Red-light cameras at city intersections to remain in place for another year, after City Commission vote on Feb. 22

Revenue from program since the 2019 fiscal year has ranged from $955,066 to $780,636, Police Department says

A sign facing eastbound traffic on Bahia Vista Street warns drivers about the red-light cameras at the intersection with Tuttle Avenue. File photo

On a 4-1 vote this week — with Commissioner Hagen Brody in the minority — the Sarasota City Commission approved the second extension of its contract with Redspeed Florida LLC for the continued operation of red light cameras.

In a Feb. 2 memo to City Manager Marlon Brown, Acting Sarasota Police Chief Rex Troche pointed out that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration division has documented that “more than 50% of the combined total of fatal and injury crashes occur at or near intersections.” That fact was noted in an Oct. 27, 2020 report, Troche wrote.

“Photo enforcement of red-light violations improves safety by increasing compliance of drivers stopping at red lights,” Troche continued, “providing 24 hours a day 365 days a year unbiased traffic enforcement …” The photos “produce a record of evidence that is not easily disputed,” Troche pointed out.

On Jan. 25, 2018, Troche continued in his memo, the city first entered into an agreement for red light cameras. Twenty intersections were chosen for the placement of red-light cameras, according to a document attached to the original contract. The list was included in the back-up agenda materials for the City Commission’s meeting on Feb. 22.

The net revenues for the program have been as follows, Troche added:

•  $955,066 in the 2019 fiscal year.

•  $408,751 in the 2020 fiscal year.

•  $780,636 in the 2021 fiscal year.

The projected revenue for this fiscal year, Troche noted, is $780,636.

Each fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

The expense to the city for the 2021 fiscal year was $175,068, including the salary for the police officer who is in charge of the program, the agenda item request document said. As of Feb. 2 in this fiscal year, the document added, the city’s expense has been $56,605, with revenue totaling $101,005.

The city’s contract for the red light cameras was set to expire on April 30, Troche pointed out in his memo. The leadership of the Police Department would like to see the agreement extended, he wrote.

The formal contract extension says the agreement would go into effect on May 1 and “expire at 11:59 p.m. on April 30, 2023.” The city could extend the contract for one more, one-year period, “upon the mutual agreement of the parties,” it adds.

The proposed extension, Troche also noted in his memo, “is consistent with provisions contained in Chapter 316 [of the] Florida Statutes, governing Uniform Traffic Control,” as well as the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program, which is Florida Statute 316.0083.

These are the city intersections where red-light cameras are in operation. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Brody explains objections

Although the item was included on the first Consent Agenda of routine business matters for the Feb. 22 meeting, Commissioner Brody pulled it for discussion.

“I’ve voted against this many times in the past,” he said, though, in the past, he acknowledged, he had supported use of the cameras.

“I’m just not a big fan of ’em,” Brody continued. “There’s debate about whether they actually, you know, make our roadways safer or whether they are causing more incidents.”

Brody added that he has heard that the use of red-light cameras results in more rear-end collisions.

Hagen Brody. File image

“They generate a lot of revenue,” he continued of the cameras. That is “a big reason why we have ’em, to be frank,” Brody said. “But I think that there’s ways that we can fund, you know … the services we need to fund [without using them].”

Sarasota City Manager Marlon Brown. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Members of the public end up paying for minor traffic infractions, he pointed out.

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch responded that she understood his points. Nonetheless, she cited Troche’s information from the Federal Highway Administration regarding crashes with fatalities and injuries near or in intersections.

Referencing Brody’s last comment, she added, “I don’t think they’re minor infractions. … We’ve seen that our red light cameras reduce fatalities at these intersections, and I think that’s a pretty important statistic.”

In response to a question from Mayor Erik Arroyo, City Manager Marlon Brown said, “A rear-end collision does not necessarily result in a fatality.” In his professional opinion, Brown continued, “A life is worth much more [than the expense of] a rear-end collision.” Repairs can be made to damaged vehicles, he added. “The cost of a life can never be replaced.”

Arroyo then asked whether the city has data showing the numbers of crashes at the intersections with red-light cameras before the devices were installed, as well as crash data after the cameras were put in place.

Brown replied that he believed he could provide those statistics to the commissioners.

Commissioner Liz Alpert told her colleagues that she, too, had wondered about the data. However, she offered strong support for use of the cameras.

In fact, she continued, she recently was driving to an event when she saw two drivers run a red light, “and one person was half-a-block away from the light before it turned red. … I just think that there needs to be some kind of deterrent, to keep people from doing that.”

Although Arroyo reiterated his desire to see the pre-cameras and post-cameras crash data, he added that he tended to agree with Alpert.

Alpert made the motion to approve the contract extension, and Ahearn-Koch seconded it. No one offered further comment before the vote took place.

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