And the answer is…more cameras (maybe)

Well, there is some logic to it.

The Houston Police Department is considering changes — possibly even expansion — to its red-light camera program after a city-commissioned study showed that crashes went up at intersections where the devices have been installed.

“What we’re concerned about is safety, safety, safety at these intersections,” said Executive Assistant Chief Timothy Oettmeier, whose command includes the camera system. “We want fewer injuries, we certainly don’t want any death, and we want a reduction in accidents.”

To meet those aims, the department will evaluate over the next few months whether existing cameras might be redeployed to intersections that continue to see a high volume of crashes and red-light running. They also could add to the 70 cameras now placed at 50 intersections around the city. The evaluation of the program and any options for updating it would be presented to City Council by June 30, Oettmeier said.

Critics said such options are not the best response to the controversial study, which the city released last month.

“If you’re putting more cameras at some intersections, what you’re going to do is make the intersections more dangerous,” said Paul Kubosh, an attorney who represents ticketed drivers in court and unsuccessfully sued to end the program. “That’s what’s going to be proven out by this.”

The report, authored by researchers at Rice University and Texas A&M University’s Texas Transportation Institute, showed crashes increased slightly at intersection approaches where cameras had been installed. The number of crashes, however, rose dramatically at unmonitored lanes of those same intersections, leading the study authors to conclude that the cameras had kept collisions lower than they would have been without the devices.

The results led police to look at the data and to determine whether monitoring more than one approach to an intersection was more effective.

One way or the other, we do need to understand what happened at those unmonitored approaches. Maybe the rise in accidents was a fluke, maybe we’re just counting them more accurately now, maybe there was some kind of effect from the monitored approaches, however odd that seems to me. We can’t make a good decision regarding what (if anything) to do about it unless we have a handle on what happened. I hope that’s the top priority, because otherwise we’re just guessing.

Not mentioned in this story is the next phase of the camera study, which I hope is being done with accepted methodology. Given the flaws in the initial study, I don’t think we know anything more about the effects of the cameras in Houston than we did when we started out. Surely the cameras’ critics would be hammering on this if the study had found a decrease in the number of accidents.

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