City seeks to expand red-light cameras

Transportation officials want to add 60 devices

`Proven to be a safety measure'

Critics contend cameras are mainly moneymakers

April 09, 2003|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

Drivers, beware.

Baltimore is considering adding 60 more red-light cameras - more than doubling the number in place - at major city intersections.

Forty-seven of the often-criticized cameras are posted atop utility poles next to traffic signals, taking photographs of the rear of automobiles that have allegedly run red lights.

Vehicle owners are identified by the license plate number and traffic tickets are mailed to their homes.

"It has proven to be a safety measure," said Adrienne Barnes, spokeswoman for the city Department of Transportation.

Last year, Baltimore reported 122 side-impact accidents at red-light camera intersections and 16 rear-end collisions. In 1998 - the year before the city began installing cameras - the city reported 213 side-impact collisions and 56 rear-end crashes at the same intersections, according to the mayor's office.

The cameras have been in Baltimore since 1999. Some of the more dangerous intersections with them are Cold Spring Lane and Falls Road, North Avenue and Harford Road and Northern Parkway and Falls Road. Some intersections have more than one camera.

The city last year issued 117,000 tickets at $75 each for nearly $8.8 million. With little overhead cost, the cameras have been a moneymaker for the city and its camera vendor, Affiliated Computer Services Inc. Revenue from each ticket is split between the city and company on a sliding scale. The city keeps $48 to $64 on each ticket.

The cameras are used in other jurisdictions in Maryland, and in several cities across the country. As in Baltimore, they are credited with cutting red-light running and accidents.

But the cameras have also been the source of dispute.

In September 2001, a California judge dismissed 290 red-light camera tickets in San Diego, agreeing with drivers in a lawsuit there who claimed the city and Lockheed Martin, the camera vendor, colluded to rig the cameras to issue more tickets.

Lockheed Martin has since sold its red-light camera division to Affiliated Computer Services, the company that Baltimore contracts with for its cameras.

Others have complained that the cameras are a form of Big Brother snooping and congressional hearings in Washington have been held to discuss the cameras.

A local judge in January wrote an 11-page report criticizing Baltimore's cameras as a tool primarily for city revenue and not traffic safety.

District Administrative Judge Keith E. Mathews said short yellow lights and lack of a grace period after a traffic signal turns red unfairly drive up the number of tickets issued.

And last year, several drivers in Baltimore were wrongly fined through errors with the red-light camera system, city officials have acknowledged.

Barnes said the DOT has sent a request for information and will decide by next month when to accept proposals from camera vendors.

Baltimore's request for information states that the city wants a minimum of 60 additional cameras to be operational in the next 12 months at locations the city chooses.

The transportation agency proposes to offer a selected vendor a five-year contract with a possible three-year extension for maintaining the current cameras and adding the new ones.

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