Roundabouts are considered safer for pedestrians and drivers by many experts.
Red light cameras are coming to two more Fort Collins intersections as soon as this spring.
Fort Collins Police Services is still finalizing the locations, but its top two choices are the intersection of Mulberry and Shields streets and the intersection of Shields Street and Prospect Road. Red light cameras could be installed at the intersections as soon as early May, FCPS Lt. Mike Trombley said.
Fort Collins already has red light cameras at two intersections: Drake Road/College Avenue and Harmony/Timberline roads. The cameras have proven to significantly reduce red light violations, which in turn tends to reduce the likelihood of dangerous T-bone car crashes (and exasperated fellow motorists). The Drake and College red light cameras monitor north-south traffic, and the Harmony and Timberline cameras monitor east-west traffic.
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City officials decide camera locations based on three factors: the frequency of red light-running at the intersection, measured through a traffic survey; the infrastructure at the intersection, which affects the cost of installation; and whether officers could effectively monitor the intersection without the technology.
“It’s very resource-intensive to do any kind of red light enforcement, and in many cases around the city we don’t have spots where we can sit safely and monitor the traffic at a red light,” Trombley said.
Trombley called the Harmony and Timberline red light cameras the “poster child” of the program. The city carried out a 12-hour survey at the intersection before installing the cameras in 2009, logging red light-runners during the morning, afternoon and evening rush hours for two days in a row. They tallied about 498 red light violations, an average of about 42 per hour.
The intersection now sees an average of about 220 red light violations a month, or a little over seven per day.
“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” Trombley said. “If I can reduce 498 potential collisions in 12 hours to 220 over a month, that’s a win for me.”
Red light cameras catch drivers who enter the intersection — almost always marked by a painted stop line or crosswalk — when the light is red. That’s the legal state definition of running a red light. A FCPS employee watches video recording of each violation to make sure the camera didn’t make a mistake.
Red light camera tickets cost $75 and don’t affect car insurance rates or put points on your driver’s license. The same type of ticket from a police officer would cost $160 and put points on your license.
Red light cameras resulted in nearly 5,200 tickets in 2019. Trombley said the tickets are close to a half-and-half mix of through-traffic and people turning left on a red light.
Even more tickets result from the city’s camera radar program, which consists of two vans that monitor vehicle speed throughout the city. Trombley said the city will eventually purchase another van for its camera radar program, but it’s not immediately on the horizon.
Red light cameras aren’t intended to line the police department’s coffers. The revenue from the cameras funds the operation of the system, with leftover money spent on traffic safety infrastructure.
It’s tough to measure how Fort Collins’ red light cameras have affected car crashes, Fort Collins traffic engineer Joe Olson said. Both sets were installed so long ago that the city doesn’t have adequate “before” data to compare to more recent crash frequency. Even if they did, there are too many other factors that could affect the rate of car crashes, chief among them the substantial increase in Fort Collins’ traffic volume.
Studies of red light cameras in other cities have had mixed results, but many find a decrease in right-angle/left-turn (T-bone) crashes that is partially offset by an increase in rear-end crashes.
“Right-angle/left-turn crashes tend to cause more serious injuries than rear-end crashes,” Olson wrote in an email to the Coloradoan. “So at locations with a high number of those types of crashes and a lower number of rear-end crashes, we would expect to see a safety benefit from the cameras.”
That understanding factors into Fort Collins’ citing of red light cameras. Traffic Operations worked with FCPS to pinpoint intersections with more T-bone crashes than rear-end crashes, Olson said.
Red light cameras serve one other straightforward purpose for police.
“I always tell people, ‘I’m in the business of law enforcement,’ ” Trombley said. “You’re supposed to obey a red light. … Hopefully (the cameras) can serve as a reminder and help change driving behavior.”
Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support stories like this one by purchasing a digital subscription to the Coloradoan.
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