Tonawanda pursues red-light cameras for 3 city intersections - The Buffalo News
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Tonawanda pursues red-light cameras for 3 city intersections

Red-light runners beware: Another area municipality has plans to install cameras at intersections to nab motorists in the act.

City of Tonawanda officials are proposing to contract with a private company to install cameras at the intersections of Niagara and Seymour Streets, Delaware and Broad Streets and Twin City Memorial Highway and Young Street.

“Those are very, very difficult intersections because of the way they’re set up for us to patrol or monitor with a patrol car,” Police Chief William Strassburg said. “That’s where some of our most serious accidents are.”

Tonawanda is the first local municipality to consider placing cameras at traffic lights since Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown in 2009 – and again in 2011 – proposed installing cameras at 50 of Buffalo’s most accident-prone intersections. Those plans were abandoned after opposition by some members the Common Council who called it a “money grab.”

While supporters say the devices reduce dangerous side-impact, or “T-bone” crashes, critics have cited studies showing that the cameras’ presence can prompt drivers to come to abrupt halts, resulting in an increase in rear-end crashes.

Rochester has installed 32 cameras since October 2010. A State Supreme Court decision last month found that city’s red-light program to be constitutional and dismissed a ticketed driver’s lawsuit.

Pittsburgh’s lawmakers voted Tuesday to install them sometime next year.

Tonawanda officials said they were unaware of any controversial aspects of red-light cameras and were only concerned with public safety.

“Everything I’ve read has been positive,” Strassburg said. “Obviously, your more serious accidents are the T-bones from people actually running the red light.”

A resolution on the agenda for Tuesday’s Tonawanda Common Council meeting would allow City Attorney Ronald C. Trabucco and Mayor Ronald J. Pilozzi to sign an agreement giving exclusive rights to Phoenix-based Redflex Traffic Systems, which manages programs for many municipalities across the country. The city still would need authorization from state lawmakers and would have to enact its own local ordinance, said Trabucco.

Trabucco said the city has sent letters to Assemblyman Robin L. Schimminger, D-Kenmore, and State Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, requesting state authorization.

The six cameras – one each in the south and northbound directions – could be installed as early as March if the timeline proceeds as planned, Strassburg said. Each intersection would be clearly marked with signs notifying drivers of the cameras, and drivers would receive only warning letters for the first 30 days of the cameras’ operation, Strassburg said. A violation of the ordinance would bring a $50 fine, similar to a parking ticket, but add no points to a driver’s license, he said.

“The ticket goes to the car,” he said. “The drivers aren’t videotaped or photographed – just the car and the license plate.”

The contract with Redflex would be “cost-neutral” for the city, he added. Under the terms, Redflex would receive a fixed monthly fee of $4,350 for each camera from fines paid by drivers.

“They (Redflex) get the fines until that number is met,” he said. “Anything above and beyond that from violations would come to the city.”

Also, the vehicle’s registered owner would receive a summons in the mail that includes a password to view online a 12-second video of the violation.

“There will be no doubt that the car went through the red light because that video will be right there,” he said.

Redflex approached the city about introducing the devices, Pilozzi said. City officials became convinced of the need for cameras after viewing sample monitoring footage of the intersections by Redflex that showed repeated violations and even one instance where a young male pedestrian was almost struck by a vehicle running a red light, Pilozzi said.

“It was evident to us that it would be a good addition to our public safety program within our police department,” Pilozzi said.

Strassburg said one of the intersections had 200 violations over the 12 hours of sample monitoring.

“There was a couple where you saw a car go through the red light and you thought, ‘Oh, that’s not bad,’ ” he said. “Then three more cars went through after that. It was real eye-opening to see that 12-hour block and how many close calls and near misses there were.”


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