ST. PETERSBURG — Two months after the City Council thought they voted to add more red-light cameras, Mayor Bill Foster slammed the brakes on the increase.
Foster's announcement came at a council meeting Thursday after a frequent camera critic pointed out possible problems with the timing of yellow lights at intersections with cameras.
Resident Matt Florell gave council members a report this week that showed that 1,645 drivers might have received improper citations because the yellow lights changed to red quicker than they should have in some intersections.
Foster said he needs more time to examine the program because the cameras are generating so much talk in the community.
"When I am ready I will make a decision," Foster said. "I'm going to study that a little more and look at those intersections."
The announcement baffled several council members.
The council already voted in December to expand the program, council member Jeff Danner said.
Council member Leslie Curran scoffed. "Are we expanding the program or is it on hold?" she asked.
Foster pointed out that the council didn't vote for the expansion in December; it voted not to kill the contract with the company providing the cameras.
He stressed that he, not the council, holds the power to add cameras. The program is changing the way people drive in the city, he added.
"I don't know that more (use of cameras) is going to make it better," Foster said.
Joe Kubicki, director of transportation and parking management, disputed Florell's report and said he used the wrong times on the yellow lights. But he acknowledged there might be a problem with some of the cameras.
He asked the council to be patient while traffic engineers study the problem.
While acknowledging an issue exists, Kubicki speculated it could be a delay between the control box and traffic signal.
"Something is happening there," he said. "We're digging into areas that traffic professionals haven't dealt with before."
The program, he said, can't be expanded until the city receives final permits from the state.
The cameras garnered headlines last fall after Florell learned the city was working to increase the cameras from 22 to 31. The council lambasted Foster and staffers for not informing them about the expansion.
In October, Foster halted the expansion until the city could analyze one year of data from the cameras and provide an update to the council.
City records showed that rear-end wrecks at intersections with red light cameras spiked 44 percent between November 2011 and October. Also, total crashes actually jumped 10 percent at intersections with cameras in the program's first year.
The council did not stop the expansion after receiving the update in December.
While council members had no power to vote on the expansion, they could have only moved to abolish the red light camera program entirely — but didn't.
Foster told them Thursday that they could always pass a motion to support the expansion. That idea went nowhere.
Several council members thanked Florell for monitoring the program.
"His time and efforts have raised some issues," Charlie Gerdes said. "We shouldn't be so defensive."