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Red-light cameras could be coming to St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg motorists who like to speed through intersections to beat red lights may need to think twice. Red-light cameras could soon be coming.

Council member Jim Kennedy pitched the idea at a recent City Council meeting, spurred by Mayor Bill Foster, who pledged during his campaign to use technology to bolster law enforcement efforts.

Kennedy said the foremost goal of red-light cameras would be prevention of "T-bone" crashes at the city's busiest intersections.

"It comes first from a safety point of view and personal observation of people running red lights and that being a dangerous thing," Kennedy said.

The city's transportation department is compiling crash data to identify the city's most dangerous intersections for red-light wrecks. They also are researching available technology, operational and installation costs, along with any potential pitfalls of the cameras.

Findings will be presented to the City Council at a committee meeting early next month.

Red-light cameras already are in operation in a handful of places in the Tampa Bay area. In addition to cameras in Port Richey and Temple Terrace, Hillsborough County is using them at 10 intersections. Tampa also is considering red-light cameras.

Critics call the cameras an unfair attempt by cash-strapped cities to generate revenue by targeting motorists. Proponents say they're an efficient way to make streets safer by increasing penalties for reckless drivers.

Florida cities using the cameras typically take in $125 per violation, some of which goes to vendor companies that install and maintain the cameras. The remaining money goes to overall city revenue.

Red-light cameras netted Port Richey about $250,000 in 18 months from tickets issues at U.S. 19 and Ridge Road. Brooksville pocketed $800,000 from cameras at five intersections in eight months.

Still, St. Petersburg transportation director Joe Kubicki stressed that the cameras are being considered to increase motorist safety, not to provide extra cash.

"The reason we would want to implement the cameras is to save lives and reduce the number of accidents that occur due to red light violations," Kubicki said. "It's certainly not a case of generating revenue."

Kennedy hopes the extra money will help pay for additional traffic safety measures, such as speed waves and flashing lights at pedestrian crosswalks. Any revenue would be kept in a traffic safety fund separate from general city revenue, he said.

Another big criticism of the cameras is that tickets go to vehicle owners and not the person driving at the time of the violation. Studies of the cameras in other U.S. cities have shown that while the cameras reduce the number of vehicular accidents at intersections, they sometimes increase numbers of rear-end accidents caused by drivers slamming on their brakes to avoid running a red light.

A research committee is still examining how to handle these issues.

"It's a way to teach people to stop on yellow and not red," Kennedy said. "That'll cause less accidents at intersections."

Tania Karas can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or tkaras@sptimes.com.

Red-light cameras could be coming to St. Petersburg 01/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 23, 2010 12:36am]
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