Flash and Burn
Will the city make improvements to its STOP program, or will red-light cameras wink out of existence?
By Marisa Demarco
A task force appointed by Mayor Martin Chavez says if problems with the red-light camera program aren't fixed, it should be discarded. Ted Shogry, a task force staff member, reported to the City Council at its Wednesday, Jan. 23, meeting. "The study group had one main recommendation, and that basically is to continue the STOP Program, but to improve it."
Shogry says the task force was firm in stating if red-light camera issues aren't addressed, the city should pull the plug.
In late November, Council President Brad Winter criticized the group. "I am not sure how much credibility or legitimacy this task force will have as it has been hand-picked by the mayor with no input from the Council," he says on the Council Highlights page of the city's website.
It is still not possible to conclude whether red-light cameras lowered the number of accidents since their introduction, because data is limited, Shogry says. Cameras have been in place in Albuquerque since October 2004. "They are not prepared to say conclusively that automated enforcement is having an impact on traffic safety in Albuquerque," Shogry told the Council. "They felt strongly that it should be continued two more years to collect the data."
According to the study group, the number of crashes from 2005 to 2007 has gone down, and 2006 saw the fewest crashes. Councilor Michael Cadigan asked if it was possible to correlate the slight decline in accidents citywide to the red-light camera program. Shogry responded that wasn't a valid statistical approach.
The task force recommended the city review the red-light camera locations and develop technical standards for placing cameras. It also said the certainty of being fined was more significant to drivers than the amount of the fine. The effort on the part of the Council to reduce fines should be supported, Shogry says.
After fine money pays for the program, says the task force, extra revenue should go to traffic improvements, and public education efforts about the importance of safe driving and the STOP program. Gov. Bill Richardson allowed the issue into the Legislative Session and wants to talk about using the red-light camera funds for DWI prevention.
Four councilors, Cadigan, Winter, Debbie O'Malley and Trudy Jones, sent a letter to the mayor two weeks ago saying the contract the city signed with Redflex Traffic Systems wasn't the one the Council approved. Wording that would allow the city to cancel the program with 15 days’ notice was removed.
The task force also addressed criticism the red-light camera program received since its inception. The length of yellow lights occasionally requires adjustment, and the intervals are appropriate, according to the task force. The Administrative Hearing Office is professional and independent, the group reports. STOP is not a surveillance program and hasn't been used to detect any crime other than speeding or red-light running, Shogry added.
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