A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Red-light violations: Let’s check

Written January 25th, 2018 by Hasso Hering

Why am I sitting in my truck in the rain, watching the intersection of Queen and Geary from the parking lot of the Geary Street Clinic?  I’m trying to time the yellow signal light because the subject came up before the city council this week.

Robert T. Scott, the judge of the Albany Municipal Court, was giving the council his annual report Monday. The report tracked the number of traffic tickets and other cases processed by the court through the last three years, and Councilman Dick Olsen asked the judge about the timing of the yellow lights at Queen and Geary. That’s where Albany’s only red-light cameras, run by the Redflex company, monitor traffic on Queen going east and on Geary going south.

A discussion about camera enforcement ensued. I didn’t hear any totals, but according to Scott, 90 percent of the violations nabbed by the cameras are turning right on red without stopping first. And Olsen wondered whether the yellow signal phase was too short.

The standard timing of the yellow phase around the country is no less than 3 seconds and no more than 6. At Queen and Geary, Scott said it’s about 4 seconds, which he considers ample.

That’s what sent me to the clinic parking lot in the rain on Wednesday afternoon. Using the stopwatch on my phone, I did my best to time the yellow phase on Geary headed south, where people routinely turn right on red. The three readings I managed to get ranged from 4.35 to 4.50 seconds, confirming what Scott said. (The difference in the decimals is because my reaction time in pushing “start” and “pause” on my phone was not consistent.)

If people contest a ticket they get there for failing to stop before turning on red, Scott said he’ll offer to review the video with them. And if it’s warranted by what the digital record shows, he’ll cut them some slack and reduce the fine. (The presumptive fine for a Class B violation, failing to obey a signal, is $260.)

But he said the law is clear that drivers “shall stop” on a yellow light. (Actually the law — ORS 811.260 — adds this qualification: “If a driver cannot stop in safety, the driver may drive cautiously through the intersection.”)

I wondered how many violations the Redflex cameras actually show and how much they generate in fines. I’ve asked the city, and we’ll all find out when the answer comes.

In the meantime, here are some numbers from Scott’s report: In 2017 the city court handled 7,259 total cases, a 33 percent increase over 2016, but total fine revenue dropped 1 percent to $820,792. The city’s share last year was $685,829. To enable to court to do a better job collecting fines, the city council on Wednesday approved hiring one additional clerk at a salary range of $33,000 to $42,000.

The position had been cut during the recession when the number of traffic tickets also dropped, because of police department cuts. Now, Albany traffic enforcement has been ramped up and tickets are way up. The court last year processed 4,935 traffic violations, up 52 percent from the year before. (hh)

Judge Robert T. Scott talks with the city council on Monday.











15 responses to “Red-light violations: Let’s check”

  1. Dave Sullivan says:

    Once again, another fun article. Thank you … I really enjoy your perspective on Albany.

  2. Peggy Richner says:

    I received a citation for not coming to a complete stop while making a right turn from Geary onto Queen. I wrote a letter to the court saying the intersection would be better served if it were deemed safe to make the turn without stopping, via a green arrow, as long as the cars turning from Queen onto Geary going North had a left-turn arrow at the same time. The fault lies when Redflex made the installation, or perhaps when the signals were originally installed. It’s as safe to make the turn in this manner as anything is “safe” in this life.

    • Rodger Asai says:

      The current CEO of Redflex (the one that signed the original contract with Albany back in 2007 was convicted of Federal Bribery charges in 2015) agrees with you. In a Dec 26, 2014 interview published in the Wall Street Journal Mr. Saunders indicates being fined for a harmless rolling right on red is not advised unless there is a pedestrian in the crosswalk.

  3. Mackezie says:

    Almost a million dollars in fines. Don’t we all feel so much safer behind the wheel, now. I would think if high traffic fines were meant to punish/educate/get a driver’s attention, revenue from traffic violations would go down. Hmmm. Doesn’t seem to work that way…

  4. Lundy says:

    I wrote about the red-light cameras multiple times, even sat through a half-dozen trials one day — all dealing with people accused of turning without having come to a complete stop —
    and watched the related videos. Maybe some of the drivers did not totally stop, but none of them did anything that could be construed as unsafe. And my research showed that the vast majority of tickets issued because of the camera were for those benign turns, not for blasting through the intersection. My conclusion: The cameras do not make anyone safer but do give the impression of being there only as a revenue generator.

    • Rodger Asai says:

      Perhaps the most interesting video related to Redflex is the one of the April 27, 2016 City Council meeting (uploaded by the City as a regular practice) where they rushed through an early renewal of the Redflex contract using the Special Procurement provision – which allows for no-bid contracts in certain circumstances.

      Whether those circumstances were actually met is unknown since no proof was provided only some (flawed) testimony. I have posted comments under the video which provide more specific details.

  5. Rodger Asai says:

    The Report provided by Redflex to the APD which details the kind of info you mention is titled, Customer Management Report (Albany) All Detection Types.

    The last one I could find online was for 2014. It is a tally of the 1352 Incidents in 2014 – of which 501 (37%) resulted in approved violations. After 7 years the human review process (in Maricopa County, Arizona and then here in Albany) is still discarding about 2/3rds of those “caught” by the cameras.

    As for the duration of Yellow. The Redflex contract says APD is responsible for ensuring the yellow is of lawful duration. Oregon Statute requires “uniformity” and follows the Federal requirement. When the Judge says the range is 3 seconds & up his is only partially correct. 3 Seconds is the ABSOLUTE MINIMUM for a 25 mph zone.

    The Geary/Queen intersection is in a 35 mph zone. The ABSOLUTE MINIMUM for a 35 mph zone is 4 seconds – which the Geary/Queen does meet. However, part of what was discovered in the pattern and practice of Local Law Enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri was a practice akin to entrapment where several Yellows along a stretch would be set to 6-7 seconds (which accustoms drivers to expect that duration on subsequent yellows) followed by one set to 4 seconds (around which the local cops would sit and wait when they needed to make their quotas).

    That many other intersections in the 35 mph zone near Geary/Queen have longer yellows than Geary/Queen is perhaps worth looking into.

  6. centrist says:

    Guess I missed a memo.
    Granted I have a low-number license, but I’ve always followed that there are two conditions for a “free right on red”. First is full stop. Second is that there’s a break in traffic to allow entry without impeding.
    Sounds as though some folks triggered a teaching moment but didn’t learn the lesson.

    • Rodger Asai says:

      Yes. A law unevenly applied is no law at all.
      One such “memo” is a Supreme Court decision from the late 1800’s called Yick Wo v. Hopkins

  7. Terry says:

    Revenue generation tool plain and simple!

  8. hj.anony1 says:

    All too Orwellian for me. I avoid this intersection at all costs.

    Look what ICE is doing with a private company. Not Redflex but Vigilant Solutions.
    They are now tracking license plates with the help of this entity. Not for revenue generation. That is for sure. This may help some of us sleep better at night. I think it may be much more sinister, creepy at best.


  9. HowlingCicada says:

    This public-private partnership reeks of bad will and promotes unhelpful distaste for all of government.

    • centrist says:

      So, are you advocating ignoring a law/regulation that you don’t like?
      Are you also advocating that there should be no penalty for such behavior?
      At least libertarian, likely anarchist thought.

      • HowlingCicada says:

        My only concern is with those situations where a real police officer, on their own initiative while on patrol (as opposed to viewing the videos), is unlikely to write a ticket.

        Sorry, I don’t have the full answers your questions deserve. The answer is “no” to both, but it’s complicated (similar to speed limits seldom obeyed exactly): balancing the letter of the law, the incentives of all parties involved, and the legitimate, desired end result (better safety, not revenue and “sharing the wealth”). I don’t have the skill to boil it all down to a couple paragraphs in reasonable time.

        But … quoting Hasso from 3 years ago:

        “””I often approach Queen from the north on Geary, planning to turn right. Even though I could turn on red, I don’t, and this occasionally causes impatient drivers behind me to honk. But I don’t like to be surveilled, and if I turn on red, I think the camera will take a snapshot and someone will review whether I was properly stopped before moving. So I wait and avoid being photographed at all.”””

        While individual feelings and tactics may vary, I suspect his attitude is widely shared, mostly by careful and safe drivers. Moreover, fear and resentment can breed bad attitudes toward all law enforcement.

        As for anarchy, I’m not generally opposed to surveillance cameras; they’re probably the best thing since the elimination of lead paint to reduce violent crime. Completely different incentives (at least in liberal, Western democracies). They’re (mostly) not used to play games around legalism and gotcha. Furthermore, I foresee future surveillance methods catching the really bad or incompetent drivers that cause most accidents. Whether that works will depend not on technical wizardry, but on the integrity and good will of those using it.


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