Miami Beach

Are red light cameras here to stay in Miami Beach? New study bolsters support for program

Miami Beach’s red light cameras likely won’t be going away any time soon.

A study commissioned by the city found that the overall number of T-bone, sideswipe and rear-end crashes decreased at intersections where red light cameras were installed. These intersections saw about 18 fewer crashes per year after the cameras were put in place in 2010, bringing the number of accidents down from roughly 68 a year to 50.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Florida International University, examined 27 intersections across the island including eight with red light cameras. (A ninth intersection with a camera was excluded because of construction in the area.) Researchers compared the number of crashes in 2008 and 2009, before the cameras were installed, to the number between 2011 and 2013.

The benefits of the cameras extended beyond the intersections where they were present, researchers found. The overall number of T-bone, sideswipe and rear-end crashes also decreased at intersections near the red light cameras, while intersections farther away saw an increase in these types of collisions.

“This could be attributed to jurisdiction-wide publicity of [red light cameras] and the general public’s lack of knowledge about the specific locations of the red light cameras,” said Priyanka Alluri, the study’s author and an assistant professor at FIU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The cameras didn’t have the same effect on all types of crashes, however. Overall, intersections with red light cameras saw fewer T-bone and sideswipe accidents after the cameras were installed, but an increase in the number of rear-end crashes. Alluri noted that rear-end collisions are less likely to result in serious injury or death than T-bone collisions.

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A red light camera in Little Havana pictured on March 10, 2016. Miami has gotten rid of its red light camera program, but Miami Beach doesn’t appear likely to follow suit any time soon. C.M. GUERRERO cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

The findings appear to have quashed efforts to end the city’s red light camera program, which fines drivers $158 every time they are photographed running a light. Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez had previously called for an end to the program, arguing that the fines were financially “crippling” for low-income residents. But after hearing the results of the study, which Alluri presented at a Neighborhood Committee meeting on Friday, Rosen Gonzalez conceded that the study “kind of justifies keeping the cameras, I suppose.”

Now the City Commission has to decide whether to replace the existing cameras, which Miami Beach Police Chief Daniel Oates said are nearing the end of their life cycle, and add additional cameras to other intersections. City staff had previously recommended installing cameras at five more intersections, but commissioners put off making a decision until the FIU study was complete.

So far, the study appears to have interested at least one commissioner in expanding the program.

“One of the things that is most striking to me is that even when the red light camera is not there, in the nearby intersections people are maybe aware of it and think more about it and there are safety benefits there,” said Commissioner Mark Samuelian. “My leaning would be to look at expanding based on these results.”

Red light cameras have proven controversial across Miami-Dade County. Miami commissioners voted to end that city’s program last year, citing the financial burden on residents. The Miami-Dade County Commission banned red light cameras from unincorporated areas in 2016.

An effort to prevent local governments across the state from using the cameras failed earlier this year, however. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in May that local governments could continue to use the cameras to ticket drivers, ending a legal battle that started when a South Florida driver sued the city of Aventura over a red light ticket.

Although cities differ in their approach to red light cameras, research on the cameras’ impact has generally been consistent with Alluri’s findings. Other studies conducted across the country have found a decrease in the number of T-bone and sideswipe crashes at intersections with red light cameras and a spike in the number of rear-end collisions.

Kyra Gurney lives in Miami Beach and covers the island for the Miami Herald. She attended Columbia University and Colorado College and grew up in New Mexico.
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