During Thursday's city council agenda review meeting, city administration was on the defensive following a report by the Tampa Bay Times that despite an overall increase in traffic accidents, the city wants to add more red light cameras.
Earlier this week, city staff released a lengthy report of data from the first year of red light cameras in St. Petersburg. In it, are numbers about red light running crash rates, red light running injury crash rates and red light related rear end rates. What was not in there, was the total number of crashes.
The total number of crashes at intersections with red light cameras is actually up 10 percent. According to the Times, "crashes increased from 298 to 328 at the 10 intersections with cameras between November 2011 and October."
Joe Kubicki, director of the city's transportation and parking management department, began his brief presentation Thursday with an apology to city council for omitting the overall crash numbers from his report.
"We’ve really tried to make it clear, isolate the camera issue from other problems at intersections," Kubicki said. "If it caused confusion, I apologize."
He said there was no intent to leave out or hide information. The purpose of the report, he said, was to shed light on red light running related crashes. Other crashes, Kubicki said, have nothing to do with red light cameras.
"A majority (of crashes) are caused by other reasons other than running red lights," Kubicki said.
Kubicki and Mayor Bill Foster said the total crash numbers were left out of the report in order to focus more on red light related crashes. Foster said the other crash numbers were a distraction from the real red light running crashes.
"The No. 1 cause of intersection accidents today is driving under the influence of a cell phone," Foster said. "Distracted drivers are causing havoc at every intersection. It has nothing to do with red light, green light. ... We have a decline in red light related crashes."
According to the city's report, red light related crashes have been declining in the first year of the program compared to the three years prior to installation of the cameras.
- Red light running crash rate net reduction of 25 percent,
- Red light running injury crash rate net reduction of 39 percent,
- Red light related rear end crash rate net reduction of 15 percent
Longtime opponent of red light cameras, St. Pete resident Matt Florell, is not buying the city's "omission" excuse.
"I completely don’t understand how it could be an oversight or omission," Florell told Patch. "It was on purpose."
During the first year of the Stop on Red program, there were 36,185 violations. Of those violations, 22 percent were issued for left-turns, 40 percent were issued for thru movements and 38 percent issued for right turns.
Council member Wengay Newton said he is getting tired of hearing about new data of the red light cameras from Florell and the media instead of getting the numbers directly from city staff.
"Why can’t we just get (the information) we need to be getting," Newton said Thursday. "We always find out from the media. The data shows total crashes are up by 10 percent."
Florell said he has plans to meet with city staff and members of city council prior to the Dec. 20 report to install nine additional red light cameras in the city.
In October, council voted to delay adding cameras until a full year's worth of data was collected on their effectiveness.
Nine new proposed cameras, which in some cases are not in new intersections just new directions, include:
- Northbound at 34th Street and 1st Avenue S,
- Northbound and westbound at 34th Street and 22nd Avenue North
- Northbound and southbound at 34th Street and 5th Avenue N,
- Northbound and southbound at 66th Street and 13th Avenue North
- Northbound and westbound at 66th Street and 38th Avenue North.
Florell said he wants to ask the city for proof that red light cameras affect only red light running crashes before any new cameras are installed.
"There is no study that makes that claim," Florell said. "Red light cameras are basically a distraction that affects the total crash situation of an intersection.
"You can’t just separate the statistics you like to say it is working and ignore everything else," Florell added. "True scientific studies don’t do that, politicians do that."