August 29, 2007
And speaking of red light cameras

Some intersections that currently have them in Houston now have more of them.

Houston police quietly have moved to install new red-light cameras at 20 intersections already monitored by the system, allowing citations for motorists traveling in the opposite direction, officials confirmed Tuesday.

The 20 new cameras are expected to start working Friday. Motorists caught by the new cameras would be issued warnings during a month-long grace period ending in October, police said.

The move to add more cameras, which had not been publicly disclosed, appears to conflict with the terms of a contract the City Council approved in 2006 with American Traffic Solutions Inc., the private company that installs and monitors the cameras.

That agreement includes payment arrangements with the company for a total of 50 intersection "approaches," or cameras monitoring specific directions at a location.

But department officials said Tuesday that they long had planned to increase the number of cameras at some locations, and they denied the contract limited that total to 50 intersections.

"These are different approaches at those same intersections," said Executive Assistant Chief Martha Montavlo, who supervises the program.

Montavlo said the decision to add the new cameras had nothing to do with a new state law, which takes effect Saturday, that could require some cities to do engineering studies at new locations.


The department has said for more than a year that its initial plan was to install cameras at 50 intersections.

Montalvo said late Tuesday that she was not aware of any briefings to council members about the new cameras. But she said Police Chief Harold Hurtt had planned to make an announcement later this week.

Randall Kallinen, a lawyer who complained about the cameras before the council Tuesday, said he doubts safety motivated the department to increase the number of cameras at the intersections.

"The idea for the red-light cameras is to pick the problem areas," he said. "Is it a problem in one direction, or both directions?"

Montalvo has in the past said expanding to more sites was possible, but only after the department hired someone to study the effectiveness of the current cameras at reducing crashes.

Montalvo said Tuesday she had not arranged for such a study, but that one was still planned.

Okay, on the one hand, it seems reasonable that if you're already monitoring traffic going one way at a certain intersection that you'd want to monitor the other way, too. I realized as I was reading this story that I'd mistakenly thought that was already the case at these intersections. Assuming that the contract with the vendor is understood to mean "intersections" and not "approaches", I don't think there's anything out of line about the concept.

But geez, what's up with the secrecy? Installations at new locations were publicly announced in advance. Surely announcing this wouldn't have caused any more fuss. Given that today is Wednesday and the work was to start Friday, how much "later in the week" was it going to be before Chief Hurtt mentioned this to City Council? And yes, the timing with the new state law is convenient, at the least, though if there's work to be done after Friday, one presumes that an engineering study would still be required. Or was the plan all along to say that since these intersections already had cameras, no such study was called for to add them in other directions?

This does not look good. It gives people who aren't already suspicious of the cameras a reason to think there's something funny going on with them. I don't know why this wasn't done the same way as before, but I do know that it should have been.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 29, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Dallas Morning News also ran a big RLC story that's worth reading - - A big part of the problems in Garland stem from the signals all being retimed in September 2006 for the first time in 12 years or so. Much of the major congestion during the AM & PM peak periods was eliminated.

Posted by: Trafficnerd on August 29, 2007 8:15 AM