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With Council Approval, Red Light Cameras Are Coming to Pittsburgh

Pittsburghers who have a habit of cutting it close when driving through yellow lights may want to make some adjustments.

City Council passed a bill Tuesday to install automated red light enforcement systems, also known as “red light cameras,” at the city’s most dangerous intersections.

Councilman and Mayor-elect Bill Peduto said he was supportive of the legislation, and that he had introduced a similar bill several years ago.

Peduto said he was hit by a car while crossing Ross Street downtown in 1998, was thrown 30 feet and broke several ribs. He said that driver that hit him had run a red light.

The legislation has been debated in City Council since it was introduced by Theresa Kail-Smith in June. Kail-Smith subsequently removed her sponsorship from the bill, citing concerns about how effective the red light cameras would actually be. Bruce Kraus took over as the bill’s sponsor and offered several amendments to address concerns of City Council members and the public.

One of those amendments provides a “sunset date” of June 30, 2017, when the law can be extended, changed or scrapped altogether.

Kraus said the implementation of the program as a pilot “raised (his) confidence level” in the legislation.

Any images collected by the red light cameras would be destroyed after 30 days, and Kraus said there will be no up-front cost to the city.

Even with the amendments, Kail-Smith and Natalia Rudiak voted against the legislation, while all other council members voted for it.

“I came to the conclusion that we could have the same effect by extending yellow lights in specific areas in those hazardous areas, without increasing the rear-end collisions,” said Kail-Smith. “I thought that might be the answer, and I believe that’s what we should have tried before implementing this program.”

Kail-Smith said she had concerns about data showing that in some areas where red light cameras had been installed, there was an increase in the number of rear-end collisions.

The councilwoman also said she was skeptical about the likelihood of the money generated by the red-light cameras coming back to Pittsburgh.

Fines paid by motorists caught by red light cameras would go into the state’s Transportation Enhancement Grant Fund, which is administered by Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

“There’s a chance that we would not receive the funding, or that we’d receive a very minimal (amount),” Kail-Smith said. “I don’t know if the benefit to the city would be as great as people are claiming it would be, but we’ll find out in time.”

Peduto said this fact is actually a good thing, because it shows that the city’s primary motivation for installing the cameras is improving public safety, not increasing city revenues.

Peduto said the next step is to determine which intersections have  seen the most accidents caused by motorists running red lights.

For the first 60 days after the cameras are installed, no tickets will be issued. Instead, drivers will receive a written warning in the mail.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
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