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Say cheese! City considering cameras on traffic lights

March 12, 2011

PAWTUCKET — A city long known for its prodigious use of radar details to capture speeders is considering following Providence's lead and installing cameras at traffic signals to catch red light scofflaws.
At Wednesday's City Council meeting, Rick Ledford, vice president of sales for Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. (ACS) outlined how the camera system works as both a means of improving the safety at intersections and generating revenue from fines.
Councilor Christopher O'Neill said that he and Councilor Albert Vilati Jr. had met with Ledford last month after he had sent an e-mail about his company to all of the council members. After hearing about the camera system, he said that he and Vitali thought the program was something that could benefit Pawtucket and wanted the entire council to hear about it. “I like it because it saves lives and improves public safety,” O'Neill told the council. “We can also generate revenue if we need to, but that's the last of it.”
Ledford said that ACS has been used with great success in Providence for the past seven years, resulting in a 60 to 70 percent reduction in intersection accidents. Cameras have been installed at the approaches to 25 of the city's most “egregious” intersections, he said. When a motorist runs a red light, the camera snaps two photos of the vehicle and 12 seconds of video. The images are evaluated jointly by ACS staff and the Providence Police Department's traffic division, and the violator is then issued a ticket by mail.
“It is not a 'gotcha' program,' it's a safety program,” said Ledford. “It is designed to change driver behavior.” He noted that when people first learn to drive, they are taught to apply their brakes at a yellow light, but many get lazy over the years and speed up instead to beat the red light. The camera program, he maintains, forces motorists to relearn the safer practice of starting to apply their brakes at a yellow light in preparation of coming to a stop.
Ledford pointed out that these violations result in a civil penalty, which do not show up on a motorist's driving record. “I liken it to an expensive parking ticket,” he said. “If you don't break the law, you have nothing to worry about.” He also noted that the tickets obviously generate revenue for municipalities, although he declined to say just how much the city of Providence had taken in since it began the camera monitoring program.
Ledford said that ACS owns and maintains the equipment and installs the cameras at no cost to the municipality under contract. Typically, he said the company makes its money through a percentage that is split with the city from the revenue generated by the violations. As a hypothetical example, he explained that if “camera A” brought in $10,000 a month in fines, the flat fee to ACS would be $4,000 and the city would keep the other $6,000.
Ledford added that a typical contract with a municipality lasts three to five years. The cost to ACS is estimated and then amortized over the life of the contract. He said that in a city the size of Pawtucket, an estimated 10 to 15 intersections would likely be recommended for camera monitoring, and ACS would work with the police department and highway department to determine the most hazardous or egregious intersections.
Following the presentation, O'Neill asked Pawtucket Police Chief Paul King, who was at the meeting, what he thought of the program. King replied that he did not know enough about this particular program, but said, “I can't argue that it would change behavior.” He said that of the 700-plus accidents that take place in the city each year, about 80 percent of them occur at intersections. The chief added, “I would like to put a cop at every intersection, but I can't.”
O'Neill made a motion that a letter be sent to Mayor Donald Grebien asking that a camera monitoring program be explored further, and the council approved his request.
Councilor Paul Wildenhain noted that he has received a lot of phone calls from people complaining about parents who are leaving their vehicles double and triple parked when picking up or dropping off children at schools. He asked if the cameras could be used to monitor and film this type of behavior.
Ledford said that cameras can be placed in a stationery vehicle to perform radar functions without involving a police officer. He also said there is pending legislation in the Rhode Island General Assembly proposing that cameras be used to capture people “speeding on a green light.” If this passes, he said the same cameras can be used to snap pictures of people speeding through the intersections “with the flip of a switch.”
O'Neill later told the Times that since there are other camera monitoring companies besides ACS that could offer the same service, he intends to also ask that a request for proposals (RFP) be drafted if the administration decides to pursue the plan.
On a different note, there are cameras already installed at several intersections in the downtown area that have nothing to do with catching red light runners or speeders. The Rhode Island Department of Transportation has placed video cameras, mounted on top of traffic signals, at six locations near the Pawtucket River Bridge construction project to monitor traffic flow.
According to Heidi Gudmundson with RIDOT's Office of Communications, the cameras are a new method for detecting traffic at an intersection, similar to loops in the pavement that RIDOT has used at most traffic signals throughout the state. The cameras are designed to interact with the computer system that runs the traffic signal system (located inside a cabinet controller “box” at the intersection). These signal upgrades provide better quality to manage traffic flow due to existing and upcoming detours, she said.
The video cameras have been mounted at the following locations: George Street at Marrin Street and Grace Street, George Street at Cedar Street and the I-95 Southbound off-ramp, Pearl Street/Marrin Street at Garden Street, Marrin Street at Pine Street, Cedar Street at Pine Street, and Cedar Street at Garden Street.
The video monitoring cameras have been activated so far at all of the intersections except George/Marrin/Grace streets and George Street/Cedar Street, said Gudmundson.

 

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