Removing red light cameras in St. Pete: safety or money?

11:36 PM, Mar 5, 2014   |    comments
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St. Petersburg, Florida -- Two-and-a-half years into its red light camera program, the City of St. Petersburg says the cameras have "done their jobs," changing driver behavior and making intersections safer.

It was our 10 Investigates series on the danger of short yellow lights that prompted the city to make sweeping changes, lengthening those lights.

TIMELINE: 10 News' Short Yellows Investigation
MAP: Short Yellows in Your Neighborhood

St. Petersburg's southbound camera on 34th St. and 38th Ave. N. had its light extended. The result? An average 250 tickets a month dropped to less than HALF.

Mayor Rick Kriseman acknowledges the decrease in tickets, and with it the decrease in revenue for the city. If the ticket dollars continue to fall below the cost of the program, it'll be removed by this fall.

St. Pete Councilmember Bill Dudley is a proponent of the cameras, but says the move is because of safety, not city revenue.

"We're close to achieving our goal, which is changing driver behavior ... that's what the whole idea was in implementing it in the first place. Not money," he says.

Long-time red light camera opponent Matt Florell says, "It's not because of changing behavior, it's changing programs."

Florell believes safety data doesn't reflect the effectiveness of the cameras.

"The numbers are questionable. Intersection crashes are down 2.5 percent. [Having] no cameras was safer in that case. Crash rate was lower when we didn't have the cameras."

While the issue of safety vs. profit is debated, one thing is for certain: "We're spending a lot of time on this when there are other issues. A police station to build, a chief to name," says Dudley.  

And Florell?

"It's definitely time to move on," he says.

A vote on whether to remove the cameras or not takes place tomorrow morning. The issue of refunding drivers who were improperly caught will also be discussed.

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