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Citys red-light cameras are there for our safety

Two Views • Are traffic cameras effective, or just a money-making scheme?
by: Christopher Onstott That bug-eyed monster at West Burnside Street and 19th Avenue takes more photographs of drivers running red lights than any other red-light camera in Portland. Since the camera has been in place, collisions at the intersection have dropped dramatically. Two My View writers debate the pros and cons of these red-light cameras.

The city of Portland invests in red-light cameras to save lives and eliminate serious injuries. The installation of 11 red-light cameras and warning signs has led to an immediate and sustained reduction in red light-running crashes by 51 percent. Total injuries at these intersections have fallen by 42 percent.

To be clear, the city of Portland does not have a red-light camera program to make money. Since the program began in 2002, Portland has received $25,000 less in revenue than total costs for the program. From a cost perspective, the red-light camera program pays for itself.

Red light-running is a serious and preventable problem. More than half of the people killed in red light-running crashes are innocent victims. One in three Americans know someone who was injured or killed in a red light-running crash.

Portland has a comprehensive strategy to reduce the number of cars running red lights. Police provide traditional enforcement, and engineers continually evaluate the signal system to improve safety.

In addition, this summer Portland's traffic safety community, including AAA, Oregon Trucking Association, Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Willamette Pedestrian Coalition and the city, has formed a 'StreetSmart - Go Safe' education and enforcement campaign with a major focus on reducing the number of cars running red lights, distracted driving and speeding.

The StreetSmart campaign is dedicated to making our streets as safe as possible. Whether you are driving, riding your bicycle or walking, obeying traffic signals is essential to improving the safety of our streets.

Portland's approach to improving traffic safety has made our city one of the safest places to drive, walk or ride a bicycle. During the past 25 years, Portland's traffic fatalities have declined at a rate six times faster than the rest of the country.

Signs are placed at the entry points to Portland to let drivers know that automated enforcement is one of the safety solutions used in our city. In addition, a 'photo enforced' warning sign is placed in advance of the locations with red-light cameras. If you don't run a red light, you won't have to worry about getting a ticket or causing a life-altering collision.

New red-light cameras are installed only at locations with a history of red light-running crashes. Prior to making a decision to add a camera, an engineer reviews the intersection to ensure that the red light-running problem cannot be solved through basic engineering improvements such as increasing visibility and improving signal operations.

The city of Portland strives to exceed the signal timing gold-standard recommendations provided by the Institute for Traffic Engineers. Particular focus is paid to yellow-light timing, and all yellow-light durations exceed these timing recommendations.

As a last resort, a red-light camera is installed. There are 1,068 traffic signals that control about 3,500 traffic approaches in Portland. Of these 3,500 potential red-light camera locations, only 11 cameras have been installed - less than 00.3 percent of signalized approaches have a red-light camera.

In Portland, we do not use red-light cameras to make money, but to improve safety. Portland's use of red-light cameras has reduced red light-running by more than 70 percent. They have proven to be a cost-effective measure for saving lives and reducing injuries.

Mark Lear is transportation safety program manager for the Portland Bureau of Transportation.