By JAMES R. RIFFEL
The city of San Diego ended its red light camera program today at 15 busy intersections around town.
The cameras have been operating for years, but a contract with the private firm that operates them expired overnight and the equipment was shut off.
“It seems to me that such a program can only be justified if there are demonstrable facts that prove a raise of safety awareness and decrease accidents in our city,” Mayor Bob Filner said at a news conference. “The data, in fact, does not really prove that.”
The program and its nearly $500 fine “breeds cynicism and disrespect for the law because people think they’re being ripped off,” the mayor said.
Filner said the majority of the fine revenue, 70 percent, goes to the state of California, and the city of San Diego has to share the remainder with the vendor.
The city reaped $1.8 million in revenue in the last fiscal year, but the red light program cost nearly as much, he said. Four full-time police officers were needed to review the photographs to make sure the driver’s face and vehicle’s license plate were clearly visible, and they should be out patrolling the streets instead, he said.
Police Chief William Lansdowne said he agreed with the decision. A traffic stop by an officer provides a chance to educate the driving public about safety and check for signs of intoxication, he said.
Red light camera citations currently in the pipeline will continue to be processed by the city, the chief said.
The news conference took place at the intersection of N. Harbor Drive and Grape Street, used by some drivers leaving Lindbergh Field for Interstate 5 and by others as a way to depart the downtown waterfront. Long lines form at the intersection’s traffic signals, so desperate drivers often try to squeeze onto Grape Street after the yellow traffic signal has blinked to red.
The intersection accounted for more than 30 percent of all the citations issued under the red light program, according to the city.
A sign that reads “Photo Enforced” was removed from a median at the intersection after the news conference. Filner said similar signs will be removed at other crossings in the next few days.
Red light cameras were set up at the following other intersections:
– 10th Avenue at A and F streets;
– Aero Drive at Murphy Canyon Road;
– Camino Del Rio N. at Mission Center Road;
– Camino De La Reina /Camino Del Rio N. at Qualcomm Way;
– Clairemont Mesa Boulevard at Convoy Street;
– Cleveland Avenue at Washington Street;
– Del Mar Heights Road at El Camino Real;
– Kearny Villa Road at Balboa Avenue;
– Mira Mesa Boulevard at Scranton Road and Westview Parkway;
– Mission Bay Drive at Garnet Avenue;
– N. Torrey Pines Road at Genessee Avenue; and
– Rosecrans Street at Nimitz Boulevard.
The cities of Los Angeles and Houston got rid of their red light cameras last year.