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Washington Times Blasts Arlington Red Light Cameras

by ARLnow.com July 23, 2010 at 8:56 am 4,913 46 Comments

“There is no doubt that it’s all about the money,” the Washington Times says about Arlington’s new red light cameras.

In an editorial — who knew the Times still covered local issues? — the paper claims the combined “angle collision” rate at the four intersections where cameras are installed is a mere 0.15 incidents per month.

The Times also says that rear end collisions doubled last time Arlington installed red light cameras.

So, is it about the money? No, police say: it’s about safety, not profit.

But the month-long trial period suggests that Arlington will likely generate revenue from the program.

A total of 577 warnings were issued in the past month. If that rate remains constant while the system issues $50 citations, it will generate $346,200 over 12 months. Arlington pays $178,800 per year to the contractor that maintains the camera system. That leaves a surplus of $167,400. Of course, a significant percentage of that will be paid to the contractor as ticket processing fees (we’re guessing half).

Somehow, though, it seems unlikely that a sinister revenue-generating plot was hatched over a sum that would barely pay the salary and benefits for one additional beat officer.

  • DontTreadOnMe

    If its not a sinister revenue-generating plot, then what is it? Kickbacks from political donors?

    Also, don’t forget that Arlington can install “up to” 20 cameras. There is no doubt they will find other “dangerous” intersections to install these for our “protection.”

  • Let’s Be Free

    You may be right Arlington Now, it’s not about dollars and cents math or money alone. It’s also about sticking it to automobile drivers — the anti-car theocracy at its worst.

    It is well documented from previous tests that red light cameras actually increased accidents, of all types, in Arlington.

    Accidents Rear Angle Injury Total
    Arlington +139% +53% +89% +65%


    As for the police perspective on this issue, if all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail.

    • nadnerb

      Yes increased accidents because as people we are so used to being able to run red lights and not get caught!

  • Kate

    I don’t understand the hubub over this, no matter what the county’s true motivations are. If you don’t want a ticket, don’t run red lights and don’t block the box. Wouldn’t we rather bring in money from traffic violators than from higher taxes, etc.?

    • diane

      I agree. Don’t want a ticket, obey the law. Camera or not, you shouldn’t be running red lights.

    • Kate, you took the words out of my mouth. It really doesn’t matter if it is to make up a budget deficit. Arlington is a pedestrian town- especially near metros and crosswalks. Don’t run red lights! This isn’t like a speed trap camera which might be arguable. Its a red light!

  • Matt B

    I live by the camera at Fairfax Dr and Glebe Rd. Every morning the traffic backs up on I-66 and people turning from Glebe Rd. There are many of them that would just run the red light and block the intersection. I am glad that this camera was installed.

    • Lou

      I agree blocking the box is the big issue at this intersection but I’m not sure the cameras are able to enforce that. If someone is blocking the far right lane of southbound Glebe while trying to access 66, can the camera record their plate? I think they just aim up Glebe.

      • Let’s Be Free

        Your absolutely right about the cameras not being able to capture violators who block the box. It takes two pictures for a camera citation to issue, the first of the vehicle outside the intersection after the light turns red and the second picture is of the car in the intersection while the light is still red. Box blockers almost invariably enter the intersection when the light is amber or green so no attempt would be made to collect the $50.00 because they haven’t run a red light.

  • Let’s Be Free

    As for the Glebe Rd. Fairfax Drive intersection, there’s been billions of dollars in new development in the adjoining Ballston/Virginia Square area.

    The developers of local projects have collectively put somewhere between tens and hundreds of millions of dollars against pet County Board projects and political priorities but they have contributed hardly a penny (walkway pavers is about it) to improving the signalization and traffic flow at the intersection.

    Great planning and great priorities Arlington County! What award will the County fathers get for that?

  • Nick

    I agree with Matt. Even outside of the rush hour times, people are so impatient at that intersection that they blow right through the red. I don’t know why you would be that eager to get on 66, but it is the case. I have no problem with the camera there. Can’t speak to the other intersections.

    Another problem with that intersection is the left turn from southbound Glebe to Fairfax Dr. A hanging left there is very difficult due to not being able to see around the two lanes of turning traffic opposite, and the pedestrians crossing over Fairfax on the eastern side make it even worse. They should make the left arrow a little longer, then not allow a left on green.

    By the way, this is my first comment here. Really enjoy the website.

  • Andrew

    Totally agreed, Nick. I avoid that left turn for that very reason and find the light at Stafford St. & Fairfax Dr. safer. Another intersection that could really use the red left-arrow treatment is Lee Hwy. & Spout Run Pkwy. What a debacle!

  • Jen

    Quincy Street has really been screwed up by the 8-foot wide bike lanes recently installed.

    Also, the intersection @ Lee Highway/Quincy-Military is really messed up now too. It will be much worse once summer is over and school starts again.

  • Across the national red light camera’s have been widely criticized as money making ventures. What is the hub bub? When an entity has a profit motive, they will fix the game to make that profit. If they fix the game, how do you challenge it? The tradition is that the witness must show up in court to testify. While that is costly, it also protects from abuse. Across the nation red light cameras, seen as revenue machines, have been criticized for flaws. Repeatedly municipalities have been found to be shortening yellow light cycles so that the camera’s will catch people in the intersection.

    This isnt just about those bad bad people who violate traffic law. This is also about those good good people who dont violate traffic law – but get caught in an automated process that cant be challenged until some expert comes along and proves the system is rigged. Municipalities have been ripping their red light cameras out at the demand of citizens – JUST as they have been ripping their electronic voting machines which are too susceptible to unauditable fraud.

  • Deb

    Anyone who thinks the Glebe/Fairfax intersection is not dangerous has clearly not spent enough time there. Try crossing the street there every day. Kate is right, just obey the traffic laws and wait your turn. Not everything is an evil socialist plot against your freedoms.

  • Max

    This is a non-issue. If you don’t want a ticket, don’t run a red light.

    As a pedestrian, I hate it when cars block crosswalks. Fine them more, I don’t care.

    • TGEoA

      I agree. But as a motorist I hate it when a pedestrian jaywalks. Fine them as well.

      • Max

        Fair enough. It’s actually quite common in some places for pedestrians to get tickets for jaywalking or crossing against the light. Earlier this week police in DC were going it at 14th and U NW. However, when a person jaywalks they are putting their life in danger, not a driver’s (okay, yes I realize that driver’s could get hurt, but how many car-person accidents on city streets result in substantial injuries to a driver? yes it does happen, but it’s very disproportionate – i’m not excusing it though). When a car drives into a crosswalk, it forces pedestrians to walk into moving traffic to cross the street. Go to Clarendon, and you’ll see that at just about every intersection drivers to this. At Fillmore and Clarendon, for example, cars going southbound on Fillmore are the worst offenders and most pedestrians crossing Fillmore will be forced to walk a foot or two from Clarendon Blvd’s moving traffic.

    • DontTreadOnMe

      When the cameras first went live I saw lots of false-positives (strobe going off) while walking by one day… So the do nothing wrong and you have nothing to worry about theory is out the window…

      Now back to my constitutional rights…

      • Becky

        If the strobe goes off when there is clearly not a violation, most of the time it is the camera performing a self check to make sure everything is working together correctly. They do this at intervals throughout the day. If it really is a malfunction, someone reviews all the citations before they’re mailed, and those ones are discarded. As for your Constitutional Rights, they’re not being violated, as many judges have already decided since you’re driving on a public road. Obey the law, and you really don’t have anything to worry about.

      • Max

        If it is a false flash then it will see that you did not enter the intersection during a red light. Again, a non-issue.

        Puh-lease. You’re rights aren’t being violated. When you do something illegal on public property then you’re breaking the law. You still have all of your rights.

  • G. Clifford Prout

    If the “homeless” guy begging money at Fairfax and Glebe would hold up a sign “Red Light Camera Here” I’m sure he’d get much more in tips.

    • Chris

      Well played, sir.

  • Andrew

    Good one, Jen! The Lee Highway/Quincy-Military intersection is pretty messed up, having grown up a couple blocks up from there so it’s definitely been a lifelong nightmare. My sister also got into an accident there when someone turned into her. They probably need to change the light pattern to something more like Lee Hwy. & Glebe Rd. — four cycles where only traffic from one direction can go straight, left, or right at a time. (Maybe there’s a better way to phrase that?)

  • Anthony

    Who cares what the Washington Times thinks? I am happy with the cameras. I am a pedestrian and at some intersections you take your life into your own hands if you try to cross because of drivers who run the red light.

    • Rachel

      ha! I just wanted to ditto the “who cares what the Washington Times thinks?” although I have enjoyed the camera debate in the comments.

      • TGEoA

        If you get run over while jaywalking, write an editoral to the Washington Times.

  • JimPB

    Obey the law and no ticket. It’s that simple.

    As for the studies, the methodologies require examination for proper rigor.

    As for a vehicle behind one that stops quickly for a red light and rear-ends the first vehicle: if the following vehicle maintains a proper separation (and also obeys the speed limit), there would almost certainly be no problem.

    Atr the root: An unwillingness to obey the traffic laws: I can and I will drive faster than the speed limit and zoom through newly on red lights. I’m Mr (or Ms.) BIG. Out of my way.

    Sorry, Nr., Big(s), your size is a self-inflation and the speed cameras are deflating your size, and rightfully so.

    And, if proper enforcement of the traffic laws results in a net inrcrease in revenue for government, that means we have proper enforcement of traffic law without a tax increase on law-abiding residents. Hurran. Increase the amount of the fines — I love the idea of law-breakers reducing my taxes. About time.

  • Darwin

    Nice swipe at the Times but it is about the money. Indendent studies have shown again and again that accidents go up as people try to beat the cameras. The best thing according to the findings is to just lengthen the yellow light…but then how does the government fill its pockets doing that?

  • Joe M

    All Traffic enforcement is about revenue generation. If it wasn’t the community through elections would vote for a government that enforced the law. The Community accepts a certain amount of lawlessness in regards to traffic, and in that regard the traffic laws are unjust, because they are unequally enforced. The reason there are rear-end collisions at red-light intersections is because the person behind expects the person in front to run the light.

    The Same goes for Beltway driving. EVERYBODY speeds. To not do so is dangerous. Are we really shocked that people disobey laws that are widely unenforced. Until we enforce every law on the book, expect there to be an uproar when law-enforcement starts policing behavior that the community has already tacitly said is ok. If every traffic law is truly important, they should all be enforced. If some are just optional, then all are just optional.

  • Roger S.

    There were 577 warnings issued last month, that is almost 20 people a day that are entering an intersection while cars from the other direction are moving into the same intersection. They are doing so most likely and a dangerous speed. 20 times a day people are put in serious danger from people not paying attention. That is pretty scary and I believe warrants strict enforcement. I think we need to expand the cameras to monitor all major intersections.

  • cubuffalo

    But these systems are more about changing drivers habits than anything else. They are their 24/7 and when drivers know it they will just naturally be more careful.

    Sure the money important. It least it is not a cost center.

  • Cameron Jones

    Seems like a lot of guessing games here. No doubt that some of this about money, but its not like the city is robbing blindly from the elderly….they are making money off of people who feel it is at their discretion to stop or not at a light which creates a wildly unsafe driving environment for the rest of us. In a city that already has crazy drivers, I just don’t see it as a bad thing to have one more way to monitor this.

  • estuartj

    Well as goes the Washington Times so goes…no one. Whenever the government fines illegal behavior all the libertarians come out in force, but where are they when innocent drivers and pedestrians are in the emergency room? The point is that fines DO alter behavior and cameras are better than street cops because they give 24/7 coverage and when drivers KNOW they will get caught they will adjust their driving habits and THAT saves lives!

    • Skeptical

      “Whenever the government fines illegal behavior all the libertarians come out in force, but where are they when innocent drivers and pedestrians are in the emergency room?”

      Well put. I used to think I was sort of a libertarian until I realized that too many of the people I heard identifying as capital-L Libertarian were basically saying “I have the right to be as big a jackass as I like and if it hurts anyone else, no one should be able to hold me accountable.”

      The bad behavior on the roads is currently beyond describing, and if something makes people think twice about cruising through red lights, it’s at best a start and I’m for it.

  • Rosslyn

    Notice where half of the new cameras are — at the border in Rosslyn, in an effort to target out-of-county individuals as much as possible. That should ease the pain for Arlington, unless, of course, you live in Rosslyn and have to deal with these every day. No one asked Rosslyn’s residents though.

    Studies have consistently shown that red light cameras increase accidents. There are a number of other serious issues with the cameras, but what more should it take to put a stop to this game-playing by local governments? The fundamental problem with red light cameras (along with much of automated traffic enforcement) is that it does not take into account human judgment. One now has to jam on the breaks when coming off of the key bridge, even if the light is green, as the yellow cycle is quick and one cannot risk being anywhere near the end of the light cycle, particularly for people who have to deal with this every day.

    In all seriousness, who do we vote against for doing this to Arlington? Just like the “abusive driver fees” in Virginia that were quickly put a stop to a couple of years ago, this is now the key issue I care about, as a high-tax paying, but generally not politically engaged citizen of Arlington. I am planning to vote against all incumbents for County government until these are gone, and will try to get a nuanced understanding of precisely who in the County government supports this — so that I know to keep voting against that person for the next 30 years.

  • Don’t block the box

    The red light cameras went in on the intersections where people MOST run red lights in the County. If the cameras keep people from blocking the box, I’m totally on board.

  • judy

    If you don’t want a ticket don’t break the law. It’s really just that simple.

  • RobertM

    It surprises me some that the Washington Times would have an anti-law enforcement attitude. Many newspapers, including USA Today, have published editorials supporting red-light camera enforcement. With nearly 1,000 deaths and 150,000 injuries nationally each year as the result of red light running, camera enforcement is a valuable pro-safety tool.

  • LeeN.

    bad behavior on the road has serious consequences for everyone and i will always support programs such as the cameras that are used in an effort to promote safe driving

  • Charlie

    All of the issues cited are preventable in my book. Don’t run the lights and don’t tailgate. I had not seen these stats before, but I feel that cameras have made an impact on drivers and have stopped a lot of the idiots who use to hit the gas on yellow.

  • Marilyn

    the red light cameras are hardly a money making instrument, they are merely the most cost effective way of law enforcement for simple yet important driving laws. they provide evidence and work accurately. they are fair and if revenue is earned, then they are there for the proper reason: many red light runners.

  • Betty B.

    I saw this editorial and also thought it was a little conspiracy theory- why can’t the law be enforced using new technology without being accused of doing it for money?

  • Tim

    Promoting safe habits has to be the priority. Knowing that the cameras are there will help encourage people to drive safely, as it provides a further incentive for safe habits. Overtime, the safe driving habits should continue into all the other intersections, even those that don’t have cameras.

  • Heather Y.

    I wasn’t impressed by the Times editorial. I doubt any plots are happening and I believe the cameras will be very beneficial to police work loads.

  • Skeptic

    A lot of these pro-camera comments sound like they were written by the same person or company. I would be curious to know what percentage of the revenue from these cameras goes to a private contractor. Turning law enforcement over to a private (and automated) presence is a recipe for injustice.

    It is a known fact that red light cameras dramatically increase rear-end accidents. That alone should be enough to put a stop to them. They also don’t have any ability to exercise judgment. They are simply a tax on the unfortunate — and probably a highly regressive tax. I hope candidates for office in Arlington will go on record as to whether they support this.


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