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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Are Red Light cameras coming to Charlestown?

Apparently so, so watch it!
By Will Collette

Installation of red light cameras at Charlestown’s four traffic signals on Route One was delayed for several months, pending approval from the RI Department of Transportation, which actually controls Route One, and a glitch in the contracting process.


Spurred by the terrible death of Colin Foote in 2010 when Laura Reale, a chronic traffic offender, ran the red light at West Beach Road and mowed Colin down, Charlestown has been exploring the feasibility of cameras that will deter such irresponsible behavior in the future.

Vendors for red light enforcement systems typically offer municipalities deals where the cost to the towns is capped at whatever revenue comes in from traffic fines. The cameras generally catch enough violators to make it worthwhile for the vendors, though the actual revenue that comes to the towns can vary wildly.

When then Charlestown Police Chief Jack Shippee talked to me about the cameras, he made the point that the objective was to deter red-light running, not raise money for the town. Of course, if the cameras generated revenue, Charlestown would be pleased to accept it.

After a Request for Proposals, lots of research and a special Town Council meeting where the Council members interviewed the two most likely contractors. The Council chose Sensys as the vendor on the basis of their representative Brian Haskell’s assertion that they were a Rhode Island-based company. Buy local, as the saying goes.

Except Sensys isn’t a Rhode Island company at all. Their US Headquarters is Miami. Their home office is in Sweden. 

One of the first delay-causing problems was that when the Sensys representative went scouting for subcontractors to do the electrical work for the Charlestown system, he discovered that the going rate for electricians was much higher than Sensys was used to paying. 

Yeah, it’s “shocking” to discover that electricians in New England get paid more than electricians in Florida.

The second problem was that RIDOT took a long time to review and approve the plan. Again, Haskell, the Rhode Island Sensys rep, apparently didn’t understand how to get that kind of thing done.

Now RIDOT has given its approval (click here to read the approval letter) and Haskell reports that he’s found a subcontractor to do the electrical work (NOTE to Town Hall – be sure to make sure the electrician is properly licensed).

Haskell e-mailed Town Treasurer Pat Anderson on March 25th to run-down the next steps: “The next step is the engineering study, which will be performed by Pare Corporation and commenced shortly. Once completed, we will submit that, along with the particular site locations to RIDOT for final approval. (I hope they move faster this time.)”

It looks to me like it will take either a miracle or some effective work by Haskell to get the system up and running by the start of tourist season on Memorial Day. 

The problems at those intersections seem to be worse when Charlestown’s population swells by 300% during the summer.

Red light cameras are controversial and hotly debated in every city and town where they have been proposed. Some call them an invasion of privacy, although how that is a factor when you’re driving down a public road – and breaking the law – is beyond me.

Some say the economics don’t work. I had some of those doubts myself, as did Chief Shippee. However, the contract protects Charlestown from liability if red-light  fines aren’t high enough to cover the basic cost – Sensys takes the risk. I presume they know the math well enough not to sign contracts that are going to bankrupt the company. Anyway, that’s their problem, not Charlestown’s.

I had one guy write to me and argue that red-light cameras violate the laws of physics. Click here to read his argument, such as it is. Part of his argument – indeed, the only part that makes any sense – is that sometimes you see an increase in accidents from over-cautious drivers slamming on their brakes and causing more rear-end collisions.

Red car ran the red light and t-boned the school bus
In fact, GoLocalProv.com recently ran a piece that reported on an increase of accidents in the 25 intersections in Providence where cameras are installed. They rose from 28 in 2010 to 96 in 2012. And sure enough, they were mostly rear-end collisions.

Yes, that’s bad. Experts say these accidents will diminish as people get used to the cameras and learn to adjust their driving habits. 

All things considered, you’re much more likely to survive a rear-end accident than a T-bone crash any day. And think of the new jobs created at local auto body shops.

But in all seriousness, I support red light cameras and hope that the town, and I guess more importantly, its chosen vendor, will act with all due haste to get the system up and running soon.