considering revival.

by Dale White, Sarasota Herald-Tribune / January 4, 2018
Flickr/functoruser

(TNS) — BRADENTON — Although the Bradenton City Council is considering reinstating its red light camera program, its members are tapping the brakes on a decision.

On Wednesday, the council discussed "opportunities and options" for making its intersections safer, Mayor Wayne Poston said. "We will revisit this and give the council some time to think about it. I'm sure we'll get citizen comments, especially from people who got citations."

City officials especially need to wait to see if state legislators repeal the law pertaining to the intersection cameras during the upcoming session, as well as the outcome of a case pending before the state Supreme Court, Poston said.

In February, the justices will hear arguments in a lawsuit filed by a driver against the city of Aventura for its use of cameras. The 3rd Court of Appeal sided with that municipality but concluded that the state's highest court should weigh in regarding the legality of traffic citations based on photo evidence.

From August 2009 to August 2016, Bradenton operated a red light camera program at six intersections using the vendor Xerox/ACS. The council halted the program after raising questions about whether the intersections were chosen more for financial rather than public safety reasons.

Regardless, red light cameras were not as lucrative a revenue source for the city as the driving public may have perceived them to be, with most of the fines going into state coffers, council members said.

State law sets the fine for a red light violation at $158 — with the local government getting $70, the state taking $83 and the remainder going toward operational costs.

During that seven-year period, Bradenton police issued 43,813 notices of violations. Even when the fine was increased to $264 for failure to pay within 60 days, the city still received $70. The additional revenue from the higher fine went to the Clerk of the Circuit Court's Office for upgrading the penalty to a uniform traffic citation.

Presuming all the fines were paid, the city received more than $3 million while the cameras were in effect. Yet it reportedly calculated last year that, after payments to the vendor, it only netted about $270,000.

Council members, however, say they have no financial motive for reinstating the cameras. They are undecided on how much of a public safety benefit the cameras would provide.

Police Chief Melanie Bevan said that, at the six intersections with cameras, the department recorded an increase in overall accidents and "a slight decrease" in accidents caused by red light violations.

"I'm still not particularly in favor of red light cameras," Councilman Bemis Smith said.

Yet Smith acknowledged that rear-end collisions, which can occur when a driver suddenly becomes aware of a camera and stops, are less likely to result in serious injuries than a red light runner's colliding into the side of vehicle that has the right of way.

Councilman Gene Brown noted that, even if overall accidents increased at camera intersections, that fact does not take into account that the number of vehicles on city streets most likely increased in recent years. "There's more traffic today than in '09."

If the city intends to invest in cameras again, it could consider new "intelligent crash pre-emption technology" by the vendor Redflex. If a sensor on a Redflex camera determines that a red light runner is in an intersection, it reportedly can extend the opposing red light by another two to three seconds until the vehicle passes.

The Police Department looked at the possibility of installing cameras at five locations where, through video and personal observations, it determined that from one to four red light violations occur per hour: Manatee Avenue and First Street, southbound and westbound; Sixth Avenue West and Ninth Street, eastbound; Sixth Avenue West and First Street, eastbound; and 12th Avenue West and 14th Street, northbound.

If just two of those new cameras included the Redflex sensors, the service would cost about $21,250 per month, according to the analysis. BPD projected that, given fees paid to the vendor and the state's cut, the camera program would probably have a monthly deficit of $1,259.

Council members may also be hesitant to invest in technology that may not work as touted or may still be a work in progress.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office installed Redflex's Halo System at five intersections. It recently decided not to renew the contract. Sheriff Mike Williams told the media the system was riddled with problems and his department concluded the "technology just isn't there yet."

Bevan said any traffic control technology — not just cameras — "will have a price tag attached to it."

A "speed trailer" — a roadside electronic sign that alerts approaching drivers if they are exceeding the speed limit — can be highly effective, Bevan said. Each message board can cost $18,085 but there are no additional costs other than basic maintenance.

Poston said speed trailers become less effective when they remain at the same location too long and each would have to be moved frequently.

Bevan said the best approach to reducing crashes is not any single traffic control device but a combination of technology, education, enforcement and engineering.

Manatee County operates 10 red light cameras at intersections in the unincorporated area.

©2018 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.