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St. Petersburg official apologizes for not telling council about crash increase

ST. PETERSBURG — City staffers apologized Thursday for not giving the City Council a key document about traffic crashes rising in a report about red light cameras.

"We had no intention to mislead the public," said Joe Kubicki, director of transportation and parking management. "We don't do that."

Kubicki took the blame for not disclosing that crashes jumped 10 percent at intersections with red light cameras in the past year.

He stressed that the 122-page report might have focused too much on the year-old camera program and not enough on crash statistics.

During the council workshop, Mayor Bill Foster said the council can examine any data it needs before deciding next week whether to support his plan to expand the program.

"We want to be transparent," he said.

The council learned about the increase in the Tampa Bay Times, which requested the figure Wednesday after examining the report.

Crashes increased from 298 to 328 at the 10 intersections with cameras between November 2011 and October of this year. Total crash numbers were included in two earlier council reports and also used to decide where cameras should be placed.

Council member Wengay Newton wants the council to vote to end the contract with the private Arizona-based vendor, American Traffic Solutions. He lambasted staffers because the council again learned key news from the media or residents.

He also questioned Kubicki's response since the report is partly titled "An Intersection Public Safety Program."

"You can't have it both ways," Newton said.

Foster stressed that the 22 cameras have made streets safer.

He pointed to the thick report, citing that crashes caused by red light running dropped 25 percent and injuries from those crashes fell 39 percent at intersections with cameras.

The cameras, he said, will not affect other crashes, such as cars striking pedestrians or bicyclists and drivers being distracted behind the wheel.

"No camera system out there is going to eliminate stupid drivers," he said.

The cameras in St. Petersburg generated nearly $3.6 million in fines in their first year of operation. Violations cost motorists $158.

Of that, the state received 44 percent, and 8 percent went into two Florida trust funds. The city kept $707,000 after paying $988,000 to the private vendor.

When the council voted 5-3 in April 2011 to install the cameras, Leslie Curran, Steve Kornell and Newton voted against them.

Charlie Gerdes, the council's newest member, was not in office then. He has not publicly said whether he supports keeping cameras.

The group doesn't have the power to halt the expansion, but it could dissolve the contract.

After the workshop, Foster expressed concern about the program's future.

"City Council is going to determine that," Foster said. "Council has the power to kill the program."

Another camera program in Florida was killed Wednesday.

Collier County commissioners voted 3-2 to remove red light cameras from 12 intersections, exercising an option in the county's 10-year contract with ATS to spike the program after the first year.

Commissioner Georgia Hiller opposed the program because there was "no demonstrated evidence that these cameras reduce accidents," the Naples Daily News reported.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

St. Petersburg official apologizes for not telling council about crash increase 12/13/12 [Last modified: Thursday, December 13, 2012 11:13pm]
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