By Katie Hoos
New Rochelle is one step closer to installing red-light cameras.
The City Council submitted a Home Rule request, which would give the city the authority to adopt a local red-light camera enforcement law, and awaits the decision of the state legislature.
Currently, the legislation, which would authorize New Rochelle to install and operate cameras at no more than 25 intersections for a 5-year period, sits in the New York State Assembly before it can proceed to the Senate. State Sen. George Latimer, a Rye Democrat, said the Assembly is where red light camera laws have the most difficulty passing, but he believes New Rochelle’s law should ultimately be approved.
A Home Rule request in the State of New York grants individual municipalities the authority to set up their own system of local government without charter from the state. The legislation does not become law, however, until the governor signs the bill.
Last year, members of the city’s Citizens Budget Co-mmittee proposed the idea and asked the New Rochelle City Council to investigate installing traffic enforcement cameras in order to improve safety on area roads. The city then piloted a trial in April, which tested red-light cameras by the Arizona-based company, Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., in the four intersections of Main Street and North Avenue, North Avenue and Hugenot Street, Main Street and Webster Avenue, and Webster Avenue and Lincoln Avenue. These locations were chosen at the recommendation of New Rochelle Police Commissioner Patrick Carroll, who said they are known for high numbers of traffic light violations and accidents.
According to New Rochelle Police Department figures for 2012, the department issued 357 red-light violations in 2012 and, in 2011, a fatal car accident occurred at the intersection of North Avenue and Huguenot Street.
Redflex reported the results of the test run and provided a demonstration during the City Council meeting on Sept. 11. During the 48-hour trial period, more than 100 total traffic violations were recorded across the four intersections, including running red lights and illegally turning right on red. No tickets were issued during this period.
City Manager Charles Strome said public safety is the city’s main goal in installing traffic cameras. He said the company who installs the cameras would cover the costs and the money then collected from each violation would go back to the manufacturer. Strome said he could not estimate how much revenue the city would generate from the deal.
“It’s about safety first,” he said.
Strome also noted that the New Rochelle Police Depart-ment has been reduced by 30 or 40 positions since 2008, so the traffic cameras are a cost-effective way to monitor heavily ticketed and accident-prone intersections.
Other communities in the state are already using red light cameras, including Yonkers, Rochester, New York City and Nassau and Suffolk counties. Yonkers, which first installed red light cameras in 2010, has 25 intersections with cameras and issues around 16,000 tickets a month. The city is expected to make a total of $4 million in revenue from the cameras annually, half of which will go to the manufacturer, American Traffic Solutions.
Ideally, the cameras would also encourage slower, safer driving among motorists since they know there is a penalty if caught violating traffic laws.
However, critics are skeptical about the safety benefits of red light cameras, and say they often result in rear-end collisions from motorists slamming on their brakes to avoid getting a ticket. A study compiled in 2005 by The Washington Post found that, at the designated intersections with red-light cameras in Washington, D.C., the number of accidents increased from 365 to 755 over a six-year period.
In New Rochelle, the violation would be considered a civil penalty and would fine the vehicle’s registered owner $50, since only the license plate would be photographed, not the driver of the vehicle. The fine could then be paid to the city by mail or at a court date.
Strome said the city should be able to move forward with installing the cameras sometime next year if the law passes. If approved, the police department will “conduct further safety analysis based on accidents in certain locations throughout the city,” Strome said.
The city will then issue a request for proposals to companies interested in installing red light cameras.