Higgins: Red Light Cameras Are All WetWritten by Tim Higgins | | email@example.com
The weather is cold outside, but ice has yet to close over either the Maumee River or Lake Erie. In spite of weather that few would consider suitable for a refreshing dip however, Toledo is already looking ahead to the days of summer and to finding a way to swim in the increasing red ink it sees in its future. In the midst of proposing Capital Improvement Fund restructuring, one which the city has in previous years pilfered to support the day-to-day costs covered by the General Fund, it still finds itself at sea where some of its pet projects are concerned. One cannot help but wonder if it’s not floundering in waters that might be over its head.
While revenues remain stagnant in a tough economy, while the budget remains under pressure from lavish city contracts with its employees that continue garner scrutiny, and while even TPS admits that taxpayers are unlikely to increase taxes on themselves (to the great surprise of many); the city must find a way to rob Peter to pay Paul, having already robbed Paul to supplement Peter’s income.
With necessity being the mother of invention, the city turns to an illegitimate idea that worked once before and might again, red light cameras. Gone now are any of the political prevarications that these intersection guardians are not about revenue though. In fact the primary consideration for the latest round of “Polaroid Picket” installations is all about money. The city is in fact apparently counting on catching enough violators to generate some $320,000 in revenue, we are told by Toledo Finance Director Patrick Mclean.
Oh, passing reference is made by the Administration to a reduction in accidents where the cameras are placed, but across the nation, statistics tell us otherwise. The Washington Post reported going back as far as 2005 that accidents doubled in intersections where the cameras were placed in DC. Also in 2005, KATU-TV in Portland, Ore., reported that while “T-bone” accidents were down, “The city’s traffic numbers obtained by KATU News show a 140 percent increase in rear-end crashes at the intersections where red light cameras were installed.” In 2009, KCAL-TV in Los Angeles reported, “that several ticket camera intersections in LA had as many as three times the number of accidents.”
It seems that the originally intended goal of traffic safety, one that might well have been achieved by re-sequencing the lights at the intersections to allow for a greater period of “red in all four directions,” has been dispensed with in favor what can now be considered a “red light scofflaw” tax. There may be even more to be made however, since many of the city’s original cameras also recorded speed violations. While no confirmation of this capability in the new cameras has yet been made, it seems unlikely that it will not be considered.
Of course all of these red light robo-cops are coming under increasing scrutiny through citizen initiative and the courts. Although a petition drive a couple of years ago didn’t get enough signatures to proceed, one cannot help but believe that Toledo, like many cities across the country, is likely to face further challenge by petition. Challenge is likely to continue in the courts as well, where the presumption of innocence once considered a key part of the rule of law in this country is ignored by a process that holds the owner of the car guilty of the offense whether there is proof that they are behind the wheel or not.
Ostensibly now, these Orwellian traffic sentries are to be placed at in intersections whose determination was made with the help of an Arizona-based in order to fund summer recreation programs whose previous funding has received consistent cuts and whose current funding has become an increasing challenge to meet. Potential violators may apparently sleep well however, knowing that their transgressions will benefit recreational programs like opening the city’s pools, whose very existence is considered dubious at best.
Some may see this as “thinking outside the box” for ways to fund programs allegedly “for the children” that might otherwise be doomed at the budget chopping block; but before the opportunities of private contribution or corporate sponsorship are exhausted (if they have even been attempted), they might rather be seen as simple political expediency. The Glass City may succeed in placing a greater number of intersections in the city under the scrutiny of these electronic sentinels, but there are many who believe that the idea of more red light cameras, for pools or anything else, is all wet.