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Comments sought on traffic cameras

Residents will have a chance to comment on a red-light camera program before city lawmakers seek state permission to install surveillance devices that aim to catch motorists who ignore traffic signals.

While most Common Council members support Mayor Byron W. Brown's initiative, some believe a public outcry merits taking a go-slow approach. North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. said he's had numerous calls and e-mails from people, some of whom say they are "revolted" by the idea.

He announced that the Legislation Committee will meet at 2 p.m. March 24 and residents will be able to air their views.

Some critics have raised constitutional issues, while others call it a sneaky way to raise money under the guise of making intersections safer.

"What's the true purpose behind this?" asked South Council Member Michael P. Kearns. "Is it just to generate revenue for the municipalities?"

Depending on whose estimates one uses, Buffalo could raise $3.5 million to $8 million in additional revenue each year if cameras were installed at high-volume intersections.

But Kearns said the devices might actually increase road hazards. He pointed to data that showed a spike in the number of rear-end collisions after red-light cameras were installed in some cities. Drivers who fear being caught on camera might stop too abruptly, he suggested.

If more accidents occur, Kearns warned that local insurance costs could increase.

Other concerns were raised by Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, a city police officer on leave. While Rivera said he's not necessarily opposed to the plan, he questioned how a vehicle owner could be issued a ticket for running a red light if it's unclear who was behind the wheel. Some cities with red-light cameras treat the violation as a parking ticket so they don't have to prove who was driving at the time.

Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto said some people who have lived in other cities think Buffalo has far more red-light runners. Cameras could be a powerful deterrent, added Masten Council Member Demone A. Smith.

"Once people know it's there, they'll know not to [run red lights]," he said.

Law enforcement officials, budget analysts and other experts also will be invited to attend the March 24 meeting in City Hall.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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