A year after putting drivers under surveillance at four Colorado Springs intersections, city officials say red-light cameras have passed the test by making streets safer.
A report issued this month showed violations and accidents are down at three of the four intersections in the past year.
At one of the four red-light camera intersection, Bijou Street and Nevada Avenue, the number of drivers caught running red lights rose more than 20 percent, from 359 in October 2010 to 438 in August 2011, which may be due to more tourists passing through downtown.
Otherwise, the red-light camera program is having the desired effect of cutting down on red-light runners, said city spokesman John Leavitt.
Overall, red-light violations at the four intersections where cameras were placed have dropped from 1,520 in October 2010 to 1,040 in August 2011, according to American Traffic Solutions, the company that manages the cameras.
Colorado Springs police pitched the red-light camera idea to City Council in 2009, saying it would help cut down on broadside crashes caused by drivers running red lights.
In 2009, police and city traffic engineers picked 15 spots where accidents and violations were high. After a 12-hour test, they decided to place the cameras at four of them: Nevada and Bijou; Barnes Road and Oro Blanco Drive; Platte Avenue and Murray Boulevard; and Platte and Circle Drive.
The results after a year, city officials say, are encouraging: violations at Platte and Murray and Platte and Circle have been cut by more than half and by more than a third at Barnes and Oro Blanco.
Police say the red-light cameras are “force multipliers,” freeing up officers for other duties who otherwise would be parked at an intersection watching for violators.
“That’s a secondary benefit of these cameras,” said Lt. Sean Mandel, a member of the traffic enforcement team. “They’re able to enforce traffic laws when we don’t have the manpower to do that at all the lights.”
It seems that drivers have been taking the cameras seriously, too. Ninety-five percent of drivers caught by the cameras in the past year paid their fines.
Being caught by the camera is better than being stopped by a police officer, Leavitt explained.
Violators caught on camera pay a lower fine than violators spotted by police — $75 instead of $150, and the fine carries no points on a driver’s license.
Each vehicle that runs a red-light is captured from the front and back by a 12-second video. One of three police officers on the photo enforcement team reviews the footage and decides whether to fine the driver.
The cost of the cameras was covered entirely by the company which installed them under an agreement that paid American Traffic Solutions the first $5,280 in fines collected at each intersection.
Although the most recent revenue data was not available, as of March the city had taken in $175,731 in fines, which went into the city’s general fund, Leavitt said.
The increase in violations downtown at Nevada and Bijou puzzled Leavitt and Mandel, but might be due to a lot of out-of-town drivers that pass through that intersection.
“You can train the (local) motorists that there’s a red-light enforcement camera there,” Leavitt said. But it appears that you just can’t train the tourists.