ST. PETERSBURG — Beginning today, it counts.
More than 2,200 motorists have been warned for running red lights since Sept. 15, but that trial period ended at 11:59 p.m. Friday.
At the stroke of midnight this morning, the city began fining red-light violators. Now those caught on camera and video running red lights at 11 busy intersections will get fined $158.
It'll take at least a week or two for tickets to be mailed to motorists, but City Hall is bracing for the backlash.
"I expect on Monday, I'll have some phone calls waiting for me," said Joe Kubicki, the city's director of transportation and parking.
While studies are mixed on whether cameras improve safety, Mayor Bill Foster and a majority of City Council members endorse them as a way to reduce crashes and save lives. The cameras are projected to produce nearly $900,000 in revenue, which is welcome during this era of shrinking government coffers.
St. Petersburg joins other Tampa Bay jurisdictions that have installed cameras, such as Hillsborough County, Temple Terrace, Port Richey, Kenneth City, Gulfport and South Pasadena. On Tuesday, Tampa will begin fining motorists as well.
City officials expect to average between six and 10 tickets per intersection a day, a threshold four intersections reached during the probation period. Kubicki said many intersections didn't log as many warnings as they should have because kinks had to be worked out after some cameras had technical difficulties.
For instance, cameras at Gandy Boulevard didn't pick up all eight lanes of traffic, including the right-hand turn lane. Cameras installed on 66th Street and 38th Avenue also had problems. A better measure of how many tickets the cameras will average will be in the next month, Kubicki said.
But it's clear that Fourth Street N at 22nd Avenue N will be at or near the top of intersections with the most violations. It easily logged the most warnings, averaging nearly 11 a day.
It's a heavily suburbanized part of town, with the Melting Pot, Fantastic Sam's, a Rally Gas Station, SunTrust Bank and other high volume businesses crowded around the intersection. It's also a frantic junction point for thousands of daily commutes.
Nanci Odom said she was running late when she got issued a warning for a red-light violation on Oct. 7.
"I was anxious to get home, I saw that yellow light, and I thought I could make that light before that oncoming traffic," said Odom, who works at AAA and supports red-light cameras. "I still think I was safe, but technically, I was incorrect."
Lynn Homan got a warning on Thursday that she ran a red light on Oct. 7 at Fourth and 22nd. Her warning notice showed a photo of her car going through the intersection and turning right onto 22nd. It showed she was going 18 mph. When she got the notice, she had trouble remembering what she was doing, but was able to recall that she was probably returning from the grocery store. The photo shows other cars turning left onto Fourth.
"They were making the turn, so I knew I wouldn't have oncoming traffic," Homan said. "I suspect that was a rolling stop. I did it. But was I creating a safety hazard? No I did not."
Those who get tickets will be able to go to a website, www.ViolationInfo.com, enter in the citation number, and watch a video of the violation. Kubicki expects many of the people objecting will be those cited for not stopping while making right-hand turns.
"We've had a lot of people call in to say that they got a warning on the issue of right-hand turns," Kubicki said. "And each of the videos showed that they were going at an excessive speed."
Those making red-light camera right turns while traveling faster than 12 mph will get tickets, Kubicki said.
Alan Engman was warned for a red-light violation earlier this month. He made a left turn onto 22nd Avenue and figured it would be safer to keep going rather than slam on the brakes.
"I would have been in more danger if I had stopped, so I went on through because there wasn't oncoming traffic," he said.
The warning helped remind him of the city's new enforcement methods.
"I'll be more cautious," he said. "I'll probably end up changing my routes. I don't have to go that way. With the camera there, I'll go another way."
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8037.