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EXCLUSIVE: Red-Light Cameras Along Roosevelt Boulevard Intersection Still Operational Despite Safety Concerns From 2017 Study

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — City and state transportation officials are defending their decision to maintain red-light cameras at an intersection in Northeast Philadelphia, despite a state report that links the cameras there to an increase in injuries. A study by the Pennsylvania Transportation Advisory Committee published in 2017 and obtained by Eyewitness News, analyzed crash data from five years before and five years after red-light cameras were implemented at three intersections along Roosevelt Boulevard in 2005.

The report found that injuries in all crashes are actually higher after red-light cameras were implemented at Roosevelt Boulevard and Red Lion Road, showing injuries there increased from 73 to 125, a 71% increase.

roosevelt boulevard crashes
Credit: CBS3

According to the report, the result suggests that red-light cameras are "not the solution to this intersection's safety challenges and that other measures are required."

But Eyewitness News discovered the cameras are still operational.

When asked why, PennDOT officials said they believe all previously approved red-light cameras should remain.

"There's no clear offsetting benefit to removing them, and the concern is that without the threat of enforcement, red-light-running behavior could even increase, which is a risk that we can't afford to take," said PennDOT spokesperson Alexis Campbell.

The 2017 report suggests most injuries from the Roosevelt and Red Lion Road tend to be rear-end crashes as opposed to angle crashes from red-light running that can cause more serious injury.

But the report also uses the intersection to highlight the need to select red-light camera intersections "carefully to maximize the likelihood of yielding safety benefits."

The intersection in question sits in Councilman Brian O'Neil's district. His office didn't respond to repeated requests for comment.

Red-Light Cameras Remain Controversial Across U.S.

In recent years, some states have been restricting or banning red-light cameras for various reasons.

In Illinois, some lawmakers are pushing for a red-light camera ban after former a state senator pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from red-light camera company SafeSpeed, LLC.

In Florida, nearly half of Tampa Bay communities that had red-light cameras in 2014 have suspended or ended their programs following a push to increase yellow light times, which lead to fewer red-light violators.

Last year in Texas, the governor signed a bill to ban red-light cameras. Lawmakers there argued red-light cameras violate due process because it assumed the registered car owner ran the light.

And a AAA study of the eight New York municipalities that use red-light cameras found flaws in all of them.

But in Philadelphia, city leaders insist the cameras are here to stay and, despite the 2017 report, are all properly working.

"The city's policy is to prioritize human life when addressing traffic safety and so there are no plans to remove the cameras or discontinue this statewide program," Kelly Cofrancisco, the city's communications director, said.

Murky Data

Data published over if red-light cameras are actually effective in improving safety are mixed.

The PA Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) report examined 24 intersections with red-light cameras, finding six fatalities in the five years before the cameras were implemented and three fatalities in the five years afterward.

But the report also notes that "due to the relatively low number of fatalities both before and after [red light camera] implementation, it is difficult to draw a statistically definitive conclusion about its effects on fatalities." It goes on to say some intersections have had crashes reduced by as much as 75%.

The Philadelphia Parking Authority manages the city's red-light cameras. Eyewitness News initially asked the PPA for crash data from each intersection with red-light cameras prior to finding the TAC report. At the time, spokesperson Martin O'Rouke replied, "I don't know if that exists."

The PPA later provided Eyewitness News with data from crashes along the Roosevelt that shows "driver to pedestrian deaths" have increased from four in 2013 to seven in 2017 and "driver to pedestrian major injuries" shows a slight increase from two in 2013, to three in 2017. But the PPA's data also shows "total deaths and major injuries" dropped from 36 to 20 over the same period.

"One can only imagine the number of accidents and fatalities if those cameras were never installed," said O'Rourke.

He added the report strongly indicates that red-light cameras have safety benefits in the form of reduced injuries in crashes attributed to running red lights.

Red-Light Cameras Generate Money 

Last year alone, Philadelphia's red-light cameras netted $14.9 million. Officials say that's additional money for safer roads. But others claim it's a city cash grab.

The National Motorists Association is a lobbying group that opposes red-light cameras.

"It really is a taxation by citation scheme perpetrated by the city to make money," said Shelia Dunn with the NMA.

"I wish we didn't make a single dollar. I wish we lost money. That would make me happy," said Scott Petri, the executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

To date, 138 red-light cameras have been placed at 31 intersections across Philadelphia, and have captured 226,000 red-light runners in Fiscal Year 2019.

More money is expected to pour in this year after speed cameras become operational along the Roosevelt in the coming months.

Safety Improvements

While the TAC report suggests other safety measures are required at Red Lion and the Boulevard, a PennDOT spokesperson said there haven't been any improvements made at specific intersections.

Instead, there have been corridor improvements along Roosevelt Boulevard, including pavement marking upgrades and installation of pedestrian countdown signals.

In 2017, PennDOT resurfaced the outside travel lanes along 12 miles of the Boulevard from 9th Street to the Bucks County line, which cost $7.6 million.

In early 2013, PennDOT completed a $2.8 million safety improvement project that signalized five mid-block crosswalks, removed five mid-block crosswalks and established a new signalized crosswalk.

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