Encinitas — Drivers with a keen sense of observation might notice something a bit odd when driving around the city.
In Encinitas there are three red-light camera systems, yet there are 30 signs posted throughout the city reminding drivers of the red-light cameras. Why are there so many warning signs, many of which are located several miles or more from the red-light cameras themselves?
As mandated by the California Vehicle Code, the City Council had two options when installing the first red-light camera system in 2004: Place warning signs on each road leading to an intersection with a red-light camera, or station warning signs at all major entry points to the city, including at freeway off-ramps, bridges and state highway routes.
The Council opted for the latter approach.
Though there are several warning signs by the red-light cameras, they aren’t posted at every leg of road near the intersections with red-light cameras, according to Division Manager Rob Blough of the city’s traffic division.
Council chose to put the warning signs at all major entryways to the city to create “a halo effect,” Blough said.
Many warning signs are more than two miles away from the red-light cameras. For instance, there’s a warning sign just west of Interstate 5 on Encinitas Boulevard, in front of Wendy’s and Petco Supplies.
“The idea is that red-light runners will decrease at all intersections if people are reminded of the red-light cameras,” Blough said.
“Red-light running was blatant 10 years ago,” he added. “It’s fallen at those intersections since.”
In the three years prior to the cameras being installed, there were 26 total collisions at the Olivenhain Road and Leucadia Boulevard red-light camera intersection. In the last three years, there were 21. Over the same period at the Encinitas Boulevard intersection, the number declined from 25 to 11, according to city data.
At both of the intersections, red-light running collisions totaled 11, three years prior to the camera installations, with a total of five during the last three years. However, the red-light cameras caused six rear-enders since they were installed.
Total accidents in the city averaged 169 from 2001 to 2003; there were 112 from 2009 to 2011.
Another reason Council decided to install the warning signs at city entrances: Encinitas has relatively few access points due to being surrounded by the ocean and lagoons, Blough said.
“A city like San Diego, with its size and location, couldn’t do that,” Blough said.
Del Mar and Solana Beach also have red-light cameras. Like Encinitas, the cities place their warning signs at major access points to the city, according to Eric Minicilli, Del Mar’s public works director and Solana Beach’s spokesperson Dan King.
Of the three red-light camera systems in Encinitas, one is at the intersection where El Camino Real meets Olivenhain Road and Leucadia Boulevard. Two can be found near the intersection at El Camino and Encinitas Boulevard.
According to Blough, those locations were chosen because of a high number of automobile accidents and more frequent red-light runners.
Blough said the California Vehicle Code does not specifically state the distance warning signs must be placed from red-light cameras, only that the signs must be posted at all major entry points to the city or at all roads leading to the intersection with a red-light camera.
“We try and make sure the signs are visible,” he said.
A warning sign unexpectedly being removed or falling off is grounds for fighting a red-light ticket, but by no means a sure case, Blough said.
The warning signs are monitored and replaced by the Sheriff’s Department and other agencies throughout the year.
Encinitas pays Redflex Inc. to operate the cameras. In April, the most recent month available, the cameras cost about $11,000 and generated about $19,000 in revenue, according to city data.
Some California cities have ended red-light camera programs, partly due to questions over legality. In some cities, the cameras were unprofitable. Blough said Encinitas doesn’t have any plans to halt its red-light camera program.