10 News Investigators find yellow lights in South Pasadena were reduced even before law allowed

11:03 PM, Jun 4, 2013   |    comments
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +

SOUTH PASADENA, Fla. -- The 10 News Investigators found shrinking yellow lights weren't just a product of the Florida Department of Transportation's quiet reduction in state minimums -- several Florida communities with red light cameras (RLC) reduced the length of their yellow lights before state law even allowed it.

WATCH: Initial Short Yellows Investigation
TIMELINE: 10 News' Short Yellows Investigation

10 News obtained documents showing yellow lights were reduced to illegal levels in South Pasadena, the tiny city near Pinellas County's southern beaches, and Green Cove Springs, a tiny city in Clay County near Jacksonville.

The 2010 yellow light reductions were approved by FDOT, but took place nearly a year before the agency reduced Florida's yellow light minimums, bringing the reduced yellows back into compliance. Both South Pasadena and Green Cove Springs issued tickets to drivers that shouldn't have received them.

Research shows shorter yellow lights create more red light runners, as well as more dangers at intersections, but Florida has profited tens of millions of dollars in recent years off yellow lights that were set too short.

South Pasadena installed five red light cameras in 2011, when yellow lights were set to 3.6 seconds, instead of the 4.0 seconds they had been set to in 2010.

Other communities that had shorter-than-allowed lights at RLC intersections include Oldsmar, which fixed its timings when it was discovered, and St. Petersburg, which also fixed what it called "malfunctioning" timing devices.  Neither community is believed to have offered refunds to drivers wrongly ticketed.

Following 10 News' reporting, FDOT has acknowledged yellow lights may be too short for older drivers and announced it will raise yellow light minimums by 0.4 seconds statewide. But the new standards still fall short of federal safety guidelines for RLC intersections.

South Pasadena, which takes up just 0.6 of a square mile, issued nearly $2 million in red light camera fines last year.

Billie Williams, 80, has lived in South Pasadena for five decades, but couldn't believe she got a red light camera ticket just a few blocks from her house in April.

"I was going up (Pasadena Ave.), Williams said,"and (the yellow light) was just that quick."

Williams, travelling near the speed limit, said she had only about a second to make the panicked decision between stopping and going through the intersection. She decided to go and was caught by the red light by less than a third of a second.

She says the lights don't offer enough time for senior citizens to make safe stopping decisions, and federal safety guidelines agree. They suggest yellow intervals closer to 5.0 seconds for Pasadena Ave., especially because of the age of many drivers in the area.

But while the City of South Pasadena operates the RLCs, Pinellas County and FDOT control the timings. The suggestion for shorter yellows in 2010 came from engineering firm Albeck Gerken, which was paid $165,000 by Pinellas County to re-time lights in a handful of corridors.

However, it seems Albeck Gerken did not read the state's Traffic Engineering Manual at the time, which mandated using drivers' actual speeds for yellow light calculations, rather than the lower, posted speed limit.

Pete Yauch, an engineer with Albeck Gerken, said using posted speeds instead of actual speeds was a "common engineering practice" and the company's timings were approved by FDOT at the time.

South Pasadena's newly-elected mayor Dan Calabria, who compiled numerous critical reports of RLC before taking office, tells 10 News he wants his city commission to take a longer look at yellow lights, and he would like to take FDOT up on its offer to extend lights longer than the minimum.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.

Most Watched Videos