St. Petersburg advances red-light camera plans

ST. PETERSBURG — It's full speed ahead with a plan to install red-light cameras at 20 crash-prone intersections.

The City Council reinforced its support for the cameras Thursday and started to hash out details about the program.

"This is about behavior modification," said council member Jeff Danner. "I'm changing my behavior because of our discussions on red-light cameras. That's the effect that red-light cameras will have."

Motorists caught on camera running through a red light will get a $150 ticket. The cameras could be up and running in as soon as one or two months, or as long as six, depending on the vendor and structure of the deal.

Although the cameras are expected to raise $8 million over three years in St. Petersburg, council member Bill Dudley said, again, that the city isn't approving them because of the revenue.

"It's disingenuous for us beating this dead horse about (cameras) being a revenue generator," he said.

But one St. Petersburg man said his research proved otherwise.

Matt Florell, a president of a company that writes software for corporate phone systems, spent months researching the cameras' growing popularity, and had compiled a 31-page analysis that concluded they were ineffective and counterproductive to making intersections safer.

He lobbied most of the council members and was convinced that they were receptive.

The city's director of transportation and parking, Joe Kubicki, dismissed Florell's work.

"Quite frankly, we thought some of the conclusions were biased negatively," he said.

Florell attended Thursday's meeting and said he was disappointed, but not surprised, by the council's direction.

"(Kubicki) was light on details, he couldn't cite anything he refuted in my research," Florell said. "But the council had already made up their minds. Well, I tried."

Kubicki said the city is considering at least seven possible vendors for the cameras. He said a request for bids might go out, or, the city will simply join an existing contract between a vendor and a city that already has installed the cameras.

If the city bids it out, the cameras could be installed in four to six months. If the city enters into a contract, they could be up in one to two months. Which of the city's 298 intersections get outfitted with the cameras will be determined by a review of the most crash-prone, Kubicki said. Staffers and the vendor will recommend to Mayor Bill Foster which ones are most appropriate for the cameras.

That will give the council time to define what will constitute an actual red-light infraction. If a motorist turns right on red and doesn't stop long enough — which happens frequently but rarely causes a life-threatening injury — will they get a ticket?

Danner and Dudley think they should. Danner even thinks a ban on right turns on red lights should be imposed downtown. At the very least, motorists should get a ticket if they don't stop before turning on red.

"Bottom line, it's a right on red after stop," Danner said. "If you don't stop, you broke the law."

The state statute that allows for the red-light cameras says they can catch violators who turn right on red in a way that's not in a "safe and prudent manner." Kubicki said his recommendation will be to let an officer interpret right turns on red to determine which ones meet that rather vague description.

Council Chairman Jim Kennedy asked that Kubicki research cities that have scrapped their camera programs, such as Brooksville. The only council member to question the validity of Kubicki's presentation was Wengay Newton. He said there are better ways to make intersections safe. Cameras, he says, are only a way for the city to make money. "City staff is excellent," Newton said. "But they only bring us stuff that they want us to say 'yes' to. We don't get the whole picture."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@sptimes.com.

.Fast facts

What's next?

City administrators must decide whether they will bid out the job of installing red-light cameras or join a contract between a city and a vendor of red light cameras, a maneuver called "piggybacking." If the city decides to bid out the work, cameras could be installed in four to six months. If the city decides to piggyback, cameras could be installed in 30 days to two months. Either way, the City Council will have to approve the contract before they are installed. If cameras are approved, the city must conduct a monthlong education campaign to alert residents.

St. Petersburg advances red-light camera plans 01/15/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 15, 2011 3:30am]

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