PAWTUCKET â€” Saying that he knows the topic is controversial, Councilor Christopher O'Neill on Wednesday called for the formation of an ad hoc committee to continue looking into installing cameras at heavily traveled intersections to improve public safety, despite a letter from the city's police chief recommending that such action be held off in order to try out a new computer program designed to reduce accidents.
O'Neill told the City Council that while he knows there have been both positive and negative reports about the red light cameras, he still thinks â€śthere is meritâ€ť to having them installed to cut down on traffic accidents. He said he has even learned about some advancements in the technology and related systems that work to help prevent accidents.
Additionally, O'Neill said he has spoken with the city's traffic engineer, Michael Burns, who has come up with suggested ways of re-designing some of the city's most dangerous intersections. He also acknowledged that the city's Police Department is implementing a new data-driven computer program aimed at cutting down on crime and accidents. He said an ad hoc committee, one which would include a member of the public, would be useful in looking at the entire issue further.
Prompted by O'Neill, the council had previously asked the Police Department to conduct a review of all motor vehicle accidents reported in 2011in the context of considering installing the cameras at intersections to record and fine traffic violators. The council had also approved an earlier request that the city advertise for requests for proposals (RFPs) for companies to install and monitor a red light camera system.
Later last month, Police Chief Paul King responded with a report to Mayor Donald Grebien showing that out of approximately 3,000 accidents that police responded to in 2011, about 25 percent occurred at intersections with red light signalization.
The chief wrote that the intersection of Mineral Spring Avenue with Lonsdale Avenue had the most accidents (41) at a signaled intersection. This was followed by Newport Avenue (a state road), which had about 25 accidents at each of the following intersections: Newport Avenue at Cottage Street, Newport Avenue at Benefit Street, Newport Avenue at Central Avenue, Newport Avenue at Armistice Boulevard and Newport Avenue at Beverage Hill Avenue. King noted, however, that this may be due to a high volume of traffic and a road design problem as opposed to a red light problem.
King also stated that while red light cameras have been shown to reduce accidents at intersections where they are used, he said it could not be determined whether and to what extent motorists were taking alternative routes to avoid the video monitoring.
King wrote that three companies responded to the city's advertised request: ATS, Redflex, and ACS. All three companies had monthly guaranteed payments required by the city of between $4,550 to $4,931. He explained that essentially, the first 91 tickets collected would be split between the company and the state. For any violations beyond 91 tickets per month that were collected, the fine would be split between the city and the state.
King added that the Police Department would have to dedicate an officer to review traffic violations daily and then issue citations. In order to make this program financially neutral for the city, he said the Police Department would have to issue and collect payment for 1,100 violations per year at each intersection where a red light camera is installed.
King further wrote that the Police Department is in the process of implementing a new program called Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS). Using crime and accident data from the Police Department's computer system, the department would use directed patrols in those areas in order to reduce crime and accidents.
King stated that this DDACTS system allows for more interpersonal contact between the police officers and citizens while at the same time increasing public safety. He concluded, â€śTherefore, I suggest that we allow our DDACTS program to be implemented as planned and evaluate it at the end of a year. If significant reductions in accidents in targeted areas have not taken place, then we could revisit the red light camera installations.â€ť
At Wednesday's City Council meeting, O'Neill lobbied for the ad hoc group, saying he had already spent a considerable amount of time meeting with various parties on the issue. â€śMy goal is to improve public safety,â€ť he stated.
Councilor James Chadwick commented that, based on several published reports and news stories he has seen, he is less enthusiastic about the red light cameras than he was a year or so ago when O'Neill first proposed the idea. He said, however, that he would not object to an ad hoc panel looking at the issue more broadly.
City Council president David Moran told O'Neill he would take the ad hoc committee suggestion under advisement.
O'Neill later told The Times that he hopes his fellow councilors support the formation of an ad hoc committee. He said he envisions the panel including members of the police department, the city engineer, the mayor's administration, a representative of the city council, and a member of the public. He said that while he sees pros and cons with all of the plansâ€”red light cameras, intersection re-designs and the new police computer program, he thinks a â€śhybridâ€ť solution could be employed to cut down on accidents.