June 13, 2005
Ready or not, here come the cameras

Like it or not, now that the Lege declined to ban cities from installing red-light cameras, Houston is set to roll them out soon.

"They are going up, you bet," said Mayor Bill White, during a recent news conference. "Every time that somebody is killed or seriously injured in an intersectional collision, where somebody was speeding through a red light, I and council members take that as a personal responsibility."

The timetable isn't certain for setting up the cameras, which the City Council approved in December. The goal is to have some working by the end of the year, city officials said.

The city had planned to get cameras installed by April, but that was delayed while the Legislature considered the issue. The House approved measures to outlaw red-light cameras, but none made it through the Senate.

Precisely where the cameras might go isn't yet clear. The mayor, council and several city departments are working out the details of the plan before soliciting bids from prospective private vendors, who would install and maintain the cameras.

The mayor and the police department have said the city's most dangerous signal-controlled intersections would be first on the list. The initial rollout of the system could involve as few as 10 sites, eventually growing to as many as 50.

"Whether we do all 50 all at once, I'm not sure," said Councilman Adrian Garcia, whose public safety committee will discuss the issue today.

Like Grits, I'm concerned about the collection of biometric data and the possibility that it will eventually be used for things we won't like in the future. Before that happens, though, there's something I've been wondering about:

The city which might give the vendor a cut of ticket revenue to save money on the installation also is exploring the option of setting up decoy cameras in some places to serve as deterrents, officials said.

Maybe I'm paranoid, but I've noticed that there are already cameras at various intersections in Houston. Drive on Shepherd between West Gray and US 59 and you'll see what I mean. I'd never paid attention to this before, but I suppose all the talk about this made me start looking. Does anyone know who's operating these cameras, and what they're doing with the images they capture? I'm more than a little curious.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 13, 2005 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

In the last few weeks, a lot of camera-looking devices have been installed at most of the signals along Briar Forest between Beltway 8 and Kirkwood on the west side.

I'm curious about these, as I don't know what their purpose is. Could be cameras or decoys. Could be traffic actuators, too.

Posted by: Tim on June 13, 2005 10:30 AM

maybe they belong to Transtar?


Posted by: Anne on June 13, 2005 10:57 AM

One on each traffic signal arm, about the size of three coke cans stuck together sitting on about an 18" pole (look vaguely like a crane?).

Probably a system the city is installing which supposedly, according to the vendor, monitors the traffic on the street approaching the intersection and adjusts the light timing accordingly. There was an article in the Comical about this some months ago - I couldn't find it in the archives.

They're all over the Alief area and north on Dairy Ashford. I'd love to say they work but I haven't seen a great decrease in the cases of no traffic on one street, 1/4 mile backup on the other.

Posted by: Charles M on June 13, 2005 11:46 AM

I think I'll put a few on may car to watch back including dummies for the decoys.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on June 13, 2005 12:11 PM

Anne - Transtar is a possibility, though I can't for the life of me imagine why they'd need cameras at these intersections. If nothing else, having a camera at Shepherd/Alabama to monitor traffic flow is redundant if you already have one at Shepherd/Richmond.

Charles M - If that's their purpose, then speaking from personal experience they're not doing a very good job.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on June 13, 2005 12:26 PM

Many cameras went up like crazy some months ago, right about the time I had blogHOUSTON in beta (nearly a year ago, I guess).

They're at some REALLY strange intersections -- for example, along Richmond at some non-major streets that cross and go into businesses (but have lights).

Callie called HPD when they first started going up because we wondered if they were the dreaded red-light cameras, but the public information officer said no, they were for traffic management. He didn't elaborate, so make of that what you will. I suppose someone could always follow up with HPD public information.

Posted by: kevin whited on June 13, 2005 12:31 PM

Now that I've read Kevin's comment, I understand what's going on. These cameras were put in to facilitate traffic flow, but not along Shepherd (which is where I'm driving). It's to keep things moving on Richmond/Alabama/Westheimer, as these roads were advertised as alternate routes during the US59/Spur 527 construction. That makes sense.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on June 13, 2005 12:38 PM

They are exactly what Charles M said. They are essentially motion detectors to allow the signals to shift timing based on traffic flow. But they could very well be used at a later date for things not originally intended I'm sure.

Posted by: Rorschach on June 13, 2005 1:17 PM

To add to the mystery though -- some of these cameras along Richmond are West of Kirby, which I presume was outside the traffic mitigation zone for the Spur 527 construction. I used to notice them on my way home to the old place, because there wasn't much else to do sitting in traffic. :)

Now, I see so many cameras everywhere that I don't even think much about it.

Posted by: kevin whited on June 13, 2005 1:30 PM