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More than 100 in Oldsmar run red lights during eight-day study

OLDSMAR — Beware, pedestrians and bicyclists.

A lot of motorists in Oldsmar must have been absent when the driver's ed teacher covered the difference between red lights and green ones.

More than 100 of them didn't stop when lights turned red during an eight-day study of traffic patterns on the city's roadways.

The City Council requested in December that American Traffic Solutions monitor the frequency of violations at eight intersections. The Scottsdale, Ariz., company runs red light camera programs in Kenneth City, Brooksville and 51 other Florida municipalities.

The cameras take photos of vehicles and the images are sent to cities. The individual governments decide whether violations have occurred and notify drivers of the offense and how much they owe.

Citations weren't issued in Oldsmar. The study was merely a test run. The findings, however, alarmed Mayor Jim Ronecker.

From Jan. 18 to Jan. 26, at various times of the day, cameras rolled. Footage captured 106 motorists go left, turn right or just gun it when lights were red. "We have a lot of red-light runners here in Oldsmar," Ronecker said.

Data shows five intersections could benefit from surveillance devices: Forest Lakes Boulevard and Tampa Road, westbound Curlew Road and Gull Aire Boulevard, eastbound Tampa Road and St. Petersburg Drive, eastbound Curlew Road and Tampa Road, and westbound Tampa Road and Forest Lakes Boulevard.

Combined, American Traffic Solutions recorded 98 violations at those locations. More than 55 of the offenses occurred within an eight-hour span at one intersection, southbound Forest Lakes Boulevard and Tampa Road.

"That's exceptionally high," said Brad Swanson, the company's business development director. "Way super high. Every one of those red light scenarios is a chance for an accident."

The Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization cannot break down the number of crashes in a year by municipality, section manager Gina Harvey said. Neither can the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, spokesman Sgt. Tom Nestor said.

"It's up to the individual jurisdictions to analyze their data and determine where or if the cameras should be utilized," Harvey said.

Marie Dauphinais, Oldsmar's planning and redevelopment manager, said she didn't know how many accidents occurred in Oldsmar or how many were caused by red-light runners. But in a memo to city Manager Bruce Haddock, she said "the leading cause of accidents is the violation of red light traffic signals.""That's just general data that's out there," Dauphinais said later.

American Traffic Solutions didn't charge Oldsmar for the study, Haddock said in December.

"The city at this point would not be obligated to actually enter into a contract or adopt an ordinance," he said at the time.

If Oldsmar hired American Traffic Solutions or any other company, it would be only the third city in Pinellas County to put up red light cameras. In November, Kenneth City became the first. And last week, South Pasadena became the second.

Ronecker said city leaders won't rush to mount cameras in Oldsmar. They want to see how Tallahassee and the courts resolve challenges to the legality of the cameras.

In February, a South Florida judge ruled that Aventura overstepped state law when it used cameras to fine motorists who run red lights. Similar lawsuits are pending against Florida cities, including a class-action suit in Temple Terrace. And a state representative from Spring Hill has filed a bill that would prevent local governments from using traffic cameras. Republican state Rep. Robert Schenck said he does not believe it is right for local governments to use cameras as a means to increase revenue under the guise of public safety.

"I don't care if it makes anyone any money or not," Ronecker said. "I just want to slow people down."

Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Fast fact

106 That's the number of drivers caught on cameras going left, turning right or just gunning it when lights were red.

More than 100 in Oldsmar run red lights during eight-day study 03/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 8:06pm]
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