Encinitas to review red light cameras

Encinitas to review red light cameras
A red-light camera system watches over the Encinitas Boulevard and El Camino Real intersection. City Council could get rid of the cameras at its June 26 meeting. Photo by Jared Whitlock

ENCINITAS — The City Council has the option of bringing red light cameras to a grinding halt at its June 26 meeting. 

Red light cameras were installed in 2004 at El Camino Real and Encinitas Boulevard as a means of cutting down on red light runners and traffic collisions. More than a year later, another system was put in at the intersection where El Camino Real, Leucadia Boulevard and Olivenhain Road meet.

Because the program is nearly a decade old, Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer said it’s time to review the effectiveness of the cameras.

“Just because we’ve had a program in place for a while doesn’t mean we should be afraid to ask questions about it,” Shaffer said. “It sounds like something we ought to understand better.”

Shaffer said she wants to know whether the red light cameras actually caused accidents to drop at intersections. She added that data that must be weighed against the heavy financial burden on the driver, now roughly $500 per ticket.

In light of the high cost of a ticket for drivers, she said less expensive traffic-calming measures should also be considered.

“There are other strategies out there from what I’ve heard; I look forward to learning more in the next week,” Shaffer said.

Councilman Mark Muir said the future of the red light cameras should depend on if they make intersections safer, not the revenue they bring in for the city.

“Other jurisdictions are reviewing the cameras,” Muir said. “It seems like a good time for us to reevaluate the issue.”

San Diego terminated its red light camera program earlier this year.

Three months ago, Poway decided to shut down its cameras for six months as an experiment. Its City Council will gauge whether the presence of cameras makes a difference in the number of collisions at intersections.

And some California cities have removed the cameras due to legal rulings.

But other North County cities are content with their red light camera systems. Officials from Solana Beach and Del Mar said they currently have no plans to review their programs.

City statistics show that the number of accidents fell in Encinitas following the red light cameras going up.

In the three years prior to the cameras being installed, there were 26 total collisions at the Olivenhain Road, El Camino Real and Leucadia Boulevard intersection. From 2010 through 2012, there were 23. Over the same period at the Encinitas Boulevard intersection, the number declined from 25 to 10, according to city data.

At both of the intersections, in the three years prior to the camera installations, collisions that resulted from drivers running red lights totaled 12. And from 2010 to 2012, that number was eight.

However, the red light cameras contributed to five rear-end collisions at both intersections in the past three years.

George Hejduk, a longtime foe of the cameras, said he’s nearly finished with what he hopes is his “final speech” on the matter.

He argued the drop in accidents post-camera installation isn’t significant enough to justify the steep cost of tickets for residents.

“For working people just getting by, how can you ask them to pay so much?” Hejduk asked.

“Two or three fewer accidents a year — that’s just not worth gouging the public,” Hejduk added.

A camera monitoring going eastbound on Encinitas Boulevard and turning right onto El Camino Real captured the most red light runners, according to city data. Hejduk sees that as proof that the cameras are primarily about revenue.

“We were told they’re supposed to bring down mid-intersection collisions, which are the most severe,” Hejduk said.

From 2004 to this past December, Encinitas has issued nearly 24,000 tickets, with the number declining over time. In the few months after the cameras were installed, around 400 people on average each month were given a ticket. But that number hovered around 180 during each of the last few months of 2012.

The city receives nearly $100 for every ticket, and the rest goes to a variety of agencies, including the Department of Motor Vehicles and county courts. Once a driver is captured running a red light, the Encinitas Sheriff’s Department is tasked with analyzing the photos and sending out the tickets.

Encinitas contracts with Red Flex Inc. to operate and maintain the cameras. This past December, the most recent data available, the cameras cost the city about $11,000 and generated about $16,000 in revenue.

Should council decide to scrap the red light cameras, the city must send a 60-day notice to nix the Red Flex contract.

 

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