Reporters Blog

Find posts by keyword
Find posts by date

Print
Email
|

Red light cameras called into question over 'short' yellow lights

by Maggie Crane

KMOV.com

Posted on August 19, 2011 at 10:57 PM

Updated yesterday at 12:40 AM

(KMOV) -- A St. Louis judge tosses out a red light camera ticket, calling into question every intersection in the city equipped with the technology.

The issue is the length of yellow between red lights. A viewer told me that he got a ticket because the yellow didn't last long enough, so I checked it out for myself and took my findings to the city.

You can watch the video for yourself. Rick Lamborn's car clearly cuts through the Martin Luther King and North Taylor intersection on red. But he argues, if the yellow light had been even just a second longer, he might have made it.

"I got the ticket, and the temptation is just to pay the fine," Lamborn says.

Instead he started timing lights. After all, it makes it easier for a driver to get a ticket at a shorter yellow, and that rakes in more money for the city. In December, 2010 -- the last month with data readily available -- the city issued 39 red light camera ticket violations at Martin Luther King Dr. and North Taylor. Each ticket is for $100.

"It makes you wonder what the real purpose of the cameras is -- is it for safety or is it for dollars?" Lamborn questions.

Federal guidelines suggest a minimum of three seconds for a yellow light to clear an intersection.  City leaders tell me each signal in St. Louis should be set for a four-second yellow.  I timed it myself and found that the light Rick ran has a yellow just shy of three seconds.

"The judge actually stop-watched it this morning at 2.8 (seconds)," Lamborn says. He adds:  

"In fact, every light on this street (Martin Luther King Dr.) happens to be longer than this light (at North Taylor), which is photo enforced."

My photographer and I did a comparison with a light on the same strip of Martin Luther King Dr. -- this one at Arlington -- and found that Lamborn was right. The yellow light at Arlington is nearly a full five seconds -- not three, not even four. I showed our findings to the city and asked for an explanation.

"The newer electronic ones are all running at four seconds (for a yellow)," St. Louis Street Director Todd Waelterman says.

So what about the one at North Taylor? Waelterman says it operates on an older controller that set the timing for a yellow light at three seconds.

I asked about the perception the city faces -- one Lamborn considers fleecing its residents by making the yellow light shorter at an intersection with a camera.

"Oh absolutely there's that thought, but if you spend any time in this room and watch our video, you see this happening day in and day out," Waelterman says.

He's talking about the so-called "war room" on Hampton Avenue in South St. Louis. There, engineers constantly monitor nearly every intersection in the city -- except about 50.

Here's the problem: those 50 or so intersections operate on an old, mechanical system. It's not perfect and each of those lights need a digital upgrade. North Taylor is one intersection on the list. Waelterman tells me it too will be upgraded to a four-second yellow.

"Yes," he says. "We're actually going to put some new equipment in it."

Good news for Rick Lamborn -- out to warn other drivers until it's done.

"If it weren't for Channel 4," Lamborn says, "I'm not who would be holding the city accountable."

Print
Email
|