With Red Light Cameras All But Gone, What’s Next for Creating Safe Crossings

(Update: The L.A. Times reports there was more chicanery at City Council today and the motion has been sent back to the Finance and Budget Committee, Chaired by red light camera backer Bernard Parks.  Streetsblog still believes that it is wildly unlikely the program should be saved and the Council should focus on what to do with the the money “saved” by killing the program.)

While the Los Angeles City Council didn’t formally vote to end the city’s red-light camera program, the writing is clearly on the wall.  Of the twelve members present, seven voted to end the program, and of the three absent at least Greig Smith has voiced opposition to the program.  To raise the bar even higher, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is backing the Police Commission’s unanimous vote to end the program.

Richard Alarcon and Telfair Elementary School children try out the new Smart Crosswalk in 2007. With the city ending its red light camera program, some of the

While we thank Council Members Richard Alarcon, Tony Cardenas, Tom LaBonge, Bernard Parks and Jan Perry for their leadership, it’s time to turn the page and ask the City Council how they plan to make streets safer for all users if cameras aren’t the answer.  In opposing the motion to continue the program, Councilman Bill Rosendahl claimed the program cost the city $2.6 million a year and Councilman Paul Krekorian argued that “Every cent we spend on this is a cent we’re not spending on something else.”

This implies that the City Council is planning on spending the $2.6 million on something else, and not just using it to fix a small part of the City’s budget deficit.  The question should now be, how can the city most effectively spend those funds.

Obviously, none of the Council stated opposition to safe traffic crossings, although Councilman Dennis Zine is urging motorists not to pay traffic camera tickets after they break the law, and thus the Council ordered a study of whether or not extended yellow lights or short “all red” times in cycles can reduce crashes.  A study is a good first step, but as the city moves farther from the recent debate over cameras, the urgency to fund innovative projects is diminished.

So what can be done?

While the City Council passed millions of dollars from Measure R funds for a Safe Routes to School study that would finally allow the city to take a city-wide look at schools most in need of help instead of the political process it has now.  However, they failed to fund a position to oversee the study or manage the city’s myriad pedestrian safety programs.  This unallocated pot of funds could fund dozens of pedestrian coordinators, but the city only needs one.

The group Safer Streets L.A., in their effort to discredit the red light cameras, published a report back in January listing many of the improvements that they felt would provide greater safety benefits than red light cameras.  Now that the cameras are all but gone, it will be interesting to see if Safer Streets will live up to their name or whether it was all a ruse to get the cameras removed.

In their report, they note that LADOT has a history of removing marked, but unsignalized, crosswalks because it creates a “false sense of safety” for the pedestrian.  Safer Streets, in a laundry list of recommendations, urges LADOT to end this strategy and instead focus on improving these crossings.  While a signal is an expensive way to make the crossing safer, there are many less expensive ways, such as:

1) a two-beacon yielding system, pictured at the right, has been shown to increase traffic yielding to pedestrians by over 75%.  A four beacon system increases the effectiveness up another 11%.

2) pedestrian safety cones inside of crosswalks yielded a 12% increase in drivers yielding to pedestrians in New York City

3) overhead signs are showing less effectiveness than the less expensive alternative traffic cones, but still show nearly 7% improvements in yielding.

4) The most effective signage solution is the overhead “hawk” signal where a special red-light system is put in for pedestrians.  I’ve seen these crossings used in the Fairfax District of the city to great effect.

While these, and other, signage treatments may make things safer throughout the city, the Council now owes the communities surrounding the 32 intersections they chose to make more dangerous with yesterday’s inaction.  Councilman Cardenas, and the LAPD’s Sargent McWilliams both testified that red light running causes more crashes in L.A. than anything else, yet the Council voted to remove a safety measure.

At a minimum these intersections should see regular LAPD stings to nab red-light runners and those who fail to come to a complete stop before making a right hand turn on red.  If the Council believes they can achieve the same 62% reduction in crashes at the intersections that now have cameras just by changing the signal timing, then they should move quickly to implement this signal timing feature across the city.

People are dieing in our streets, and a Council that doesn’t act is becoming increasingly culpable in that carnage.  There’s plenty of treatments that can be applied to roads and signals in addition to more funding being thrown at LAPD Traffic Division.  Do you have a favorite plan or idea?  Leave it in the comments section.

  • Sam

    We’re going to be testing the “two-beacon yielding system,” also called a Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB), in Santa Monica later this summer.  We were approved to experiment with the device by the California Traffic Control Device Committee (CTCDC) in February.

  • Sam

    We’re going to be testing the “two-beacon yielding system,” also called a Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB), in Santa Monica later this summer.  We were approved to experiment with the device by the California Traffic Control Device Committee (CTCDC) in February.

  • Bob Davis

    I remember driving through one nasty intersection, commenting to a local, “Gee, the city ought to put a signal there.”  And my cynical buddy said, “Naw, they haven’t killed enough people yet.”

  • Sam, I have been advocating for these systems here in LA. and have interest from a Council Office in making it happen.  Do you know which company will be installing them in SM? Here’s a link for those who want to see what these are. http://www.spotdevices.com/video-RRFB/index.html  At these, drivers stop up to 95% of the time.  I know a company that will give one of these systems to LA to try out.

  • For clarification, the report you reference above really had nothing to do with red-light cameras specifically.  It was prepared for the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council in response to concerns about pedestrian safety.

  • You wrote: Councilman Cardenas, and the LAPD’s Sargent McWilliams both testified that red light running causes more crashes in L.A. than anything else,

    This statistic is a complete fabrication on their part.  Red-light running isn’t even close to the top.  Unsafe speed is number 1 at 33%, Unsafe Left or U-Turn – 8.4%, Unsafe lane change – 15%, DUI – 6.7%, Red light – 4.7%
    Source: CHP SWITRS Database http://iswitrs.chp.ca.gov/Reports/jsp/RawData.jsp
    Happy to email you my copy of the database and show you how to extract the data.

    There were numerous other outright mis-statements as well, such as when Pauline Chan stated that the City would need permission from the State to increase yellow signal times.  It’s total nonsense.  The State regulations give a minimum time and specifically state that it may be increased at the traffic engineer’s discretion.

    Do you see why I became such a skeptic of the program and what the LAPD was telling us about the safety benefits.  They haven’t been able to tell the truth about almost anything from day one.  (But then that has been your experience too, no?)

  • the dude abides

    I wish people would fight this hard to get our stupid speed laws changed so we can lower speed limits. It is quit obvious we need to have safer streets and reducing speed limits will help in addition to road diets. Now I know car lobbyist will say that people don’t obey speed limits and changing them won’t make a difference. But I say just because people choose to break laws shouldn’t prevent the changing of said laws.

    And yes speeding tickets should be very expensive just like red light tickets. People will learn the lesson of breaking the law if it hits thei pocketbook.

  • Sherman Ellison

    The sure way to improve public safety is to extend the yellow light time by one second and create a 4 way red light stop at intersections.   

  • One of the most effective ways to reduce speed (without actually changing the character of the road) is the use of “your speed is” radar feedback display board signs.  These are particularly cost effective as they can be in operation around the clock and don’t required human intervention.  They’ve been shown to reduce speeds by as much as 10 mph 80% of the time.  A study published by the Transportation Research Board “Study of Speed Reduction Effects of Photo-Radar and Speed Display Boards” said this:

    “Although both devices produced substantial speed reductions while in operation, only display boards demonstrated carryover effects. The enforced display board produced a substantial short-term (but not longer-term) carryover effect; the unenforced display board demonstrated a longer-term (but not short-term) carryover effect, but only at the alongside location, 1 week after its removal. The three cost-effectiveness estimates generated showed that the unenforced speed display board was the most cost-effective; the enforced display board came in second; and the photo-radar placed third.”
    http://trb.metapress.com/content/g75375w830232215/

    Of course if the camera program continues, we aren’t going to get any of these nor those Rapid Flasing Beacon signs.

  • Peeeeceeee

    Once again, just so that nobody gets the false idea that all trans-alt advocates support these cameras, let me just quickly say: good riddance.

  • Average citizen

    Police note a 62 percent drop in red light collisions at those intersections”. Can this be due to the fact these intersections are now avoided and motorists take alternate routes? Has a study been done to review the increase in accidents at nearby intersections? Proponents keep crowing about the good these cameras serve? Wake up! Extend the yellows by one second or have all lights red at the same time an extra second.
     These red light camera’s should be seen for what they are – revenue generators.  Why can’t the yellow lights be extended longer? Why can’t all lights be red at the same time for a second longer? Why does a significant monetary penalty exist when other less costly alternatives exist? Clearly, the company which makes these cameras has a vested interest (monetary).

  • Dennis Hindman

    Going through a red light at any of the Orange Line busway intersections is very unsafe at any speed. Removing the red light cameras will not reduce reduce red light infractions along several of these intersections and it will NOT improve safety, but in fact will increase the odds of collisions as people will not have learned that they did anything wrong at the time of moving through the red light. There are not a lot of people who run the red lights, but those who do are more likely to repeat it if they are not warned they did something wrong. The red light cameras with bright flashing lights definitely give a warning in no uncertain terms that the red light runner did something wrong.

    Now if something could be done to warn the skate boarders and cyclists who go through the red lights at these intersections. There was a bicyclist–using ear plugs in both ears– that ran a red light a few months ago at a Orange Line intersection and he was hit at high speed by the bus. His head almost went through the front windshield of the bus.

  • It’s a great report, but since it appears on a website that’s all about removing cameras…

    …but enough on that debate.  You won, I lost.  Let’s become Facebook friends and figure out a way to get some of your ideas, like the one you link to below, some press.  I assume you’re posting here because you know we’re read in City Hall so let’s shake e-hands and roll up our sleeves…

  • RRFB(Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacon) Crosswalks have proven to be extremely effective in Florida, why not try them in LA:

    http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/resources/techsum/fhwasa09009/

  • They use RRFB’s in my home town of St Petersburg, FL. They have 41 of them installed so far in the city, and they see a stopping rate of up to 94%. They cost between $20,000 to $40,000 per crosswalk to install depending on the number of lanes they need to cross, they are solar powered and they require no regular maintenance once they are in place. They really are a big step forward in pedestrian safety:

    http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/resources/techsum/fhwasa09009/

  • Anonymous

    Despite all the logic and experience telling us that longer yellows make intersections safer, there is a bill in Sacramento to SHORTEN the yellows at
    lights! If passed, AB 529, by Asm. Gatto (Glendale), will allow cities to
    reduce posted speed limits by 5 mph, even on streets with an excellent safety
    record. The lower limits will allow them to shorten yellows. The shortening
    permitted by a 5 mph decrease in the speed will increase camera ticketing by at
    least 50%. (Four of the sponsoring cities have red light cameras.) Worse, the
    shortening will increase severe accidents, by 30 to 40%. (Source:
    “Development of Guidelines for Treating Red-Light Running,” Texas
    Transportation Institute, pg 2-20.) AB 529 is moving along, fast, with a vote
    scheduled soon. Focus your concern on this bill. Phone your assemblyperson and
    your state senator, ASAP. It takes no more than 3 minutes per call. And then
    phone the AAA, and ask them to oppose the bill. To the pro-camera anti-car
    people: Before you support this bill, remember that it will increase severe accidents – a lot.

  • @d5ef5e91fd4f619109ebb16eca656a73:disqus 
    i’d be interested in seeing a report/article about this alleged bus-against-cyclist collision. the bus probably ran the light like they always do.and why hate on cyclists wearing headphones in their ears? where are they supposed to wear them, around their ankles?and why hate on just skateboarders and cyclists? why not walkers, too?thank you for the classy ‘head through the window’ comment. i know it fulfills some folks’ fantasies to talk about horrific injuries born by bikers who are victims of criminal behavior of drivers.

  • El Barto

    actually it’s not a complete fabrication. Even your own stats suggest it.

  • Bluewulf

    I thought the red light camera was going to be a good idea — but in reality the fines are absolutely prohibitive — $480.00 — and thats if your almost halfway into the intersection as the light turns red — I see it now as totalitarian in nature and just a money making scheme to pad the coffers of the greedy public employee unions —