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)