Traffic Light Cameras in Pittsburgh!
Man, Bill Peduto is killin’ it on pedestrian issues. This is amazing stuff. I wish all our elected officials would step up like he has. He wants to install traffic light cameras at certain lights around the city to catch people running lights and endangering pedestrians. The revenues generated would then be used for more pedestrian enhancements. Check out our blog post for a link to the article in the Post-Gazette. Wouldn’t hurt to thank the man too.
Let’s start suggesting intersections, then submit them to the city?
21st and Liberty
10th and E. Carson
Aiken and Center
I almost got hit by someone running a red light yesterday myself.
I don’t know if cameras are the answer, it does sound like a good idea in some ways, but in other ways it is kind of big-brother-esque.
I have read in some news articles that the red light cameras actually increase the number of accidents in intersections that have them because people drive more erratically when they come up to them slamming on their brakes when the light changes yellow (more rear end collisions) etc.
Also, most of these fines are collected by private businesses who install the cameras (the speed cameras around DC are like this). These companies get a “cut” of whatever fines they rake in, and they have been supposedly caught around the country rigging the timing of the lights (albeit I don’t know how they would have control over light timing) in order to trip up more people into the collection system.
However, I see people running red lights all the time around here, and if you are on a public street it is perfectly legal for anyone to take your picture, so people should not be too bent out of shape if the government takes your photo as well.
I am not a fan of big brother at all, but I think something should be done to calm down some of the drivers who just feel like they own the road and don’t have to follow the rules.
I would hate to see Pittsburgh end up like London where you can’t walk the entire area of the city without hundreds of cameras watching your every move though.
I hate to go against the grain here, but red light cameras aren’t exactly all they’re cracked up to be. I lived in the DC area for 6 years and they had them everywhere. There were 2 main problems with them.
First the company that installed them shortened the yellow light and the result was a lot of speeding up at intersections and a lot of stopping short (which you can imagine kept auto mechanics and tow trucks pretty happy).
Second, the lights are very sensitive, so if you just nose out over the stop line they take your picture (less of a problem in 1 plate PA) – and it’s a traffic violation to be in front of the stop line.
Basically these cameras contributed to making intersections more dangerous places where more accidents occurred. Negotiating less safe intersections isn’t exactly my idea of enjoyable biking.
On the upside, the cameras made more money for DC than they initially projected.
An article was written about this in the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/03/AR2005100301844.html
I agree that the yellow phase shouldn’t be shortened. Also something would need to be done about cars turning right on red.
I’d like to see the crash/injury stats in DC. I’m guessing side impact crashes were reduced while rear-endings increased. I think that can be mitigated by keeping the yellow the same or even increasing it by a second or two.
Here’s a site with a few studies posted: http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/04/430.asp
The yellow phase is designed to provide ample time for a vehicle traveling at the design speed of the roadway to safely clear the intersection if the vehicle is at a distance shorter than the stop-sight distance required to react from a signal change and break to stop at the stop bar.
If the yellow phase is arbitrarily changed, then we have law suits, and licensed professional traffic engineers for both sides will review and comment on the validity of the signal phasing configuration in front of a trial jury. It’s a mess and it’s an expensive undertaking to get out of a ticket.
The increase in accidents is directly attributed to aggressive driving habits and inattention due to multitasking.
Perhaps that’s the goal of these camera: the accidents take the vehicles off the road, which make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists… or just add more rental cars?
I don’t think robots handing out tickets is quite constitutional either. My ex girlfriend got a speeding ticket from DC a month after a visit down there. Granted, you don’t get points for it, but all they really have to prove you were speeding is a photograph of your car.
Anyone can take a still photo of your car and just arbitrarily make up a speed you were traveling, regardless of how many safeguards and checks and balances there are in the system. Same with a red light. They could literally just snap a shot of every car going through the light and then the people who get the tickets are responsible for showing up in court to defend themselves.
The running of the red lights problem has no easy solution. Lots of people do it all the time. I see it happen all the time when people try and speed up to beat the yellow light.
However, is letting private corporations police the citizenry instead of police who are accountable to the people (in theory anyway) the proper solution?
Like people say, if the cameras could be configured to catch only the worst offenders, not shorten the yellow phase, and catch the drivers who blatently run through the red lights, it could work.
But the studies seem to show that corporate greed ends up trumping public safety and common sense to trap as many people into the computer system as they can snare.
I should add that if the money really will go to making improvements for pedestrians and cyclists instead of corporate pockets then that sweetens the deal quite a bit.
> Anyone can take a still photo of your car and
> just arbitrarily make up a speed you were
But just like the State Trooper’s radar guns, these cameras are triggered by radar or lasers. If you want to dispute that you were going as fast as the machine says you were the authority will pull the calibration records and perhaps run another calibration test to ensure that the reading is accurate. The State Trooper does not rely on making up a number, he goes with what the machine says.
> I have read in some news articles that the
> red light cameras actually increase the
> number of accidents in intersections
There are more accidents but they are less serious. People may have more fender-benders as they rubberneck the cameras but there will be fewer fatalities and serious accidents from people blowing through the light.
I don’t see this as a bad thing.
Now, does it make it safer for all concerned? Do people looking for the cameras not see pedestrians and cyclists? Are the cameras placed to increase safety or revenue? Are we willing to give up some liberties (the freedom to run a red light) for the added safety? Are there sufficient safeguards in place to ensure that the cameras are used only for their intended purpose and not used by authorities to monitor the movements of otherwise law-abiding citizens.
Questions that need to be answered.
“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
However, taking a photo of someone in a public place, and in a manner that anyone standing there can also view with their own eyes, is not a violation of someone’s rights. You could literally stand at these corners with a video camera and post violators on YouTube or send it to the police and be perfectly fine.
I don’t necessarily see the red light cameras a violation of our rights, just a step down the path of the “Brave New World” or a “1984” society.
Part of the problem is that so many people expect the government to solve all of our problems, when in reality there is no way you can prevent bad things happening to people all of the time. That is just part of living in a free society.
The more people look to the government to solve all of their problems, the more problems people tend to have overall… Ask the Chinese, Russians, and Germans among others who have lived through totalitarianism.
The concept walks the line between being too big brother and keeping people safe, and I actually don’t know if I am for or against them myself.
I would much prefer that the streets and sidewalks be redesigned so that there is less incentive to run the light. Less opportunity for turning cars to cut off cyclists. Less reason for jaywalkers to step out into traffic and, when they do, a lessened likelihood that they will be run over.
I don’t believe that the threat of punishment modifies behavior sufficiently. If it was, then people wouldn’t run through lights in the first place. People’s risk/benefit calculation needs to be skewed on an almost unconscious level. “Traffic Calming” designs make streets seem more dangerous to travel on at a high speed than they actually are so people slow down. Or, better yet, get cars off the road. Fewer cars allow those cars that are on the road to travel at a more consistent speed. Without the psychological “stop and go” of heavy traffic, people are less likely to be stressed and thus less likely to rush the light.
England and Germany have a lot of these cameras but they haven’t done quite so much street redesign. Copenhagen doesn’t seem to have these cameras but they started their campaign of street redesign 30 years ago before the camera technology became available. Because we are getting an even later start, we may need to accept the cameras as a transitional form in the evolution of complete streets.
Good point. Putting a camera in front of the grocery store entrance won’t stop people from zipping by nearly as effectively as speed bumps do.
I find that people jaywalk quite a bit more and bikers are more apt to run red lights around Pittsburgh because most of our streets are so narrow. Just go to Cleveland for an afternoon and try to jaywalk or run a light on your bike… You are likely to get squashed.
It is not as if they can rip out skyscrapers and office buildings downtown to widen intersections, but the design has a more powerful effect in conditioning people to behave than the threat of punishment and big brother watching your every move for sure.
I like the things I have read about Copenhagen, but don’t expect them to do those kinds of things here in the United States anytime soon. We can definitely learn from those things as a society.
The money spent on useless signs alone here in the U.S. would be enough to make some real improvements I imagine, if they put that money into a useful solution (like street signs you can actually see when driving around here for one).
Fewer signs, narrow one-way streets: confuse the driver and you greatly reduce their speed. It’s been working like gangbusters in may EU countries. Well, that and petrol is 8 or more dollars a gallon and they don’t make cars with cupholders…
I have noticed parking lots getting more confusing myself… Every time they build a new shopping-plex the parking lots keep turning into more of a twisting maze.
I am sure this is partly because it forces people to slow down.
Everyone I know hates the Brentwood Giant Eagle parking lot for example, but it is absolutely impossible to pick up speed to 20 mph because there is not a single stretch of the lot where you can do so.
Granted, much of the terrain around this town does not warrant the flat-expansive parking lots that you might be able to have out in the flat plains-states.
I am sure the money spent on big brother cameras could possibly be used to come up with a solution to the red light issue, and the answer may even be cheaper.
Another example of horrible traffic design here in the city that I drove through today which made me think of this thread is southbound on crosstown boulevard…
When you take 579 south to the liberty bridge at the afternoon rush hour, the poor souls in the left lane near the 6th ave exit end up sitting there for 2 hours because 90% of the people drive the right-lane all the way to the liberty bridge exit ramp and then cut into the left lane just before the bridge.
I have learned to do this maneuver myself because I have to go from north hills to Brookline and back daily every other week. The few times I sat in the left lane like you are supposed to, it took me over an hour to get to the bridge because it takes 7 or 8 turns of the light to move one car-length.
When I stay to the right and weave into the mess of cars all piled up to cut into the left-lane, and cut into it myself my time sitting there is usually less than 5 minutes.
They could put up a camera and issue a ticket to everyone who does this (literally more cars than people sitting in the left lane like you are supposed to), but in the end it is the bad design of 3 lanes of traffic trying to crowd into one lane to get on the bridge that causes this mess every single day.
Not exactly related to the running of the red lights problem, but an example of how bad traffic design causes people to just do things their own way.
By the way, I did see someone run a red light through the 5-way intersection by my house this afternoon on my way to Brookline. The light had changed red way before the guy drove through it.
It wasn’t one of these “it was yellow when I got in the intersection” excuses, it was most certainly red for at least a second or two before he went barreling through.
I do see this happening more and more as time moves on, along with the lack of turn-signals and other things.
People are becoming more arrogant and idiotic with their driving around here, I notice it getting worse all the time.
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