Are red-light cameras in Peoria's future?

DeWayne Bartels
Peoria Police Chief Steven Settingsgaard, seated, talks to 3rd District councilman Tim Riggenbach before a meeting with local legislators. At the meeting, Settingsgaard told legislators he wants red-light camera's in Peoria.

Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis and Peoria Police Chief Steven Settingsgaard want the Illinois General Assembly to give red -light cameras a green light in the River City.

But, State Sen. Dale Risinger (R-Peoria) is expressing caution about this issue. Local legislators met with the Peoria City Council Dec. 29 to discuss this and other legislative issues.

No help

Current law allows only for red-light cameras for a governmental agency in a municipality located in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Madison, St. Clair and Will counties.

Ardis told legislators this request was not being sought to create a revenue generator for the city.

“Our community is very dangerous,” Ardis said. “We expect it would generate revenue for a short period of time. But, more importantly, it would change behavior.”

Risinger, a former IDOT engineer, said, in his view, red-light cameras do not reduce accidents. His view is one supported by an investigation in December by the Chicago Tribune.

“If improved safety is the goal of red-light cameras, then it is a mission largely unaccomplished for the first crop of area suburbs that raced to install the devices after they became legal in 2006, according to state data,” the newspaper reported Dec. 18.

“Accidents rose — in some cases, significantly — at half the 14 suburban intersections outfitted with traffic cameras by the end of 2007, the data show. The number of crashes fell at just five of those intersections after cameras went in, while two showed little change.”

In Chicago, like Peoria, the initial reasoning for utilizing the red-light cameras was to change driving behavior. But, critics in Chicago, and the suburbs, say the technology has become primarily a revenue generator. In Chicago, the cameras generate $100 tickets for red-light violators.

The Chicago Tribune reported the first suburban camera did not go into use until after a 2006 state law authorized their use outside the city. The first suburban camera was installed in Bellwood, near an on-ramp to the Eisenhower Expressway. The newspaper reported a town official likened that camera to a “lotto or casino” when it came to generating ticket revenue.

Big help

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offers a different view, claiming red-light cameras have a good track record.

Cameras, the organization claims, have been shown to substantially reduce red-light violations through evaluations in Fairfax, Va., and Oxnard, Calif. They say camera enforcement reduced red-light running violations by about 40 percent.

The institute reports in addition to reducing red- light violations, cameras have been shown to reduce intersection crashes.

“In Oxnard, significant city-wide crash reductions followed the introduction of red-light cameras, and injury crashes at intersections with traffic signals were reduced by 29 percent,” the institute reports.

Not all the results, however, are rosy. Some studies, the institute found, show red-light cameras can increase rear-end crashes. A study sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration evaluating red-light camera programs in seven cities and found rear-end collisions increased by 15 percent.

Concerned

Risinger added he is also concerned about tickets being issued to motorists who pull forward to make a right turn on red without making a complete stop.

Risinger said he is concerned about the city growing dependent on the revenue that could be generated by tickets to red light violators.

He said Chicago became dependent on this revenue and began ticketing motorists who pulled forward at red lights for visibility reasons while trying to turn right on a red light.

Risinger then issued Ardis a challenge.

“If you think it’s only for safety, keep revenues to cover your costs and donate the rest to United Way,” Risinger said.   

Without hesitation, Ardis said, “I’m in. In Peoria, this will change behavior.”

Settingsgaard told Risinger turns on red were not his concern.

“The issue I have is people running red lights,” he said.

Settingsgaard told Risinger technology is a needed tool to fight this problem. He said with his manpower issues, he cannot do proper red-light violation patrols because it requires two officers and two cars. Settingsgaard said such patrols done in a large enough number to change behavior at only one intersection would cost the city $1 million in manpower costs.

Following the luncheon, Settingsgaard said this has been an issue for him almost since he took the job of police chief.

“I don’t know if red-light cameras will change behavior, but I think they will do at least an equal job of officers, but at a much more economical cost. I define red-light running as racing to beat the red light, accelerating through the end of the yellow light,” he said.

Asked where he sees problems, Settingsgaard said, without hesitation, “Any street with a red light that intersects War Memorial.”

Settingsgaard said there should not be any concerns about technology being the arbiter of who violated the law and who did not.

“I have no problem with the idea of a human viewing all the video before a citation is issued,” he said.

Settingsgaard said he has no idea how much a system would cost. He said he also has no idea yet what amount of fine he would endorse. Settingsgaard said it currently is not legal for Peoria to use a red light camera system, so he has not invested much time into investigating the systems available.

“I do know, though, that I’d like two to four cameras that we could move from place to place,” Settingsgaard said. “Then people would never know where they are.”