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Colorado Springs crowd skeptical of purpose, effectiveness of red light cameras

November 15, 2017 Updated: November 16, 2017 at 10:48 am
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A worker with American Camera Safety finishes installing a red light camera Thursday, August 26, 2010 at the intersection of at the intersection of Murray Boulevard and Platte Avenue in Colorado Springs, Colo. Anthony Souffle, The Gazette

The prospect of installing red light cameras at some Colorado Springs intersections was met by the public Wednesday with cautions of corruption, accusations of money grubbing and questions of effectiveness.

But police and city leaders said during a public meeting Wednesday night they’re only trying to make the city’s streets safer and reduce traffic fatalities. The idea, however, was largely met with distaste, though a few in the crowd applauded the idea.

This summer, Mayor John Suthers gave Police Chief Pete Carey the green light to see if the cameras could reduce traffic violations, decrease accidents and free officers for other duties. The department is in the process of examining which intersections might benefit the most and how the lights could be implemented.

Colorado Springs Police Lt. Cari Graves told the crowd Wednesday that intersection-related crashes are up 4.5 percent from 2015 to 2016 and there were 16.6 percent more injury accidents in the first six months of this year compared to the first half of last year.

Ten people have died in vehicle versus pedestrian crashes so far in 2017, Carey said. “That’s a big deal to me,” he said.

Red light cameras might be able to help curb those numbers, Graves and Carey said.

Harry Keefe said he’s doubtful, however.

Keefe said he lives near the intersection of Constitution Avenue and Murray Boulevard and he remembers when the city had red light cameras in 2010. Twice each day he would drive through Platte Avenue and Murray, where a camera was installed.

“I saw two rear-end accidents where the light turned yellow, people slammed on their brakes and people hit them,” Keefe said. “I thought (the cameras) were a traffic hazard.”

If cameras were to be installed again, they would create a similar hazard, Keefe said. And at the same time authorities would nickel and dime motorists for minor violations, likely in poorer neighborhoods where residents can hardly afford a ticket, he said.

Graves said tickets would charge drivers $75, but would not dock their license any points. If the person who receives a ticket was not the one driving, the citation would be tossed. Carey said the goal is to prevent drivers from running red lights, not to issue tickets for minor citations.

And while rear-end accidents are still a possibility, those are far less deadly than broadside accidents, Carey and Graves said.

Municipal Court Administrator Judge HayDen Kane also noted that the tickets would be subject to an appeal process.

Another city resident, Samuel Woods, said he moved to Colorado from Virginia, where a city was caught shortening the length of yellow lights so more tickets were issued. Others in the crowd chimed in, fearful of similar problems here.

If revenue from the tickets goes to the city’s general fund, “the City Council can use that for whatever they please,” Woods said.

Carey rebuked the notion that the city is considering the cameras to generate money. He offered to measure the current yellow light times, should they need to be compared to the times in the future. He did acknowledge that the proposal requires a leap of faith but said, “I’m not playing any games” with yellow lights and “I don’t make the decisions on where that revenue goes.”

Graves said if the department decides to move forward, four intersections will be selected, though more might be added later.

After Keefe suggested the cameras quickly lose their effectiveness once drivers realize where they are and that they should be mobile, Carey said he was open to the possibility of moving them around.

Still, Keefe remained unconvinced.

“I don’t think it’s going to do what you think it’s going to do, although it will generate revenue,” he said.

Despite an overwhelming crowd of naysayers, there were some who supported the idea — former-Mayor Lionel Rivera among them. They spoke of past experience with red light cameras in other cities, saying they did help keep intersections safer.

Police Lt. Howard Black said the department is still investigating what intersections might need the cameras the most and that ultimately the decision lies with Suthers. He said a decision should be made on whether to move forward with the project within the first half of 2018.

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