Sunday, November 15, 2009

Run a red light, buy a sidewalk

Yesterday, the Seattle Times reported that Seattle Councilman Nick Licata is suggesting that the city increase its use of red light running cameras and mobile speed cameras to fill a $4.5 million deficit in the city’s budget. Part of this deficit was caused by the repeal of the $25 head tax for employers for each employee which commuted by a single-occupant vehicle. The head tax revenue was primarily devoted to pedestrian and bicycle improvements.

I am a fan of the red light running cameras since studies have shown that the numbers of collisions caused by red light running, like the more severe “T-bone” collisions, are reduced. These cameras prove to be a vital tool for the enforcement component of what traffic engineers call the three E’s (Engineering, Enforcement, and Education). With police department budgets being cut, these cameras help jurisdictions due more with less money.

One of the main criticisms of these cameras is that they are used for revenue enhancement for the jurisdiction. Engineers and jurisdictions have tried to combat this criticism ever since the installation of first cameras. Now, we have a city councilman blatantly saying that it is his intent to use them in this way.

I believe that using cameras for revenue enhancement is wrong for a number of reasons. First, the government should not rely on revenue generated from its citizens violating the law. Red lights should be obeyed regardless of whether or not there is a camera. Second, the funding of bicycle and pedestrian improvements should not be dependant on the violations of motorists to fund critical improvements for them. Third, once money is involved, it becomes difficult for engineers to use other methods to help reduce red-light running related collisions at intersections (such as increasing the yellow clearance interval or installing larger signal indications). Finally, using funds from red light cameras for things not even remotely related creates more public ill will towards these cameras. And when more than 800 people are killed and 200,000 more are injured each year in collisions resulting from red light running motorists, we don’t need to encourage those feelings.