Red-light runners have become a dangerous norm in Albany. Now, city officials and state lawmakers want to bring red light cameras — which snap photos of vehicles illegally zipping under traffic signals — to Albany's most dangerous intersections.
The mayor says it's not about revenue, while the police chief stresses it's all about safety: a bill that allows for the City of Albany to adopt a local law establishing a "five-year demonstration period" during which red-light cameras would be mounted at strategic intersections where motorists routinely ignore traffic-control devices.
In New York, municipalities wishing to install red light cams are required to get approval from the state legislature. Assembly sponsors Pat Fahy and John McDonald persuaded fellow Democrat Neil Breslin to back the Senate version of the bill. "I don't think it's a very difficult issue. I think we have Madison, Western, Washington, Central, New Scotland, that are all straight lines and they invite people to go faster than they should. And if we can get people to slow down and use the cameras effectively, to me, it's an easy solution," said Breslin.
Mayor Kathy Sheehan sees the cameras as a critical tool in helping reduce the number of traffic, bicycle and pedestrian accidents. "When our police chief tells us that we need to be exploring red light cameras as a mode of making our public safer, that's when we need to consider it."
The mayor cited what she termed "very terrible accidents involving pedestrians," community feedback and input from a "stakeholder group" as instrumental in forging ahead with a traffic camera program. "One of the things that municipalities have learned is that implementing red light cameras as a way of generating revenue is a mistake. We're looking at this as another tool for public safety enforcement."
A vehicle running a red light would be issued a $50 dollar ticket, mailed to the registered owner. The city hasn't calculated how much revenue fines would generate, and don't see the cameras as a roadway to closing the budget deficit. The tickets would not come with license points.
"We've been looking at our accidents here over a year. And we've been looking over different strategies to be able to reduce that. So much so that a full 25 percent of our strategic plan involves traffic safety, to make this city safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and car drivers," said Chief Steve Krokoff, who added no timeline has been established for getting the cameras up and running. Assemblywoman Fahy doesn't anticipate tapping into city coffers to fund the project. Krokoff and Fahy both reside in neighborhoods where motorists chronically ignore traffic laws and devices.
Krokoff: "Hoping that we do get the approval, we do the deep-dive and we start finding the areas first of all where we can get the best safety outcome, and secondarily the best type of technology that we can use for the city to make sure we are able to achieve our goals."
Fahy: "The legislation does not authorize any funding, but the cameras have been used in other cities, it's essentially on a shared basis, so there's absolutely no out-of-pocket money for the cities that have used them It's like a lease."
The trial program would run through 2020. Under the plan, 20 cameras initially would be installed at the most dangerous intersections. Officials expect a spike in rear-end collisions when the devices are first erected, which, measuring examples set in other municipalities, would trail off in time.