Red Light Cameras in Pittsburgh: Good, Bad, Ugly?
“I think everyone agrees that a private company shouldn’t be profiting from [war]. [war] should be left to [the federal government with congressional oversight]. THEY should be controlling [war]. If a private entity has influence over the operation of [a war], or [a war], and is profiting from that operation, that’s an obvious conflict of interest and should never be allowed. It’s sad that some places have allowed that to happen.”
Sorry, I had to do that.
I think it’s difficult politically right now for a government to do this without using a private company for supposed “cost savings”. It would be better if the police handled law enforcement, but that may not be on the table.
But if the private company’s revenue isn’t linked to the number of tickets they issue, while their costs are, what keeps them from saving money by noticing as few infractions as possible?
echo war | sed s/war/jails/g
[Edit, for those who don’t do Unix: global replacement of all occurrences of the string ‘war’ with the string ‘jails’.]
Stu, I think you can generalize even further by saying law enforcement instead of jails
This is not a new technology by any stretch of the imagination. The technical implementation problems discussed above have all been solved by the many cities that have implemented them successfully long term, all over the world. Shall we not reinvent the wheel?
The political and psychological problems are also not new, and have also been solved by the countless towns that have implemented this technology in the past. Some of those places have removed the technology (one solution is to avoid the problem). Some have tweaked it and kept it. Most who have had them for more than five years or so don’t even talk about it any more, it’s just an accepted part of life.
The trick with implementation is to adjust and learn from the technical and political issues they’ve had in the past, do it transparently so all expectations and motives are clear, and do it fast enough to get the general public through the learning/acceptance curve faster than the detractors can kill it. Otherwise, they’ll just be blamed for various evils and scrapped.
Personally, I don’t see successful and broad implementation of such a system in this city happening. I associate these systems with places that are more progressive than I’ve seen Pittsburgh be. I see Pittsburgh as one of those places that puts in a small number as a pilot program that gets a lot of press and complaints, it gets tweaked to usefulness for a brief period of time, then the program either fails to expand (thus we’ve got like 5 useful cameras but no more) or they’re quietly turned off but not taken down (slow budget death). Perhaps that’s just my own bad attitude, but it just strikes me as the most likely outcome.
On a separate but previously brought up point:
If enforcing the laws is not financially viable, it is the government’s job to make sure that the penalties involved, and the enforcement budgets involved, are worth it. Perhaps simply modifying the fines from a fixed price (set in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s?) to a fee that progresses and keeps up with inflation, and starts off high enough to be “worth it”, might go a long way towards a solution.
For instance, if a fine for, say, passing a school bus, was actually put in place in, say, 1970, as $250, in 2012 to have the same impact on society that fine would have to have become $1,467. Not saying that’s when that fine was passed, but we have a lot of old fines that haven’t kept up. Sure, some people couldn’t handle a $250 fine. But a $1k+ fine would take financial wrangling for almost anybody to pull off within 30 days – many would likely have to arrange a payment plan.
Both implementation of a progressive fine system and discussion of it while renewing licenses – your signature on the line means you’ve read and understand a handful of representative fines – could not only educate but motivate people to frigging not break the law.
But all of that is assuming anybody in power actually cares enough to overhaul a broken system that is culturally acceptable.
Anonymous 03/29/2012 at 5:21pm #
@ejwme This is a very dangerous path and sometimes it leads to revolutions. And one of consequences is to apply the same rules to bicyclists. Imagine, filtering traffic — $400, passing stop without stopping — $800, passing school bus — $1,467.
Mikhail, I personally would have no problem being held accountable for my cycling behavior in traffic and following the laws of the land, be the fines $5 or $5000. It is my responsibility to follow the laws whether I know them or not, whether I can afford it or not, and if I deviate, I may believe I have the moral high ground and can do so safely but that does not make my actions legal. Again, if the punishment does not fit the crime, it is the government’s job to modify the crime description or punishment accordingly.
But ejwme, what if the government (or whomever it subcontracts this to if it would do so)likes the status quo just as it is because of all the money rolling in to it from something like this? What incentive does it have to change anything?
And what are you going to do if you can’t afford the fine, other than set up a payment plan?
I suspect Mikhail is speaking from first hand experience in the country he lived in before he emigrated here.
if the status quo is preferred by those in power and those capable of removing them from power, the status quo shall remain. When people get fed up enough to change it, it will change. Politicians have re-election as incentive to do just enough to keep their jobs, but no more. More is added risk.
But you’re seriously willing to assume that a progressive and cost-of-living tied fine system WOULD get put in to place but not also include adequate provisions for people being able to pay steeper fines, or gradations depending on circumstances? What, so it’s fun to argue about the color of grass in utopia?
If I can neither afford the fine nor set up payment plan, then I am left with the options government gives me. I’ve never been in that situation in this country, but I believe at some point a bench warrant is issued for my arrest, and when executed I’m provided with a trial date, at the trial (assuming I show up) I’m provided with the options the judge both has available and sees fit to allow (these options would be part of the legislation’s job to define adequately). At that point typically a payment plan is set up or sentencing/jail time. Depending on the case, jail time may come earlier in the story or not. This is going on information gleaned from a sources about debts and fines owed but not paid in a variety of jurisdictions, and all second hand. It seems like a straightforward process, but I may be wrong.
And using fear of getting rear ended as an excuse to run red lights? BS. The person might not stop behind you no matter the color of the light or the swiftness of your deceleration, thus after checking to make sure it’s clear, you should run every red light. The second you take on responsibility for all other drivers’ idiocy OVER your own responsibility to drive safely AND obey the laws, you’re setting yourself up for failure and perpetuating the problem.
Anonymous 03/29/2012 at 10:02pm #
@cdavey Exactly. The problem is that there has to be a way to affect government in term what kind of law is going to in effect and how this rolled in into effect. If you let goverment to do whatever they want — welcome back to the USSR where ruling party has unlimited power and it could do whatever it want to do. BTW whenever prices went up it was announced that it was done by people request (multiple requests).
I am also law law abiding human being. And I believe I understand the advantages of “law is the same for everyone”. Sometimes I am willing to give up something based on famous “for their own good”. But the later one is a very-very slippery road. There is a fine and if you cross it there is no more democracy.
Reelection is another topic. 4 years (2, 6) is long time. And once you have a law it’s hard to get rid off it — there new laws you have to make, there are gozillions other things you have to resolve, so this task (to remove a law or even correct) has to compete with everything else. So I would say — it takes more than one term to get a law, it takes even longer to get rid off it.
Just an example — http://www.dumblaws.com/laws/united-states/pennsylvania
You may not catch a fish with your hands.
If it’s true then why this law is still in effect?
Perhaps dumb laws that go uninforced and have no affect on the population are still in place because the cost to remove them from the books is not worth it. Or perhaps that law is actually part of the gaming commission’s attempt to cut down on fishing by dynamite (I can totally see “But officer, I don’t know about any dynamite, I just picked up the fish from the water with my hands when I happened to look down and saw the were floating right up after I got woken from my nap by a boom…” – there’s no way to prove what dynamite belonged to who, but admission of fishing by hand is admission to a crime, thanks to the dumb law). Stupid laws often have strange sources and reasons.
This is 2012 and the US. I appreciate the different experience the USSR must have been, perhaps more than most, however using the USSR as an example of why we shouldn’t put in place red light cameras, or why running red lights is acceptable, just makes no sense.
There IS a way to affect government in terms of what laws go into effect and how they are implemented. There are many ways, actually. Elections, putting referendums on ballots, petitions, protests, getting media attention, getting businesses to support the cause… there’s even an entire profession dedicated to it called “Lobbying”. You are assuming that you are different and apart and unable to affect the government, but if you have the legal right to vote, you have the ability to advocate, donate, sign, call, write, complain in person at public hearings, and even vote. Thus, in this country, in 2012, sitting back and complaining about an attempt to do something about the very real problem of traffic law enforcement and the culture of casual traffic deaths, is just ridiculous.
Unfortunately it seems increasing obvious to me that one of the best ways today to affect government in terms of what laws go into effect is to have lots of money to elect the best politicians that your money can buy.
That said, it appears to be least true on the local government level ejwme seems to be talking about, more so on the national and state levels. And it is less true with the narrow topic of traffic law enforcement that with other topics.
I guess I just remain troubled by the idea that I should necessarily have to submit to being watched/spied upon as part of the privilege of driving down the road in a car or on a bike. It keeps putting me in mind of those cameras in every room of everyone’s house in the movie version of “1984” that you never knew whether they were on or off watching and listening to what you were doing, and that was the point. All the technology did was to make it more administratively convenient to do so.
Anonymous 03/30/2012 at 3:49am #
I know what you’re saying, cdavey, and I’m not necessarily even arguing for one side or the other on these issues of red light cameras and fines, but that desire for privacy is part of the larger problem here. Although cars are really good at encouraging people to forget this, roads are public spaces. That means we don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy on the road in the way we would in our own homes. Things you do (“you” being any driver/cyclist/other road user) on public roads can have serious consequences for other individuals and for society (in terms of lives, limbs, wallets, etc.). As part of the privilege of using that space, we have to be willing to give into certain rules and to the monitoring that is necessary to enforce those rules, because what we do on the road is, in some sense, everybody’s business.
pearmask, I’m not really taking one side or the other either. I need to spend some time thinking this one through some more and I haven’t had time to do it. I do agree with you and think you are probably right that this is at heart a question about the public realm/private realm and where and in what way we draw the line between them.
Anonymous 03/30/2012 at 6:11am #
Yeah. It’s complicated. (My current feelings about these issues may also be slightly colored by the fact that I’ve been reading Tom Vanderbilt’s book and wishing everywhere was like in Amsterdam or Copenhagen where roads really are public spaces and cars are guests… I fantasize about living in that kind of world! Sigh.)
@pearmask I had a very similar conversation with an attorney acquaintance from virginia who was all fired up about their recent no texting law.
Anonymous 03/30/2012 at 2:22pm #
@pearmask What about public restrooms? We know that some junkies uses them for fixes and it could affect everybody. Why we don’t set cameras there to enforce laws?
I think, following people even in public spaces to monitor their life requires a probable cause and a special licensing.
To go even further, we can require people to wear a GPS reporting system. Track their position on a public property and erase on a private properties. It’s doable, US government+state government+local one have all info. It just a matter to link them and to data mine them. And you can do it on cheap cluster system working on Linux.
Somehow I don’t like an idea that someone could easily track my all movement even in public places. I don’t believe that this information are not going to be used to abuse people because very often is not facts that important, it’s an interpretation of facts. Or like market people like to say: “Perception is the reality!”
Technology wise, It would be easy to track your movement in public places anyway if you have a cell phone. They wouldn’t need to force people to wear a GPS reporting system, they would do it voluntarily.
Location can be gathered from triangulation of cell towers (E911 usees this) and even most dumbphones one’s have some sort of GPS capability now which could be exploited.
Alternatively, combined with the CIA facebook program, the government could know everything they need to know
Mikhail’s concern is the same as mine. Being able to track your movements just because you are out in a public space troubles me just like it troubles him. Except he knows from first hand experience far greater than ours where this can lead to and what it can be like.
And Benzo is right. It’a already possible to do the tracking from nothing more than having your cell phone on — which everybody does. The concern I have is that if it is possible for the government or whomever to track you this way, at some point they are likely to do it for whatever reason good or bad. Incrimentally introducing this kind of monitoring/control or whatever is a good way to do it because everyone gets used to the small step that was taken without thinking much about it. To use an overused analogy, it’s the frog in the hot water — turn the heat up slowly and the frog doesn’;t realize he is being cooked.
Anonymous 03/30/2012 at 3:51pm #
In the past, red light cameras used Nikon DSLR still cameras, not video cameras. I think they were D2x or D200 models. So, it’s not a live-monitoring situation like in London or Chicago…the hardware isn’t capable of it. Even if they pushed the maximum framerate of 3-5 fps, and had the network infrastructure to haul the data out of the camera box in real time, I would bet that the mirror or shutter would break within a few days.
If you’re worried about your vehicle being tracked, there is already a fleet of boot enforcement vehicles I’ve seen prowling the city scanning every license plate the cameras spot & running a check on the tag. So, yeah….at least red light cameras have the potential for a positive impact (no pun intended) on people’s lives.
i don’t buy the slippery slope argument. in order for an induction to be valid, there must be compelling evidence to indicate n implies n+1. it is definitely not apparent to me how allowing cameras photograph red light runners leads to video cameras in bathrooms.
To use an overused analogy, it’s the frog in the hot water — turn the heat up slowly and the frog doesn’;t realize he is being cooked.
PAT buses are each equipped with 4 or 5 cameras at a 5fps frame rate. I am told they are primarily used to assist in prosecuting those who attack drivers.
I would love to join in this conversation but cannot think of good language that would not come across as antagonistic.
Stay away from Regent Square if you’re the paranoid type. Edgewood, Swissvale and I believe Wilkinsburg police have access to cameras throughout the neighborhood in their vehicles.
Anonymous 03/30/2012 at 10:34pm #
What HiddenVariable said.
I’m just trying to say that if I could give up privacy on the road and in exchange decrease my chance of being smashed by a car, I would totally make that trade. But I do know it’s arguable whether things like cameras actually offer that decreased risk, and I also know not everyone wants to make that trade. It’s a tricky thing.
And beyond that, what dmtroyer said.
ETA: What I was saying originally was partly referring to the issue of constitutional right to privacy. In America, yes, Supreme Court precedent says you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in spaces like public restrooms: they’re “public,” but they are specifically created to offer privacy, so they’re special. There’s not precedent like that for the road, and I don’t think there’s any good constitutional argument that you should have an expectation of privacy there. (Some people have tried to make it in relation to these cameras, but I don’t think they’ve gotten very far.)
I was in favor of red light cameras before I was against them…
I just haven’t seen any evidence that they change traffic patterns and I don’t know anyone who ever received a ticket for a legit reason; the vast majority of revenue comes from right turns on red which is the modern day equivalent of rolling through a stop sign.
Cameras, cameras everywhere.
Lightpoles. Police cars. Bike helmets.
Lots of pics and videos on this board. Pics and videos taken by cyclists.
Lots of “wish I had a helmet cam” comments.
Not so many “respect my privacy comments” about those pics and videos though.
Guess it depends on who is behind the camera?
I like cameras that take pictures.
I don’t like cameras that track my location.
As long as they are used as evidence after the fact rather than for spying, I’ll leave my tin foil hat at home.
Anonymous 03/31/2012 at 12:54am #
@hiddenvariable I don’t think you can use mathematical induction in this case. Because no one stating that is going to happen always (mathematically speaking, no one uses universal quanatifier and some conditions when it’s going to happen). It’s more a probability question. And observations show that those data could be misused and they similar to credit card numbers, SSN, etc would be misused at some moment. The road is slippery because probability get increased. To use an analogy, when road gets icy probability someone falls increases but there si no guarantee that that someone will fall.
HB 950 is up for a vote — it would renew red-light cameras indefinitely (previously they were a pilot program). I think it’s a good thing to support.
Oh, this also includes the change to allow us to proceed through a red light if the signal doesn’t respond.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety studied cities which have removed red light cameras:
They found that, after adjusting for other factors, red-light-running crashes went up 30 percent.
Further, all types of crashes at intersections with traffic signals went up 16 percent. That finding suggests that red-light cameras deter other behavior by motorists, not just red-light running, said Wen Hu, co-author of the study.
If we’re willing to give up essentially all of our privacy to the Federal Government for the extremely, extremely, extremely improbable risk of being killed by terrorism, I think it’s okay to give up some privacy to help curtail a culture of driving that kills 60k people a year. The Federal government already has your cell location data. Google and Facebook have your location data. So what’s one more group?
I think some places removed after people complained about the private companies who installed them and reaped the $$$ from them or cities using them as budget balancing tools.
If the $$$ from the camera could be plowed back into something transportation related, the fines may be more palatable.
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