CLEARWATER — After vigorously debating the potential pros and cons, Clearwater leaders are ready to bring red light cameras to perhaps 10 of the city's busiest and most dangerous intersections.
The City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to have staffers draw up a city ordinance allowing the cameras. The council will vote on the new rule soon, and the cameras will likely be installed early next year.
Council members were split on the issue largely because academic studies on the effects of red light cameras have reached different conclusions.
The council also took the advice of the two Clearwater officials who will be in charge of running the program. Police Chief Tony Holloway and traffic operations manager Paul Bertels both favor bringing in the cameras.
"This is not a matter that is without controversy," said Vice Mayor John Doran, who has been pushing for the cameras.
He wants to make sure no one else does what he once did: run a red light and crash into a car. In 2008, he accidentally hit another car at Chestnut Street and Myrtle Avenue, causing minor injuries for the other driver.
Doran says he wasn't paying close enough attention that day, and he thinks the presence of red light cameras will make drivers more cautious when approaching intersections. "I'm not doing this for the money," he said.
A 2009 state law allows cities to install cameras at intersections and charges a $158 fine to the registered owner of the vehicle caught on camera running a red light.
For tickets from cameras on city and county roads, the state Department of Revenue gets $70, the state Department of Health administrative trust fund gets $10, the brain and spinal cord injury trust fund gets $3 and the locality gets $75. For tickets on state roads, the state gets $100, the locality $45 and the trust funds $10 and $3, respectively.
Clearwater officials offered no estimates of how much revenue the city would collect under such a system. Hillsborough County, which has cameras at six intersections, has received more than $1.8 million in revenue from them this year.
Doran, Mayor Frank Hibbard and Councilman Bill Jonson voted for the cameras. In Hibbard's view, the devices would free up more police officers to fight crime.
George Cretekos and Paul Gibson voted against the idea. They're concerned by a University of South Florida study that concluded that the cameras actually make intersections more dangerous because they increase the number of rear-end collisions. "I have trepidations about this," Gibson said.
Bertels, the traffic operations engineer, said the USF study isn't "accepted as gospel" in his trade, and that some experts dispute its findings. "With any group of statistics, you can bend them anyway you want to," he said.
Doran noted that other studies have found the cameras to be an effective way to reduce crashes — especially T-bone collisions, which tend to be deadlier than most other accidents.
"It's like a police officer that's there all the time," Bertels said. He said Clearwater will most likely target some of its most dangerous intersections, such as where Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard goes beneath U.S. 19 and crosses Belcher Road, Highland Avenue and McMullen-Booth Road.
Several local governments already have red light cameras. Kenneth City, South Pasadena, Temple Terrace, Hillsborough County, Port Richey and Brooksville have them, while St. Petersburg and possibly Oldsmar are getting them.
Jonson voted for the cameras because he has been amazed at what he calls "an epidemic" of red light running in this area.
"I'll think, 'Wow, he just ran a red light.' Then I see two more cars going after him," Jonson said. "I don't see how it's entrapment. You're going through a red light, for Pete's sake."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.