Traffic safety advocates find Wilmington's first red light camera report lacking
The city of Wilmington says its first-ever report on red light traffic cameras shows a marked decrease in violations.
But as Delaware Public Media's Annie Ropeik reports, traffic safety advocates say the city's data doesn't prove that.
The city's red light camera program dates back 15 years, and now includes 34 cameras at 31 intersections. But the first report on those cameras, issued this week at the request of AAA Mid-Atlantic, only shows two years' worth of data.
In fiscal years 2013 and 2014, the city netted $3.1 million from ticket revenue. They also saw red light violations jump more than 25 percent -- from 29,000 in 2013, to more than 40,000 in 2014. And there was a 5 percent bump in crashes at all intersections, with decreases at some individually.
City finance director Sheila Winfrey-Brown says those increases were because of staffing changes. In 2014, they put a retired police sergeant in charge of confirming camera violations, rather than a rotating team.
"We knew when we had one person assigned to review these red light violations that first year that there probably would be an uptick," Brown says. "But we're also seeing that for fiscal year '15, there's a slight decrease in the number of violations" -- though she adds it's still more than in earlier years.
Brown also says they'll include more data about types of crashes in their FY2015 report, due out in January. But AAA spokesman Jim Lardear says they'd hoped to see those details this time around.
"We were looking for assurances from the city, and the report kind of falls short," he says. "And it did raise some concern with us about the lack of crash data analysis and really spelling out some possible intersection improvements that may have negated the need for installing cameras in the first place."
Lardear adds red light cameras should be a last resort. And he says a city should hope to make less money off them over time, as drivers learn not to set them off.
Deputy city finance director Stephanie Collins says Wilmington's program is focused on changing driver behavior, not on collecting revenue.
"This is not a program that we are sitting here saying, 'Let's line the city's pockets with additional dollars.' That's not it at all," she says. "It is really a safety program, and we would hope our motorists would view it as that."
AAA's Lardear says he hopes future reports will include more hard data to show that's the direction Wilmington is headed.