By Jennifer Upshaw Swartz
Posted: 12/21/2009 05:46:50 PM PST
More than 500 traffic tickets were issued in the first month with the help of San Rafael’s tireless red-light cameras.
The city’s Red-Light Photo Enforcement program, which began Nov. 1 at Third and Irwin streets, showed that on average 25 drivers run the red light every day, police said.
In the first 30 days after the mandatory 30-day grace period in which more than 600 warnings were issued, there were a total of 752 red-light activations. Of those, police issued a total of 516 notices of violation. The Third Street at Irwin Street approach had a total of 240 violations and the Irwin Street at Third Street approach had a total of 276 violations, according to police.
By comparison, in a six-month period ending in May 2007, the city issued 2,990 traffic citations citywide. It issued 5,267 citations in the same six-month period ending in May 2008, police said.
Tickets start at $446 and go up, depending on court fees and the driver’s record, police said.
The program is the first of its kind in Marin. Cameras are a common sight throughout the county, but are used strictly for controlling flow at intersections.
Third and Irwin is the first of several proposed intersections. Police are looking into adding another set in the next year on westbound Third Street at A Street and southbound Hetherton Street at Fifth Avenue.
San Rafael police Lt. Glenn McElderry said the videos have been revealing. Police reviewing the tape to decide whether to issue a violation have witnessed several near-miss accidents and say the number of red-light runners still seems high.
Police have confidence the system will make downtown safer and reduce violators when a “halo” effect takes hold. The idea is motorists will be mindful at surrounding intersections as well, for fear other cameras might catch them.
“I think it’s going well,” he said. “I think as time goes on people will become more aware that it’s there. We’ve had people who work in the area say they see a change in behavior, that people are starting to slow down and stop at the light.”
The City Council in August 2008 approved a 10-intersection pilot program, hoping to reduce collisions, ease congestion and free up motorcycle officers for other enforcement duties. Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. set up the system and charges a monthly fee of $5,900 per intersection approach, which city officials expect to offset with traffic-ticket revenue.
City officials have said that on a ticket of about $500, the city receives about $140, and the rest goes for court and other costs.
Councilman Greg Brockbank, who opposed the cameras, said he still has concerns that the cameras appear to be a profitable venture when in fact little money comes back to the city and is used to cover costs. He also said he’s not convinced the halo effect will kick in.
“I’d like to be wrong on that,” he said. “If the halo effect shows it’s legitimate and real and worthwhile … I’ll be happy to admit I was wrong.
“If it comes out that we hear lot of screams and yells and we’re not making any money and it’s not reducing tickets I would vote to reverse it and take it out after six months or whatever, but I have a feeling that re-evaluation is something that is down the line.”
The San Rafael Police Department has established a red-light photo enforcement information hotline. The number is 458-2395. Information also is online at http://bit.ly/esMvX