Should Menlo Park add a fifth red-light camera, or shutter the program altogether? That question comes before the city council on Tuesday, Aug. 20, as officials weigh whether to approve a five-year, $1.7 million contract with Redflex, which operates the cameras.
Menlo Park currently has four red-light cameras, mounted at Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road, and the intersections of El Camino Real with Glenwood Avenue and Ravenswood Avenue. City staff have proposed adding a fifth at the intersection of Bayfront Expressway and Chilco Street.
Some are making a case for shutting the program down, arguing that extending the length of the yellow light by fractions of a second at the intersections is more effective and less costly for drivers.
An analysis released to the media on Aug. 19 by Safer Streets L.A., a grassroots coalition advocating for "scientifically sound and sensible transportation and traffic laws," suggested that Menlo Park's cameras were installed at intersections that did not have a significant number of collisions to start with.
Statistics per intersection compiled by the police department showed zero accidents at El Camino Real and Glenwood Avenue that were attributable to running a red light, one at El Camino Real and Ravenswood Avenue, and six at Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road during the two years prior to installing the cameras in 2008.
Since the cameras were installed, data shows two to three accidents resulting from red-light violations at the Bayfront Expressway and Willow Road intersection, and none at the other locations.
The intersection of Chilco Street and Bayfront Expressway has had one fatal collision, in 2011, and 20 collisions total during the past five years, although it's unclear from the staff report what proportion of those were attributable to running red lights.
Federal and state studies indicate that the cameras do tend to reduce the number of "T-bone" collisions at intersections, but may also slightly increase the number of rear-end collisions, according to the staff [report.
Since, in general, rear-end collisions cause less expensive damage and injuries, according to the report, cameras therefore tend to lower the cost of accidents, but statistics breaking down the type of collisions in Menlo Park at monitored intersections were not provided.
The staff report suggests that longer yellow lights would throw off signal synchronization, although opponents of red-light cameras countered that lights have been lengthened by fractions of a second already at some intersections without disruption, citing the left-turn signal on the Bayfront Expressway at Willow Road as an example.
Ninety-seven percent of those who receive a red-light camera ticket are first-time violators, according to staff's data.
If a red-light ticket is paid in full, without any decrease of penalties through appealing to the court, the driver pays $480. Menlo Park gets about $155; the rest goes to the county and state. The staff report calculates that the program nets the city's general fund about $84,000 per year if all the cameras are operational.
Menlo Park's contract with Redflex contains a "cost neutrality" clause that saves the city from paying the $5,000 to $6,000 monthly fee per camera if revenue from citations doesn't cover the cost.
Local cities including Belmont, Redwood City, Hayward and San Carlos canceled their red-light camera programs for a variety of factors, such as cost and effectiveness.
The Aug. 20 council meeting starts at 6 p.m. with a closed session, followed by the regular session at 7 p.m. in council chambers at the civic center at 701 Laurel St.