By Mark Carlisle
Glendale is not likely to pursue red-light cameras but continues to study other ways to improve traffic safety in the city.
City Council did not reach consensus during a Tuesday, June 26 Council meeting to move forward with a request for proposal to contract a company to install red-light cameras.
“I would agree with what I think would be the sentiment of this Council that red-light cameras may not be the best thing for Glendale,” said Sahuaro District Councilman Ray Malnar.
Council and city staff agreed that traffic safety and driving behavior in Glendale need to improve, but most council members did not think red-light cameras were the best tool to bring about that change.
A city study showed a high number of red-light runners at one busy intersection. However, Glendale Police Department’s revival of the “It’s Our Town, Please Slow Down” education and enforcement campaign has caused a positive swing in traffic trends.
Several council members pushed for the city to further this program and seek out other safety solutions besides red-light cameras, which would photograph red-light runners for police to ticket through mail.
“The results from that are tremendous,” Yucca District Councilwoman Joyce Clark said of “It’s Our Town, Please Slow Down” campaign. “Why wouldn’t we continue to beef that up and see what other kinds of positive numbers we can derive from something like that?”
A one-month sample taken by GPD showed 9,053 red-light runners at the intersection of 59th Avenue and Bell Road during one month in Fall 2017. Glendale Police Chief Rick St. John and Council agreed that number was alarmingly high.
“We can’t ignore 9,053 red-light violations in a one-month period,” said Vice Mayor Lauren Tolmachoff, who represents the Cholla District. “I don’t believe we can ignore it. It’s a way higher number than I thought it was going to be.”
When he reported the results of the study to Council in a November 2017 meeting, Mr. St. John said the study gave drivers a few feet of grace when it came to running red lights. If the department had measured by the actual definition of a red-light violation, Mr. St. John said there would have been “well over 10,000” violations.
Ms. Tolmachoff’s requested police and city staff research red-light cameras back in February 2017. After reviewing the findings of police and the Transportation Department, Ms. Tolmachoff said in the June 2018 meetings that she did not support red-light cameras as a solution.
In 2007, Glendale started a two-year pilot program of red-light photo enforcement at the intersection of 59th and Peoria avenues. The program did result in red-light violations decreasing after a few months, but results suggested that those violations were not likely to have resulted in crashes.
One of the biggest factors for several council members was the fact that several cities had given up red-light camera enforcement after implementing it. GPD and city staff conducted a survey of Arizona police agencies and found that eight of 13 agencies that have had red-light camera enforcement at some point have since scrapped their programs. Those eight include Glendale, which did not further its 2007 pilot program.
Reasons for dropping the programs varied among municipalities but included lack of Council support, negative community feedback, locations of the camera not supporting the city’s mission, no reduction in accidents or increase in accidents due to inattention and contract disagreements with the companies that installed and operated the cameras.
“What is persuasive to me is that eight communities that had red-light (cameras) no longer have it,” Ms. Clark said. “Doesn’t matter the reason that they dropped it, but they dropped it. It didn’t work for them.”
Glendale’s research found that a company would install the cameras and provide web-based hosting at no cost to the city, but the city would be charged a flat rate either per camera or per citation and would have to pay for an administrator to be hired to manage the camera system.
GPD also concluded that signage declaring an enforcement zone is not an effective deterrent.
Police tested speed enforcement signage at 59th Avenue and Bell Road, the same intersection that showed a high number of red-light violations in the study.
Police used a radar trailer to conduct three separate tests, each from 8-11:30 a.m. on a Wednesday. With a “Speed Enforcement Zone” sign alone, without any actual enforcement, there were 26 speed violations during the 3 1/2-hour period. With the sign and enforcement, there were also 26 speed violations and with no sign and no enforcement, there was a slight decrease, with 24 speed violations.
During the June meeting, Ms. Tolmachoff suggested raising the fee for running red lights. However, Council did not reach a consensus to do so.
The fee for running a red light in Glendale is currently $256 with about $94 of that amount going to the city.
Mayor Jerry Weiers pointed out that less than 40 percent of the fee returns to the city.
“I have had multiple occasions where people have called and said that we only do this because it’s a money maker for us,” he said. “And, so I really want people to understand that it really isn’t.”
Ms. Tolmachoff suggested raising the fee to about $350. She emphasized that her intent was not to increase what the city receives from each violation but hoped that a higher fee would serve as a deterrent to drivers. However, Council did not agree to raise the rate. Ocotillo District Councilman Jamie Aldama said he’d need more information to do so.
Glendale re-instituted the “It’s Our Town, Please Slow Down,” traffic campaign, which it had employed in past years, in June 2017. However, Mr. St. John said enforcement changes actually began toward the start of 2017, it just wasn’t marketed under the campaign until June.
Studying the first five months of 2018 against the same period in past years, there has been a stark decrease in traffic fatalities over the past few years.
There were 11 vehicle-only deaths during the first five months of 2016, but that number fell to four in 2017 and two in 2018.
In the first five months of 2016, there were 16 total traffic fatalities — which could include pedestrians or bicyclists. That number dropped to 10 in 2017 and six in 2018.
Mr. St. John also said that the number of total traffic accidents had reduced by about 1 percent over the past year, which is a big change from the large increases in traffic accidents in recent years.
“(A) 1 percent decrease doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you were experiencing double-digit increases from year to year, a 1 percent decrease is a significant turn in the trendline, and we’re going to see that continue I believe,” he said.
Mayor Weiers did not support the red-light cameras. He pointed to studies that show that while the cameras often reduce the amount of collisions in the intersection, they can also increase rear-end collisions at the intersection due to drivers slamming on the brake to avoid a ticket.
The mayor has first-hand experience with this phenomenon. He said a pickup truck once slammed on the brakes in front of him while he was on his motorcycle, which caused him to slide the motorcycle under the truck.
While Mayor Weiers took responsibility for his part in causing the accident, he said he asked the other driver why he slammed on the brakes when he could have made the yellow light.
The driver responded that he’d already been ticketed for a red-light violation and if he got another he would lose his license and not be able to work.
The mayor used this story to opine the cameras change drivers’ habits for the worse, the opposite of the city’s goal.