A sign at First and E streets near the Davis Commons shopping center reminds drivers of the hefty fine they face if they violate the law and are caught on camera. Greg Rihl/Enterprise file photo

A sign at First and E streets near the Davis Commons shopping center reminds drivers of the hefty fine they face if they violate the law and are caught on camera. Greg Rihl/Enterprise file photo

Crime, Fire + Courts

City modifies red-light camera program

By From page A1 | July 03, 2012

THEN: With red-light violations blamed as the fourth-leading cause of traffic collisions in Davis, the Davis Police Department launched an automated photo enforcement program — also know as red-light cameras — at four local intersections in the spring of 2006.

Digital video cameras were installed at westbound First Street at E Street, eastbound Russell Boulevard at Sycamore Lane, eastbound Chiles Road at Mace Boulevard and northbound Pole Line Road at Fifth Street.

The cameras recorded images of vehicles that traveled through the intersections after the traffic light had turned red. Police expressed hope that the program not only would reduce the city’s collision rate, but also increase awareness that would result in safer driving behavior throughout the community.

“It’s like having an officer there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, come rain or shine,” Assistant Police Chief Steven Pierce said at the time.

NOW: Just over six years into the program, traffic collisions in Davis — both injury and property-damage only — are down by roughly 50 percent, said Pierce, who attributes the drop not only to the cameras but also to a beefed-up police traffic unit and educational safe-driving outreach by the city.

But the number of working red-light cameras has been halved as well.

Today, only the cameras on Russell Boulevard and First Street record images of red-light violations. The other two intersections still maintain the equipment, but the cameras have been deactivated since 2009.

There are a couple of reasons for that, Pierce said.

At the time the program began, Fifth and Pole Line was a somewhat newly expanded intersection, and Davis public works staff urged the installation of a camera there, Pierce said. But the number of violations at that intersection never justified its continued use.

Chiles Road at Mace presented a more unusual problem: Drivers were traveling through the intersection as much as 16 to 17 seconds after the traffic light had turned red.

“You would not believe how many collisions we were having out there,” Pierce said. After some investigation, traffic engineers realized the drivers in the dual left-turn lanes believed the green light for through drivers applied to them.

The city tried several different signal configurations, finally settling on one that allowed all east-facing traffic to flow through the intersection at the same time. The same goes for west-facing drivers.

“As soon as we did that, there were almost zero violations, and it really wasn’t worth leaving (the camera) there,” Pierce said. Police considered moving the equipment to another intersection, “but the good news was, none met the criteria to make it worthwhile.”

So the cameras and warning signs remain at both Mace and Chiles and Fifth and Pole Line, because they would cost money to remove and because their presence continues to raise driver awareness.

“It does no harm to leave the equipment up, and if it causes people to think twice, it’s not a bad thing,” Pierce said. The city also has installed signs at other major intersections warning drivers of the high cost of running a red light.

Granted, the signs are now outdated — they warn of a $370 fine that today hovers closer to $500 once court fees are factored in. The department has received complaints about the old information, but Pierce said the city can’t afford to replace the signs every time the fines increase.

Bottom line, “it’s a lot of money,” Pierce said

A total of 414 drivers were cited for running the red light at First Street in 2011 — up from the 296 citations issued in 2010 and the 365 issued in 2009. The Russell Boulevard camera recorded 484 violations last year — down from the 495 in 2010 and 520 in 2009, according to Pierce.

So far, 2012 has brought 96 violations at First and E and 124 at Russell and Sycamore.

— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or (530) 747-8048. Follow her on Twitter @laurenkeene

Lauren Keene

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