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Red-Light Cameras Again?

Red-light Cameras Again?

The resumption of the red –light cameras is a clear- cut example of dishonoring the will of 53% of Houston voters that voted in last Novembers’ referendum to turn off the red-light cameras surveillance system. What has happened to the belief that the Government is for the people and by the people as well as Majority Rule? Anyhow, it appears that the City officials are unable to resolve this dilemma and got themselves trapped in a CART BEFORE THE HORSE SITUATION!    

We believe that the red-light cameras are important and must be functional at high accident-prone intersections.  We totally agree that the sneakers (red-light violators) must be punished and fined. What we want to point out is that the city’s current policy on these cameras is strictly to generate revenue by issuing tickets to violators and the red-light camera operation is strictly a police enforcement driven operation supported by the law. We believe the criteria for installing the cameras at the intersections lacks basic traffic engineering approaches for example, two basic ingredients are missing from this surveillance system (a) an Intersection Capacity Analysis and (b) an Intersection Re-Design. Both of these components deal with SIGNAL TIMING and the GEOMETRICS OF THE INTERSECTION respectively.      

Mechanism Is Missing

APPROPRIATE MECHANISM IS NEEDED TO IMPLEMENT THE RED-LIGHT CAMERAS. INSTEAD OF DEPENDING TOTALLY ON POLICE REVIEW, ALSO A TRAFFIC ENGINEER MUST BE ASSIGNED AND BE MADE INCHARGE TO DETERMINE THE POLICE REPORT. AFTER REVIEWING THE REPORT, ENGINEER CAN SIMULTANEOUSLY CONDUCT THE ABOVE MENTIONED ANALYSIS FROM A DESIGN STAND POINT TO DETERMINE AS TO WHY THE MOTORISTS ARE RUNNING RED LIGHT BEFORE INSTALLING THE CAMERAS.

Condition:

City must adopt an Ordinance to provide service facility first by following the principal elements of design to improve intersection before implementing the surveillance system at the intersections.

As we all know the red light cameras began operating back in September 2006, when the previous administration rushed to implement the program and the system collected millions in fines based on HPD’S review where the violations are being recorded and processed through the computers system. This is how the Houston Police Department became in charge of the red-light cameras activities. That’s great!  But the city must not rely on single source information!

We believe a more viable traffic engineering design methodology is needed to make this program fair and successful. Unfortunately, City failed to include these most important traffic-engineering elements that deal with both roadway design and signal operation before installing the cameras at several intersections. That’s what is missing and that’s where the confusion starts.

 Analysis

 We are not the expert; however, in order to prove our point, we conducted few field surveys and obtained information onSubstandard Intersections in the Houston areas where the Red-Light cameras are enforced. To our surprise we did not have to spend much time to find a substandard intersection in the southwest area. This high volume busy intersection ofBeechnut and Gessner does not have left turning lanes for motorists actually causing problem for motorists who want to turn left. In addition, while surveying through the intersection, we were shocked to see the existing condition of deteriorated pavement. Right in the middle of this major junction, we noticed existing sunken roadbed and exposed joints creating hazardous condition for motorists. The Intersection is full of potholes and cracked pavement is visible with layers of overlay causing an uneven pavement condition.  This is a classical example of substandard intersection. At this intersection motorists must approach at less than normal posted speed due to its bad roadway condition.

On the other hand, a standard intersection in our opinion is that intersection that can handle all modes of transportation, particularly large trucks and busses. Standard intersection must have good roadway geometric and must have exclusive left and right turning lanes along with wider through travel lanes, improved visibility, and wide crosswalks and, of course, good signal timings to maintain a smooth traffic flow. 

 Roadway Intersection - Beechnut at Gessner Road

 Further Comparison of Substandard and Standard Intersections

Beside the roadway condition, we obtained information on 24 hours traffic volumes on Beechnut where it intersects with South Gessner and Southwest Freeway Service Road and found the traffic volume counts nearly equal at about 40,000 and 39,500 vehicles, respectively. In addition to volume, we also obtained information on the number of the red-light violators where the cameras are enforced and did a comparison study between the two intersections (a) Beechnut at South Gessner Road and (b) Beechnut at Southwest Freeway Service Road. Data obtained is displayed the in graphs below indicate a higher number of red-light citations issued to violators at Beechnut and Gessner intersection as opposed to lower citations at Beechnut and Southwest Freeway with almost same volume.  We believe the differing road conditions at the intersections is the reason.

                                                                                

 ADT (Volume) 1999 and 2007                                                                            Red Light Citations on Beechnut Rd

Source: Traffic Volume City of Houston                                                               Source: Houston Red Light Camera's Info.            

 

Our Genuine Curiosity!

In a quest to better understand the work of so-called traffic engineers, we zeroed in on Mr. Jeff Weatherford, P.E., PTOE, Deputy Director of the traffic division in the Public Works and Engineering Department. He is in-charge of about 2,450 signalized intersections. The questions are: What kind of engineering service does he provide? How come motorists continue to experience daily delay problems at the intersections such as Beechnut and Gessner?  Information we obtained reveals there are several other high paid officials like him in the Public Works and Engineering Department putting a lot of dent on city’s payroll budget!

In order to satisfy our curiosity, we continued to look for more traffic officials and obtained more information of their whereabouts. To our surprise, beside the Deputy Director, we found a whole bunch of Assistant Directors, Deputy Assistant Directors, Area Engineers, Managers; you name it, all taking refuge in the Traffic Division and almost all of them making SIX FIGURE SALARIES.

Suggestion

We wonder why city is paying SIX FIGURE SALARIES to these so-called traffic engineers when deficit is increasing and service to the community is decreasing?   

Since the city has turned on the red-light cameras to honor the contract with ATS Company, we thought of a quick solution that might help city in this camera fight and this is how it will work. As we posted earlier where several high officials are making over $100,000 then why not look into that option to minimize the number of high paid officials, so that the city could easily pay off the ATS (American Traffic Solution). Since the contract runs through 2014, the city could pay on yearly basis as well.

By conducting an audit of the department and reducing the number of officials with high salary, we bet the city could come up with millions of dollars in surplus and that could help to balance the budget and produce net savings in millions of dollars. A NEW REFERENDUM to this effect is the right approach to satisfy every party! We wonder what Mayor Annise Parker would say about this proposal?      

We wonder why Proposition 1 and Houston’s Drainage Program remain valid despite the misleading $5 drainage fee as opposed to the enforcement of red-light cameras which majority of voters disapproved last November?  And then again, since the red-light cameras will be generating revenue, why not re-hire those employees laid off by reason of budget shortfall due to loss of red-light camera revenues?