There’s a red light camera generating a ridiculous amount of tickets in Riverside, at Tyler Street and the 91 Freeway westbound on-ramp, right next to the Galleria. According to the city’s red light enforcement data from September, this camera was activated 2,518 times by motorists running a red light. Of those activations, a total of 1,114 tickets were actually issued to drivers.
Sound like a huge number of citations for one camera? It is. No other red light camera in the city even comes close to that amount of citations generated in a month. Planted on Caltrans property, this city-operated camera was installed in March at what is Riverside’s busiest intersections. However, with staggering fines issued at a minimum cost of $446 per red light ticket, shouldn’t Riverside and Caltrans have more of a compelling reason to install a camera on state property other than the large amount of traffic? Let’s see if the answer raised from Caltrans’ Public Affairs department sits right with you:
“The City installed the red light cameras as a proactive measure to reduce the potential of collisions,” says Terri Kasinga, spokeswoman for Cal Trans District 8.
Sure doesn’t sound like a “compelling need.” In the last five years, that intersection has only clocked 12 recorded accidents, only one of which actually involved someone blowing through a red light. Other infractions included illegal U-turns and a rear-ending by an impaired driver. So why was the city so hell bent on getting this camera in the first place?
In 2008, Riverside contracted with Redflex Traffic Systems (the Arizona-based company responsible for contracts in over 180 cities) for the camera systems. Redflex conducted a survey of the Tyler/91 intersection, observing 36 red-light violations in the westbound direction over the course of a two-hour period, for an estimate of approximately 200 violations per day, 5,600 red light runners a month using their math. “The camera was intended to decrease the violation rate of red-light and enhance safety of the intersection,” Kasinga says.
The decision to grant the city’s encroachment permit was based on “observations of violations by the City.” However, the camera—stationed directly across from the right-hand turn lane that leads to the freeway on-ramp——has some questioning the justification for citing motorists at a location that’s bound to catch Galleria traffic making a right turn on red rather than actually blowing through a red traffic signal—the more dangerous scenario.
“You could pick any corner and you’ll get rolling right-hand turn violations,” says the editor of www.highwayrobbery.net, a website dedicated to information and advice regarding red light camera tickets in California. “And if you’re looking to make a whole bunch of money, put the camera on a corner where there’s lots of traffic.”
Riverside traffic officials did not respond to numerous requests for interviews.
Judging by data gathered by highwayrobbery.net and other sources, one could surmise that “California rolls” and similar rolling right-hand turns—as opposed to the blatant running of a red light—account for so much activity on this camera. It was certainly the case for Emeryville, a town 8 miles east of San Francisco that is the runner-up, after Riverside, for high numbers of citations. Records of one Emeryville intersection show a high number of violations stemming from the right-hand turn lane of a four-lane road. Even so, the camera there only generated 927 citations as of this past July. The number of citations for Tyler and the 91 Freeway for its second month of operation, this past April, totaled 2,441.
Caltrans and the city’s responses to the amount of tickets generated and the rationale for installing a camera to begin with remain unsatisfactory—and likely don’t sit right with critics of this form of traffic enforcement and local officials who’ve become disenchanted with the technology.
Redlands earlier this year killed a red-light camera at University Street and Citrus Avenue, citing unsatisfactory results. Loma Linda officials are considering the same thing for four intersections in their city. Prompted by citizen complaints, Corona is considering changing the way it handles camera violations in an effort to reduce the fines.
But Riverside continues with its cameras. As of September two more cameras were installed at Canyon Springs Parkway and Day Street as well as Indian and Arlington avenues—though one could say the city’s already found its money maker.