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Officials say red-light cameras reduce crashes

Published: Saturday, May 14, 2011 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@kcchronicle.com)
Red light cameras at Randall Road and Williamsburg Avenue in Geneva.

Motorists might resent red-light cameras, but officials in Geneva and St. Charles, say the cameras have reduced crashes.

St. Charles’ single red-light camera is at the intersection of Routes 31 and 64, placed there in October 2008. Geneva’s two red-light cameras, at Randall Road and Fargo Boulevard and at Randall and Williamsburg Avenue, went into operation in March 2010.

St. Charles accident statistics show 10 accidents at Routes 31 and 64 in 2008, six in 2009 and nine crashes in 2010.

But St. Charles Police Traffic Cmdr. Erik Mahan said the city studied crashes there a year before the cameras were installed and then the year after.

From Oct. 7, 2007 to Sept. 30, 2008, police logged 15 crashes, Mahan said. From Oct. 8, 2008, to Sept. 30, 2009, they logged eight.

The difference, Mahan said, is red-light cameras that change the behavior of drivers.

“Red-light running is aggressive driving, and I think red-light cameras modify that behavior a bit,”  Mahan said. “When people know there’s red-light cameras, they’re not as aggressive driving through that intersection. They are being more cautious. They realize there is a possibility of getting a ticket.”

Mahan said another statistic he attributes to the cameras are a reduction in injuries. In 2008, six injuries from crashes were reported. In 2009 and 2010, it was down to one for both years, he said.

St. Charles Chief James Lamkin said the city’s goal was to get motorists to stop for the northbound Route 31 light.

“In spite of all the negative publicity, from our standpoint, the goal was traffic safety,” Lamkin said.

Thomas Szabo, the traffic section manager for Kane County Department of Transportation said his department is using data provided by Geneva to study red light cameras’ impact on driving.

“We are always looking for ways to improve safety,” Szabo said. “One of our concerns is that these [red-light camera] systems don’t appear to do that. The verdict is still out. Geneva may say different, but we are still evaluating the crash rates. Usually, a year is not quite enough. Crash statistics go up and down, and we are studying these.”

In Geneva, Randall and Fargo had 21 crashes in 2008, and 24 for both 2009 and 2010. From Jan. 1 to March 9 of this year, there were three, according to the department’s statistics.

And at Williamsburg and Randall, there were 18 crashes in 2008, 17 in 2009 and 18 in 2010. From Jan. 1 to March 9 of this year, there were two, according to the department’s records.

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns said the presence of the cameras makes the city safer for residents and visitors.

“The intersections historically showed numerous rear-end collisions which indicate that people were not driving at an appropriate speed or accelerating through intersections,” Burns said. “To date, it has demonstrated that people are more careful when approaching [the intersections with red-light cameras], and we believe it has reduced the number of accidents.”

Geneva has collected a little more than $364,000 in fines for red-light tickets, according to financial records.

St. Charles Police Chief James Lamkin said the city’s contract with Red Flex, the company that installs and maintains the cameras, does not cost the city anything for the cameras.

Revenue from paid tickets goes to Red Flex to cover its costs for the cameras.

“I can tell you that as of the end of March 2011, we have not made any money,” Lamkin said.

“The city does not pay money out for the camera. In our situation, there is no money generated above the monthly cost. We are the exception in that we are not making any money off our camera.”

One area St. Charles is considering for a second red-light camera is Kirk and Tyler roads, but pending road construction there has delayed progress on installation, Lamkin said. Kirk is a county road, so the city would have to go through its permitting process and have a three-year limit.

The difference between Geneva’s and St. Charles’ red-light cameras is more than location and traffic volume, however. St. Charles’ camera is on state roads, and Geneva required a Kane County permit to have theirs installed on Randall Road.

Last fall, Kane County officials also imposed an annual permit application and a limit of three years for having red-light cameras on county roads, among other rules.

Though Geneva officials say they expect its permit to be renewed, the three-year limit would impact continuing its Randall Road red light cameras by 2012. Szabo said Geneva’s request for renewal is still under review.

“We submitted the data for renewal,” Burns said. “I believe in due course, most reasonable people will come to appreciate that this technology helps create a safe environment.”

At a red-light camera presentation to Geneva’s city council last year, Police Cmdr. Julie Nash reported that Red Flex is not likely to go to the trouble of installing its equipment for only three years. Nash said the company spends $120,000 to install the equipment and needs at least seven years in one location to recoup its investment.

A spokesman for Red Flex did not return a voicemail message seeking comment.

Though there is a three-year limit on how long a red-light camera can be on a county highway, Szabo said the county’s ordinance also calls for municipalities to consider other ways to reduce crashes at problem intersections.

Alternative measures include engineering, signage, intersection improvements and signal cycles, according to the county ordinance.

“Our preference is to use other countermeasures ... to get the same results without a camera,” Szabo said.

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