Longer yellow lights at 4 camera sites

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Denver is adding up to two seconds of yellow time at four intersections where it is installing red light enforcement cameras starting next month.

Coming as a result of a Rocky Mountain News investigation into inadequate timing at those signals, the increased yellow times will meet or exceed national guidelines for proper signal timing.

Without the change, the cameras could have become cash cows for traffic fines based on engineering defects rather than bad driving – and possibly brought an increase rather than decrease in accidents.

The fine is $75.

Cameras have been controversial around the country. When they are used at intersections with short yellows, the public has viewed them as revenue generators rather than safety measures.

Comprehensive studies have shown that their presence usually is accompanied by an increase in the total number of accidents because of drivers braking sharply to avoid a ticket when they should have safely gone through under yellow.

Overall, serious side-angle crashes can be reduced, but in some cases the number of those accidents has gone up. Cities such as Dallas have pulled out some of their cameras after increasing yellow times because they no longer generated enough tickets to pay for themselves.

Denver has yellow signals set at the legal minimum of three seconds, the time considered appropriate for 25 mph traffic.

“We want this program to be above reproach,” said Brian Mitchell, Denver’s traffic engineer. “We really are trying to improve safety.”

The first camera is scheduled to go live June 10 on northbound Quebec Street at 36th Avenue. With a 45-mph speed limit there, engineering guidelines call for at least 4.3 seconds of yellow. That gives drivers a chance to stop safely or go through legally before the red if they are too close to stop.

But Mitchell said the yellow time on Quebec will increase to five seconds from three when the camera is turned on.

That change alone could substantially reduce red light running there. Denver’s contractor, Redflex Traffic Systems, an Australian-owned company with U.S. offices in Scottsdale, Ariz., counted 38 red light runners in a 12-hour period there last year. That’s one every 20 minutes.

But with studies showing increased yellow time can reduce red light running up to 96 percent, violators at the Quebec light could be reduced to one every eight hours.

Denver will put up cameras at three other intersections.

At eastbound Sixth Avenue at Kalamath, the yellow will increase to four seconds; eastbound Sixth and Lincoln Street will increase to 3.5 seconds; and westbound Eighth Avenue at southbound Speer Boulevard will increase to four seconds.

flynnk@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5247

Published in: on May 30, 2008 at 12:20 am  Leave a Comment  

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