ST. PETERSBURG — Red-light cameras are here.
City crews started work to install cameras at four intersections Wednesday morning — the first of 11 intersections that make up a red-light ticketing program that could generate nearly $900,000 in fines next year.
The good news — fines won't be issued until at least Oct. 15.
Although the cameras will begin operating on Sept. 15, a monthlong warning period will follow. That means violators will get only notices and not a $158 fine. During that time, the city will unleash a media blitz intended to convince people that the cameras will improve safety. (Academic studies are split on whether cameras do improve safety.)
Anyone who receives tickets after Oct. 15 will get a printout of two photos of the car, plus a website address to view a video of the car going through a red light. A violation occurs if the first photo shows the car with its front tires behind the stop bar after the light has turned red, and if a second photo shows the car continuing into the intersection. The video also captures the violation.
The city hired American Traffic Solutions of Scottsdale, Ariz., to run the program for three years at a cost of $3.7 million. They expect to pay for it from money raised by tickets.
The company is spending about $50,000 to advertise the program in St. Petersburg. Tampa also is debuting its red-light program in October, with tickets for infractions beginning Oct. 31. The publicity campaign combines testimonials from top officials of both cities about the benefits of red-light cameras.
In one TV ad to be aired next month, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn appears with St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster in between footage of car crashes.
After one collision, according to the script, "quiet, emotional music" plays as Buckhorn and Foster appear sitting together.
"Red-light running is a serious and deadly problem in Tampa, St. Petersburg and all of Florida," Buckhorn says. "And it stops here. Intersection safety cameras are now in place in Tampa and St. Petersburg to protect us, our families and friends from injuries — and will save countless lives."
"Together," Foster says, "we're putting a stop to red-light running and making our roads safer for every driver, passenger, bicyclist and pedestrian."
Footage of another car crash quickly follows. The screen fades to black with a message scrolled across it: "Save lives. Stop red-light running."
Joe Kubicki, St. Petersburg's director of transportation and parking, said he wasn't certain when or on which channels the ad would run.
Already, Kubicki has met with neighborhood and business groups to alert them of the program. Beginning this month, city utility customers will be receiving information in their bills about the program. A brochure was created, as well, touting "safety cameras" as life-savers.
American Traffic Solutions wrote the scripts and brochures. In its bid for the job, it pointed out that it has two goals for "public awareness."
The first is communicating "accurate information."
The second: "Increasing overall public support."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.