Red Lights Stopped

Here is my recap of tonight's Council meeting. There were jillions of people speaking on Red Light Cameras (RLCs), mostly in favor, including the paid and volunteer lobbyists from the ACS family. Many Council members made a point of saying how glad they were to be able to discuss this heated issue in a reasonable way in the past few weeks. Then after about two hours of hearing citizens and making speeches, they voted in favor of Mark Kleinschmidt's petition to terminate the RLC contract!

I would like to present the following awards:

Most righteous indignation: Edith Wiggins (Red Light Cameras, agenda item # 7)
Runners-up: Dorothy Verkerk, Mark Kleinschmidt, Jim Ward (in that order) .

Why does Edith seem to feel that this issue is such a personal affront to her? She & Cam Hill didn't impress by reading from prepared statements. This let the citizens who took the time to contact them or to come to the meeting in the snow know that their input was not a part of their decision-making process. (Although that was actually the case for the entire Council anyway.)

A number of Council Members really nailed the difference between accidents and violations. Accidents are a threat to our safety, violations are an enforcement issue (and economic, if you use RLCs). The cameras only deal with violations, thay don't address our saftey. In fact, a few citizens presented evidence showing that there have been MORE rear-end accidents at the monitored intersections since the cameras were installed. How is that making us safer?

I'll admit, it is sort of sketchy for the Council to cancel the program mid-stream, but the fact is it never would have been approved under the current Council in the first place. I'm glad they voted for what they honestly believe is right rather than what seems to please the majority of people contacting them. We should remember the bravery of Mark Kleinschmidt, Sally Greene, Cam Hill, Bill Strom, and Mayor Kevin Foy for making this difficult decision.

Most interesting presentation: some lawyer's powerpoint (Eastern Federal's request for expedited review of their revised SUP, consent agenda item # 4f)
Runner-up: Will Raymond's chart showing that red light timing can affect the rate of violation.

I was really impressed with this presentation that had cool - and legible - close-ups of text from the permit, the traffic study, maps, etc. It was actually (strangely) engaging to watch and it made their point really well. But after that and other slidehows, I couldn't even tell whose side all the different lawyers and engineers were on! Anyway, Eastern Federal needs to chill out. Their original application was already pushing the envelope - adding more movie screens, but reducing parking. They were on the border of not having the thing approved at all, it doesn't seem smart to came back asking for more help from the Town.

PS: I still can't get on to the Town website. I will add more links to this post when I can. I think it will make more sense with the context.



Red light cameras are unconstitutional (under the State not the Federal Constitution) say opponents in a battle with the City of High Point, the County of Guilford and Guilford County Board of Education.

Not for the reasons that you may be thinking or for the reasons discussed above. But for a simple straightforward reading of how the funds for traffic stops are to be handled.

As reported in today's News and Observer,

"The constitution says 100 percent of the proceeds should go to public schools," [attorney Marshall] Hurley said Friday from his Greensboro law office. "That law has been forever."

[end of NandO quote block]

Hurley and others see the red light camera program as a way that local general funds are robbing the schools of their rightful cut from caught-crime. Especially in contention are the payments to the RLC provider, in this case the punningly named "Peek Traffic".

To make matters more interesting, the Guilford Board of Education has begun itheir own challege to the execution of the law. They are demanding that they be given 100% of the procedes. None would go to Peek.


The Eastern Federal issue was well highlighted by the observation that they are trying to build a large concept without parking. They managed to get this far by offering a variety of misleading and false documentation the first time around. In the end, they managed to trap themselves.

Now comes the issue, will the invest in parking? Such an investment would allow the project to move forward and serve the Elliott Road corridor, and the citizens.

Go visit other similar concepts and imagine how it would be if there was 75% LESS parking. Common sense provides the answer for Eastern Federal. It is no one's problem but their own.

Part of the confusion with that strip mall is that multiple groups own it. I don't think most people realize that--everyone I know refers to the whole strip as the "Wellspring Shopping Center." Or, if they are new, the "Whole Foods" shopping center--I, of course, still call it "Kroger Plaza"--until people look at me as though I have two heads.

Why should it be up to the people who own Whole Foods to "realize" anything? Or are you saying the COUNCIL should have figured this out? Isn't it up to EF to take care of these things? Shouldn't THEY have said--"Oh, BTW, we'll need to take some enormous trucks though the Plaza parking lot..." ?

I may be off base.

I'm really bummed that the movie theater won't be upa nd running this summer--now I'll have to drive my kid to the movies. We really miss EF.


I am one who does not feel passionately about this subject.

However, the flaws with the current study were eye opening.

A rigorous study of the effectiveness would involve many more intersections and would compare the effects of each of these independently.

1. light timing.

2. engineering improvements (backings, better diodes etc...)

3. Visible warning signs (e.g. 500$ fine for red light runners etc....

4. the cameras themselves.

Whatever study that was to be completed was fatally flawed because the engineering changes were done at the same time the camera was put up and there was no control (placebo) comparing it to items 1-3 above together and independently.

My suspicion/hunch is that the company would not want to pay for a true peer reviewable study because items 1-3 probably do as much or better than the cameras themselves.

Just a hunch but the study didn't seem worth finishing.

Jay, I wish I had some way to adequately commend Prof. Hummer. In spite of knowing that his answers would jeopardize his RLC research project, he showed immense integrity and scientific professionalism in answering the council's questions.

With all the, ummmmm, perspective, the pro-RLC folks have shown in the last couple weeks, his straight-forward responses were abolutely refreshing (kind of like a cool fall gale wafting through the yet unmucked stables of discourse).

More rigorous studies, like the Aandreson study out of Australia would be a good start.

As someone with a science-background, I was always asking about the methodologies used by ACS and the town. Not having or providing them was yet another indication of how troubling the process of evaluating the system was.

On the EF business, I realized I missed something. I think that EF needed access to the property to do their work. In the presentation EF did, they demonstrated how the other guys (whomever owns Wellspring) should've know about this requirement.

They did some neat zoom ins on the aerial photos overlaid with the drawings showing that the driveways were equivalent (I think there was some dispute - as I noted before - on which driveway was which).

The also had some neat effects where they showed yellow hi-lite sections describing their intentions. I guess they were just trying to show that even though the application was off (for some reason - I was kind of distracted at that point), it was obvious they needed access to do something.

Hope this isn't too much hazily recalled info.....

Maybe they can punt on this issue by contracting with the P2P service and run movie shuttles down to the theater. You could go online, buy a ticket and book a ride at the same time.

It appeared that Eastern Federal's plans had co-opted some of the adjacent property. They wanted to adjust their plans but didn't want to go back through the necessary engineering and traffic studies or pick back up on the previous negotiations they were doing with their neighbors.

One of the speakers pointed out that the outflow from the theater was going to be difficult already because of the narrow bottleneck of the drive over by the dry cleaners. It was also pointed out that this exit from their property was only adequate and not really sufficient for the anticipated traffic.

I thnik he was trying to say that EF had to do a rethink and a renegotiation of the exit lane beside Red, Hot and Blue (which will be bracketted by two large driveways).

While EF said that the current traffic studies were sufficient for a variance to be granted, the other land owner's engineer pointed out that those studies were conducted during the week and not during the peak, Friday evening. Also, someone (?) pointed out that the focus on the driveway adjacent to RHB missed the fact that most people were exiting at the drive farther down the road (towards Visart).

A tenant of the property also pointed out that the traffic from "The Spa" wasn't accounted for - saying that if you checked it out at 4pm you'd really that the current plan was inadequate. It was kind of hard to understand what he was getting at, but I think he was trying to say that if the current plan was bad the variance would be worse (?).

The PowerPoints were kind of neat, but the presentation was pitched to people already familiar with the driveway layouts and the confusing renaming that had happened ( "the EF lawyer was saying stuff like "as you can see, driveway D which was driveway 1 on plan x submitted in 2002, is not the ....").

That parking lot has been a mess for years, the whole thing, from Wellspring on down should get a big rethink - but that's just my opinion.

Good question, Mike. I think they approved expediting the Special Use Permit Modification with the understanding that it did not mean any less stringent review of the changes.

Here's the Chapel Hill Herald on the red light change:

I came in about 1/2 way through the Eastern Federal discussion--the council realized they had made some sort of "mistake" in approving the plan--and voted to expedite the review process (which just means EF gets moved to the tail end of the "expedited" line, rather than being at the tail end of the TOTAL development line.) There seems to be some problem with driveways--or something? Does anyone out there know the entire issue? I assumed there was some kind of zoning/land/property line issue because that land has been sitting empty for months without ANY activity.

From the portion of discussion I did catch--I gathered that the plan as approved funnelled traffic off of EF's property through property owned by others, and no one had asked the other property owners if they would allow it--but I'm really just guessing--and the papers just focussed on the red light issue. ENLIGHTEN US, PLEASE!


Hey Ruby, I missed the Eastern Federal presentation. How is the council handling the situation? I am curious to know other people's opinions of EF trying to put a 6.5 acre project on about 3.5 acres. I think a new movie theater would be a great addition to the Elliot Road shopping center, but I don't understand why EF has approached this with such an outdated business approach. As a strong supporter of business development in Chapel Hill, I hope we can foster a sophisticated business environment where businesses embrace the value of helping neighboring businesses as a key component of success. (Not to mention, I think it keeps with the ideals of Chapel Hill.)

News this morning is that High Point has canceled its camera program after a February 15 ruling in which a judge ordered the city to pay $1.5 million to the local school system. The judge ruled that the state constitution required payment of 90% of the fine to the schools. With a private operator raking in the bulk of the citation, the program would now operate at a loss. After payment to the system operator, Redflex, each citation would cost the city around $25.

Presumably, Chapel Hill may also be held to owe funds to the school system based on its brief flirtation with the camera program. In this context, the Council-members who initiated the cancellation of the program (Mark Kleinschmidt in particular) seem far-sighted beyond their own expectations. Recall counter-arguments at the time, pushed by Jim Ward and others, that the program should be given more time.

This ruling reflects poorly on Dorothy Verkerk's attempt last night to remove the item from the legislative agenda that would seek to cancel the town's authority for such a program. Verkerk may feel that such a move adds insult to injury but there is a time to admit you were wrong and to move on... even for an elected official.

A year later, Chapel Hills short-lived red light camera program is still in the news.

See Sally Greene's blog for today for a link to a NY Time's article quoting Mark Kleinschmidt as well as information on other recent developments.

I thought it was typical of our keystone kops city fathers. First debate, then spend tall money, then debate again, chance our minds. Look at this parking lot 5 deal. In ten years they went from parking meters, then monitared lot, back to parking meters, then pay at a keosk, next, build some kind of building. What way will the wind blow next?

the High Point Transportation Department Director said the city will continue to monitor the intersections where drivers who ran red lights were issued $50 citations by mail.

Sounds like that's what they should have been doing in the first place!

Note that the issue in the High Point case is not the legality or appropriateness of red-light cameras. Rather, it is a battle over the meaning of the words "clear proceeds."

School board attorneys argued that state law and the state constitution mandate that High Point can only deduct 10 percent of the proceeds from the red-light camera program to cover expenses, leaving the remaining money for the school system.

Attorneys for the city argued that "clear proceeds" means "net proceeds," allowing the city to deduct all expenses before turning over the remaining money to the school system.

Sounds like that the real winners in this case will be all of the lawyers who get to argue about what those words mean.

And BTW, Phil Wylie, the High Point Transportation Department Director, said the city will continue to monitor the intersections where drivers who ran red lights were issued $50 citations by mail.

Amen Ruby.

from the uber-reactionary Federal Highway Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, published March 20, 2003:

"Implementation of red light cameras in the United States has been inconsistent and, in a few cases applied incorrectly. Problems with contracting, design, implementation, and operation of red light camera systems have raised questions regarding legality and intent of photo enforcement systems. Appearance of unfairness in the use of red-light cameras, in broader perspective, can also cast doubt about other forms of technology used to improve transportation operations and safety....The rapid deployment of red light cameras across the United States has been viewed by some as a single, fix-all solution to the growing concerns about red light running and crashes attributable to red light running. This belief may lead to the inappropriate use of red light camera systems and inaccurate assessment of actual intersection safety problems....The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have developed this guidance for the use of State and local agencies on the implementation and operation of red light camera systems. Although not a regulatory requirement, the guidance is intended to provide critical information for State and local agencies on relevant aspects of red light camera systems in order to promote consistency and proper implementation and operation..."

And, their guidelines?

"Red light running and crashes attributable to red light running by motorists may result from a number of contributing factors and, consequently, may be addressed by a variety of countermeasures encompassing engineering improvements, enhanced driver and public education, and increased enforcement. The red light running problem at any intersection needs to be investigated and the feasibility of all countermeasures including increased enforcement should be addressed through an engineering study."

After stepping through all the counter-measures that should be applied before RLCs they say:

"If engineering, educational, and traditional enforcement countermeasures are proven to be unsuccessful, red light running camera technologies, if authorized by law, may be considered."

A fairly lukewarm endorsement of the RLC system from one of the organizations all the RLC proponents like to cite.

In my research of the communities in NC that implemented RLCs, including Chapel Hill, there has NEVER been any attempt to perform real engineering studies and apply typical counter-measures,
like lengthening yellows, to fix the problems the studies demonstrate are really happening. I'm happy to point out, though, that a community, be it Chapel Hill or High Point, can always correct
this deficit by following up with real observations. I applaud High Point for their efforts. Hopefully, after they perform their review they'll apply the typical, proven engineering counter-measures
to fix the underlying problems.

One last gasp on the RLC topic. Chapel Hill's Transportation Board has asked the staff to investigate lengthening the yellows (in context of the recent report that the staff produced on
intersection safety). I'm hoping that under the stewardship of the members Laurin Easthom, Rudy Juliano, George Cianciolo and Gary Barnes, that the traffic team will recommend to
the Council that the town utilize this proven technique.

Greensboro, joining High Point, cutoff their system.

A number of people — including at least one City Council member — were glad to see the cameras turned off.

"I truly believe that cameras in North Carolina and the revenue generated from them has been illegal and against the state constitution," said Councilman Don Vaughan, a longtime critic of the city's cameras. "I believe the law is crystal clear."

I hope they take this opportunity to study the 18 RLC intersections to see if accidents decrease or remain the same.

Greenville has also decided not to collect fines for the duration and with their citizens raising a backlash against them, chances are they're gone for good.

Interesting controversy involving ACS, our recent RLC vendor.

From April, 2004:

Edmonton – The RCMP will investigate allegations that three Edmonton Police officers accepted perks from a company vying to supply photo radar and red-light cameras, the police service said.

Acting Police Chief Mike Bradshaw says it's "prudent" to have a second police agency involved, while their internal affairs unit continues its own investigation.

In an anonymous complaint, sent through e-mail, someone claiming to be a 28-year veteran of the police service alleged that officers received a free trip to Las Vegas, an invitation to watch the Heritage Classic from a luxury box, and a number of free golf tournaments, lunches and dinners from Affiliated Computer Services.

A report recommended giving ACS, a Texas company, a new contract when its existing one expires this summer, and not put it to tender. The proposed contract could be renewed for up to 20 years, and could be worth $90 million.

and the wheels of justice grind slowly on

Canadian Police Delay Investigation of Camera Scandal
Canadian police further delay investigations into wrong-doing related to the Edmonton photo enforcement program.

Investigators with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have said they need another six months to investigate a series of scandals involving Dallas-based camera contractor ACS. ACS had offered inducements to the police officers who ultimately recommended that the company be awarded a multi-million dollar speed camera contract.

A second investigation into attempts by police to stake-out and arrest Edmonton Sun columnist and camera critic Kerry Diotte won't be completed until September.

Edmonton's police chief has already resigned over the scandal.


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