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Council Approves Red Light Photo Contract with Arizona-Based Company

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Los Angeles will not turn off red light enforcement cameras at 32 intersections this summer. The City Council this morning unanimously voted to extend a contract with Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions for 10 months. When the issue comes up again next year, the Council will have to decide to either keep ATS, find a new vendor -- either based in Arizona or not -- or scrap the program altogether.

Despite councilmembers' intention to approve the project -- the Arizona boycott was hardly an issue at play -- a lengthy discussion ensued about how safe the cameras actually make intersections. Citing a CBS2 investigative report that claimed traffic collisions were up at red light photo intersections -- the LAPD, in their view, later debunked it -- officials played 20 questions with police administrators.

In addition to safety concerns, Councilmember Janice Hahn was weary of how cameras lose revenue. Sgt. Matt MacWillie explained that some of the lost money, which is caused by people not paying the tickets, will be recouped when fines are eventually paid as drivers have to pay before their annual registration.

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Regarding safety, MacWillie said that 12 intersections have experienced one or two additional collisions, and two increased by five incidents. However, the 32 intersections, which host two million vehicles every day, have seen zero fatalities since the installation of red light cameras. Rear-end collisions were neither up nor down.

Councilmember Bill Rosendahl indirectly asked how street engineering could improve safety -- slowing down traffic with street calming methods -- but city staff honed in on yellow and red light timing: yellow lights were increased from 3.6 seconds to 3.9 seconds at the 32 intersections and they have an all-red phase of one second, meaning when one side turns red, the other side waits one second before turning green.

As the discussion came to an end, Hahn agreed that statistics can be made to look either way, but she still was concerned with continuing the program past next year.

Councilmember Greig Smith expressed his exasperation with the discussion, which he said already took place at length in committee and three years ago (without saying it, he seemed annoyed at his fellow councilmembers for wasting city staff time). He said today's decision was simple: the city turns the cameras off or keeps them on. They all chose to keep them on.