Task force hears defense of Sugar Land’s red light cameras
By Betsy Dolan
The task force is evaluating the future of the city’s red light camera program and will make their recommendations to keep the program, change the program, or eliminate the program before the end of the year.
Formation of the task force is a result of a petition drive by H.F. Van Der Grinten (Captain Van) and other citizens concerned that the red light camera program is an unfair program. They had hoped to put the issue to the voters in November but Sugar Land deemed the petition invalid. The city formed the task force to allow discussion on the issue.
Assistant City Manager, Steve Griffith, told the task force that since 2007, the red light camera program has been an effective tool to help Sugar Land maintain its goal of being a safe city by reducing accidents by 58%.
Griffith admitted that inconsistencies were made by the city in recording crash and injury data for the cameras at Lexington and Highway 6 between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010. Information was logged for all four approaches instead of just the approaches with cameras resulting in inflated numbers.
“What we learned is that we now have one guy assigned to input the information so we now have the consistency,” Griffith said.
Captain Van is working with Byron Schirmbeck, an attorney with Texas Campaign for Liberty, who has led citizen campaigns against red light cameras in other Texas cities. In an email to the “Star”, Schirmbeck wrote, “Simple math errors should not have passed the scrutiny of the officers compiling the reports, the police chief, the city manager’s office and the mayor and council’s offices without being caught. This paint by numbers approach to analyzing crash data does nothing to support their claims that the cameras are working.”
Captain Van has compared the red light cameras to a roulette wheel in Las Vegas, alleging that red light cameras do not reduce accidents and that they are unfair because motorists have no idea how long a light will stay yellow.
Griffith told the task force that the city uses engineering standards from TxDOT to determine how long a light stays yellow–on average between 3 and 5 seconds. He did admit that changes were made to the stoplights at Airport and Eldridge after Captain Van raised concerns.
“Traffic speed in one direction was 35 mph and traffic in the other direction was 40 mph and we changed the timing of the yellow lights to be at 40 mph because Captain Van is making us better at this,” Griffith said.
A task force member questioned why all of the lights weren’t left on yellow for five seconds. Griffith responded that allowing longer yellow light times would create more congestion.
Bryann Guinn, Assistant Director of Budget and Research, showed the task force that the red light camera program is predicted to generate almost $560,000 in fiscal year 2014 from payment of the $75 red light camera fines. Half of the revenue is shared with the state. Sugar Land’s portion, roughly $280,000, is put into the general fund to pay for traffic safety program and represents just .4% of the general fund budget.
A task force member asked for verification that some cameras were taken out because they weren’t generating revenue. Griffith acknowledged that the cameras need to pay for themselves but stressed the change in driver behavior as a bigger reason for the camera removal.
Sugar Land currently utilizes red light cameras at four intersections – U.S. Highway 59 at Highway 6, U.S. Highway 90A at Dairy Ashford, Eldridge Road at West Airport Boulevard and Highway 6 at Lexington Boulevard.
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