City Council Delays Vote on Red Light Camera Until Tuesday

After a parade of public speakers rose to speak on whether or not the L.A. City Council should overrule the Police Commission and not allow Los Angeles’ red light cameras to come down, Councilman Tony Cardenas motioned to delay the final vote until Tuesday so that more City Council Members could be present.  At the time, there were eight Council Members in the room, and all ten would have had to vote for the Cardenas/Parks motion for it to pass.

However, at least two members in the room were clearly in opposition.  Councilman Paul Koretz and Councilman Bill Rosendahl joined Councilman Dennis Zine, who was not present, in speaking out against the cameras.  Koretz read a list of studies done by other cities on the benefits of their red light programs, all of which found the program lacking.

“Red light cameras make no sense for the City of Los Angeles, currently,” he concluded.

Oddly, he did not mention his own city’s study, which found a reduction of 62% in crashes at intersections where the cameras were implemented.  While 200 cyclists and pedestrians have been killed in car crashes since the cameras were instituted throughout the city, none of them were killed in intersections with the lights.  He also didn’t mention that the Federal Highway Administration have found that crashes are reduced at intersections with red light cameras.

Rosendahl conducted a lengthy interview with Rhodes Rigby, the Mayor of Loma Linda.  Loma Linda is a city of 22,000 people and had once installed four red light cameras.  Four years into the project, they pulled them out after one camera was bringing thousands of tickets for people illegally turning right on red lights without stopping.  Apparently Loma Linda’s experience is a perfect counterpart to the City of Los Angeles which has over four million people and installed 32 red light cameras.

Rigby and Rosendahl both believe that illegally turning right at a red light without stopping isn’t a major issue.  Rigby even stated that “few crashes and fewer injuries” are caused by these crashes.

Since I know the Councilman’s staff reads Streetsblog, let’s say it again, with links:

When the Federal Highway Administration discusses the conflict between pedestrians and automobiles it ranks “right on red” as the top concern.  A look at crash fatality statistics nationwide shows that in Los Angeles, almost one quarter of all crash fatalities are pedestrians.

Which is not to say the cameras didn’t have its share of support in the Council.  In addition to Alarcon and Parks, Councilmen Jose Huizar and Richard Alarcon both spoke in favor of the motion to continue the program.  Alarcon noted that the issue is personal for him and that, “There is a culture we need to change in Los Angeles, and in particular in the San Fernando Valley.”

The Council is expected to vote on this issue next Tuesday.  Before the Council debate began a group of speakers that included public health and public safety officials spoke in favor of keeping the lights while a coalition of neighborhood activists and one technology expert spoke against.  During one particularly moving part of testimony, when a family showed a picture of their daughter killed by a red light runner at an intersection, Council Woman Jan Perry, who was chairing the meeting allowed them to speak well over their allotted time.

  • Redlightcameravictim

    These red light camera’s should be seen for what they are – revenue generators. I received a red light ticket in Van Nuys for being 2 tenths of a second into the light – that’s 2 tenths of a second – do you realize how short an increment of time this is? How do I know the accuracy was correct at that exact, specific moment in time, irregardless of maintenance done hours, days or weeks before.  In addition, the speed limit on the ticket showed the speed for the area was 35mph, with a related yellow time of 3.6 seconds.  In actuality, the posted speed limit on the street (White Oak in Van Nuys at the busway  intersection) was 40 mph, thus the yellow time should have been 3.9 seconds. I timed it a total of 5 times, and the yellow time was 3.6 seconds.  When tenths of a second count, accuracy is absolutely required. The ticket amount was $480 dollars. How does this improve safety and decrease accidents? 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). They should be done away with.  Needless to say I am fighting this ticket and appreciate your support – financial to hire a lawyer or Pro Bono to defend me. My trial date is August 25th at 1:30pm in Van Nuys courthouse, Division 109.  My email is Help me make a stand against these robbers disguising themselves as promoters of safety and the public interest!

  • Anonymous

    Yellow intervals timed for the ACTUAL approach speeds of 85% of the free flowing traffic under good conditions (not for artificially low posted limits set below actual traffic speeds) would reduce the violation rates by MORE than the ticket camera program.  And, as is obvious, someone who does not run the red light presents exactly zero risk of causing an angle or t-bone crash in the intersection box.  So what is the argument to leave the yellows too short, have the city pay for huge losses on the program overall, and not get the greater safety from fewer red light violations? There is something that we do not know.  The science is on our website.  If it makes sense to you, call your council members and urge them to end the camera program AND get the city engineers to increase the yellow intervals by 1.0 seconds.  James C. Walker, National Motorists Association,, Ann Arbor, MI

  • Keechee1

    I am shocked and appalled by the behavior of the City Council.  Watching a video feed of the proceedings showed me which individuals are aligned with ATS! When I heard they showed up with a whole busload of supporters, I was not surprised. Obviously, they must be really concerned about my safety to have so many outspoken proponents present. Of course, the money they make had nothing to do with this!

  • The dude abides

    I think the really problem is speeding. If you slow down you won’t be caught in yellow and you will have time to slow down. People need to stop crying about it being revenue generators and obey traffic laws and slow down.

  • Anonymous

    How does this improve safety and decrease accidents? Because the next time you go through an intersection, you’ll think twice about speeding through on a red light. Legally, you did cross the line at a red (2 tenths is not relevant). I saw the camera flash me once, but because there was construction in the area, I think I was let off. But, now, whenever I go through that particular intersection, I think twice about speeding up just to “beat the yellow”.

  • Redlightcameravictim

    Replying to LAofAnaheim’s comment of 2 tenths of a second is not relevant. Improperly timed yellow lights, which were off by 3 tenths of a second (3.9 seconds versus 3.6 seconds – based on a posted 40mph zone) would not have resulted in a ticket being issued in the first place. So yes, it is very relevant. Furthermore, what proof exists this machinery was properly calibrated at that specific moment in time? Let’s get real, they adjust these camera’s for a reason. Another point to keep in mind if you do your research is was it a steady red light or in the process of changing from yellow, to slightly red to fully red – this takes time! The law states it must be a steady red light! This is the law, I repeat this is the law. If this was really about safety and not a disguised attempt to make money, other measures can be implemented without such punitive impacts on people. Why not make the fines $1,000 dollars. What good would it really do? The point is you are trying to prevent accidents – ok, so change the timing on yellow lights, or make all lights red in the intersection for an extra second or two. This will prevent accidents by further eliminating 2 cars colliding by preventing them from being in the same place at the same time.

  • Greg

    I totally agree. ATS would lose money if a certain number of cars did not run the lights. As a result, extending the yellow impacts revenue flow, since I am sure their business model is based on an estimated number of light runners. Clearly safety is not the issue here but revenue levels. Extend yellows and make all intersection lights red at the same time will be much more effective.

  • Anonymous

    LA should take some good advice:  Lengthen the
    yellows.  Problem solved.

    “The month after we lengthened the yellow lights by
    one second, the number of violations dropped by 90 percent.”  City of
    Loma Linda, California, Mayor Rhodes Rigsby, M.D., in testimony before the Los
    Angeles City Council, June 17, 2011.

    Not only does the number of violations drop, but also
    there’s a big drop in severe collisions when you lengthen the yellows. 
    Half a second longer will get you a 30% decrease, and one second longer will
    get you a 40% decrease.  Source: “Development of Guidelines for
    Treating Red-Light Running,” by the Texas Transportation Institute, pg.
    2-20.  If you are wondering why the number of accidents doesn’t drop by
    the same large % as the number of violations, it is because most severe
    intersection accidents occur many seconds after the light has gone red –
    because the driver is impaired (medical condition, liquor, drugs), and fails to
    see the red light, at all.  Cameras won’t stop those people.  Cops on the street will.

  • I noticed that when you reported on the interview with Rhodes Rigsby, you failed to mention the part where he explained that after they lengthened their yellow light times, violations dropped by over 90% immediately and have remained down.  Think about the implications of that for a moment.  Let’s say for example that in the month of June they had 100 red light violations. On
    July 1st they lengthened the yellow time by 1 second so for that month there were only 10 violations. What does this tell you about the 90 other violations?  That they were inadvertent and did have to happen.  Simply changing the yellow timing caused them to disappear. 

    As to your suggestion that the experience in Loma Linda isn’t applicable to LA, I’d like to remind you that the laws of physics are applicable everywhere in the universe.  The safety benefit of longer yellow signal times has been proven in a number of studies.  In a 2004 Texas DOT study, traffic engineers Bonneson and Zimmerman noted that when the yellow interval duration is set  one second longer than the “minimum time” based on the 85th percentile speed, violations decreased by 53% and crashes decreased by 40%.

    A similar 30% to 55% reduction in violations achieved at San Diego red-light camera sites when the yellow interval times were increased by as little as .2 -.4 seconds.  Likewise, Fairfax County, VA achieved a significant, sustained
    reduction in violations when the yellow timing was increased by ½ second.  Although red-light cameras were present at these intersections during the entire review period, a dramatic reduction in violations was seen only after the yellow timing was increased.  For example, at RT7 & Towlson, where
    red-light cameras were monitoring the intersection, there was an average of 705 violations per month.  When the yellow light time was lengthened by ½ second, the violations dropped to an average of 207 per month, a 71% reduction.  At the intersection of US 50 and Fair Ridge Dr., violations averaged 1209 per month, even with cameras present. When the yellow light time was lengthened by ½ second, the violations dropped to an average of 82 per month, a 93% reduction.  You can see all this information with charts and graphics in our report “Maximizing Safety At Signalized Intersections Through Increased Yellow And All-Red Signal Phases” available here:  While you’re there, you should check out
    our report on improving pedestrian safety, I think you will agree with most of
    what’s in that document.

    All this is not to say that there aren’t some very bad drivers out there that put others at risk and should be off the road.  I often find myself calling the LAPD to report drivers that seem to be impaired or are driving in an unsafe manner.  I’d like to see the officers assigned to the red-light camera program back out on the street where they can impact safety overall.  I don’t know you, but I suspect that we both have similar interests, having the roadways be safer.  We happen to disagree that red-light cameras are an efficient way to do that.  I think they allocate financial and police resources in an inefficient way, enrich an Arizona company that has a spotty record on telling the truth as well as the auto insurers, and keep us from focusing on those things that would actually make us safer such as more lighted pedestrian crosswalk signs, dedicated bike lanes, etc.

  • I wanted to separately comment on the 62% statistic that keeps getting repeated over and over again.  First, this statistic only holds when comparing a very specific time period.  According to the same data in the Controller’s audit, accidents increased by over 53% at PRL intersections between 2008 and 2009.  Also, the 62% statistic doesn’t take into account other factors such as traffic volume and engineering improvements that could have affected accidents at these locations.  As has been acknowledged by both LAPD and LADOT, concurrent with the installation of the current photo red-light system, the yellow signal timing at all photo red-light intersections was increased to slightly exceed the minimum requirements set out in California law.  In addition, the LADOT instituted an all-red phase at PRL intersections as well.  At intersections where these changes were implemented, one would expect to see a reduction in red light related accidents, exactly as the LAPD claims has occurred.   This is what the Controller’s audit said about this on page 26, “That change alone could have made the intersections safer”, and “without a formal engineering survey, attributing these results solely to automated enforcement is questionable”.  

    The red light cameras have not made these intersections safer; the engineering solutions employed at those locations have done so. 

  • You wrote: “A look at crash fatality statistics nationwide shows that in Los Angeles, almost one quarter of all crash fatalities are pedestrians”.

    But you have to look at the causes of those accidents to see how to prevent them.  For 2009 there were 80 pedestrian fatalities in LA listed in the database.  This represents about 33% of all fatalities which seems like a high number.  However, about 5 of those were due to unknown factors or that occurred not in a roadway. When you look at what caused the collisions, you find that almost half, 47% were caused by the pedestrian.  Also, there were only 4 fatalities due to red-light running and none involved a right turn, much less a rolling right turn.  Two of those 4 involved an impaired driver.  (The database shows no fatalites due to rolling right turns for any of the years the data is available, 2002-2009).  Comparing the 2009 numbers to 2004 before the cameras were installed, we find that the exact same percentage of LA fatalities were pedestrian fatalities, 33%.  There were about 5 pedestrian fatalities due to red-light running, about the same as in 2009 but they represent a smaller percentage because there were more overall pedestrian fatalities.  Also, the percentage of fatalities due to the pedestrian was 57%.  So even with the millions of dollars we’ve spent on the camera program, there has been no change in the percentage of pedestrian fatalities and no change in the number due to red-light running.

    By the way, where the driver was at fault for the accident, the largest number of pedestrian fatalities were caused by failure to yield at an unsignalized crosswalk (either marked or unmarked). This suggests that we should concentrate on improvements in this area.  We have suggested installing a new kind of pedestrian activated crosswalk sign called a Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon sign which costs much less that a conventional overhead flashing crosswalk sign, $10,000 vs $80,000.  Studies have shown that drivers yield up to 90% of the time when these are installed and activated.  For the money we are spending on the red-light camera program, the city could install 300 of these per year throughout the city.  Over the 5+ years we’ve been running the camera program, that’s 1500 of these signs.  Many pedestrian fatalities might have been prevented if these signs were in place.  The argument against the camera program is not that it’s losing money (although it is) it’s that the money being spent isn’t making us safer and it isn’t available to put in the kinds of improvements that would actually make our streets safer.

    If you doubt any of these numbers, I’m happy to forward the database to you so you can see for yourself or meet up with you to show you that analysis.

  • You wrote: “When the Federal Highway Administration discusses the conflict between pedestrians and automobiles it ranks “right on red” as the top concern”.

    The link you provide in this quote is broken. Do you have an updated link so we can see exactly what that FHWA said?

    The statement above is curious because in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s report entitled, “The Safety Impact of Right Turn On Red Report To Congress”, this is what it says, but remember that this for all right turns on red, not just rolling right turns on red:

    Begin quote —

    Less than 0.2 percent of all fatalities involved a right-turning vehicle maneuver at an intersection where RTOR is permitted. FARS, however, does not discern whether the traffic signal was red. Therefore, the actual number of fatal RTOR crashes is somewhere between zero and 84 and may be closer to zero than 84.

    •    Right-Turn-On-Red crashes represent a very small proportion of the total number of traffic crashes in the four states (0.05 percent).
    •    RTOR injury and fatal crashes represent a fraction of 1 percent of all fatal and injury crashes (0.06 percent).
    •    RTOR crashes represent a very small proportion of signalized intersection crashes (0.4 percent).
    •    When a RTOR crash occurs, a pedestrian or bicyclist is frequently involved. For all four states for all years studied, the proportion of RTOR pedestrian or bicyclist crashes to all RTOR crashes was 22 percent.
    •    RTOR pedestrian and bicyclist crashes usually involve injury. Ninety-three percent of RTOR pedestrian or bicyclist crashes resulted in injury.
    •    Only 1 percent of RTOR pedestrian and bicyclist crashes resulted in fatal injury. However, less than one percent (0.2 percent) of all fatal pedestrian and bicyclist crashes result from a RTOR vehicle maneuver.
    •    RTOR pedestrian crashes are about evenly split between females and males, while RTOR bicyclist crashes predominately involve males.
    •    Most RTOR crashes occur between 6 am and 6 pm.

    In conclusion, there are a relatively small number of deaths and injuries each year caused by right-turn-on-red crashes. These represent a very small percentage of all crashes, deaths, and injuries. Because the number of crashes due to right-turn-on-red is small, the impact on traffic safety, therefore, has also been small.

    End quote — 
    Here’s what this means. Nationwide, .01% or 1 in 10,000 of all right turn on red crashes involved a pedestrian or bicyclist and resulted in injury.   However, that statistic is for all right turn on red crashes, not just those that involved a vehicle making a rolling right turn on red.  Therefore the number of crashes that involved a pedestrian or bicyclist where a vehicle was making a rolling right turn on red must be less than 1 in 10,000.  In addition, some portion of those crashes is likely to have been caused by the pedestrian or bicyclist as opposed to the motorist.  The risk of crashes due to motorists making a rolling right turn on red is so small that no previous studies have ever quantified it.  So we did that for Los Angeles.  Here’s what we found:

    1.  No fatalities to bicyclists due to rolling right turns for any of the years for which data were available.

    2.  The average number of rolling-right-turn collisions each year was 45 out of an average of approximately 56,000 collisions annually in the City of L.A.  This represent just 0.079% of all accidents per year in the City of Los Angeles, an extremely low percentage.

    3.  The majority of collisions were classified as resulting in minimal or no injuries, even when pedestrians or bicyclists were involved. 

    4.  The average number of collisions for failure to yield after stopping first at the red light and then turning right was 41.  This suggests that when making a right turn at a red light, it is not the prior stop which determines whether an accident will occur, it is whether or not the driver yields appropriately.

    5. The chance that a rolling-right-turn will result in a collision is 0.00029%.  This means that a driver would have to make over 345,000 rolling-right-turns before they might be involved in an accident.  In actuality though, a careful driver who yields appropriately prior to making a right turn on red, whether or not they come to a complete stop, may never be involved in a collision due to this behavior.

    6.  For comparison, about three times as many accidents are caused each year by drivers opening their car door into passing traffic.

    Again, for anyone who doubts these numbers, you should read our report on rolling right turns available at the link in my previous comment.  Also, we will be happy to show you the underlying data from the CHP database if you contact us.

  • When you look at what caused the collisions, you find that almost half, 47% were caused by the pedestrian.
    This is one of the reasons I didn’t go into a detailed review of your reports.  Statistically, they are extremely hard to refute.  You did your homework, and know make a compelling case.

    The problem is that the LAPD has a long reputation of blaming the victim, be they cyclists or pedestrians, when there is a crash.  You can see the most recent incident in Culver City last week where the LAPD is bending over backwards to make excuses for the driver.  We don’t cover a lot of those stories, because it would be at least a weekly series, unless they’re unbelievably egregious.  Biking In L.A. has the rest.

    Rolling red light turns are one of the most dangerous things a driver can do, yet we shrug it off because “everyone does it.”  Even if the rolling red doesn’t cause a crash itself, it cuts part of the walk cycle off, and when you factor in people making lefts after the light turns red, you can cut 3-5 seconds off a light cycle, which could also cause a crash that an officer could chalk up to “pedestrians being in the street.”

  • Jay,

    Thank you for taking the time to post so extensively here.  I know you’ve done a lot of research on this issue, and in L.A.  There’s another post below that answers some of your statements, but I thought rather than writing a dozen posts, I’d try something more succinct.

    1) I’m sorry the link to the FHWA report is missing.  I’ll find it again.  It comes up for me, but I have it cache’d.  No idea why it isn’t there.

    2) The NHTSA report you list is from 1995.  We’ve come a long way in analyzing crash, and crash data, since then.

    3) You write: “We have suggested installing a new kind of pedestrian activated
    crosswalk sign called a Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon sign which
    costs much less that a conventional overhead flashing crosswalk sign,
    $10,000 vs $80,000.  Studies have shown that drivers yield up to 90% of
    the time when these are installed and activated.  For the money we are
    spending on the red-light camera program, the city could install 300 of
    these per year throughout the city.”

    I respond: I agree!  But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t/shouldn’t use Red Light Cameras also.

    4) I agree that the “all-red” signals and longer yellows are a good thing that reduce crashes.  I agree they contribute to the safety of the intersections where they are installed.  That doesn’t mean the cameras don’t also.

    5) Red light camera programs are only as good as how they are implemented locally.  In one post, you give statistics where lengthened yellow/all-red times are increased. In none of those areas does the number reach into the sixties as the LAPD’s numbers do,

    I have to run now, I’ll add more tonight…

  • Damian, thanks for the reply. Also running out so very quickly: I’m not sure what you’re saying about the numbers not reaching into the sixties.  Loma Linda – 90%+ reduction, Virginia – 71% & 93% reductions.  So how much of the 63% reduction stated by the LAPD do you think is due to the longer yellows, how much is due to the longer reds, how much is due to traffic volume reduction due to higher gas prices and the recession?


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