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Red Light Cameras?

Original post made by Curious Resident, Professorville, on Mar 2, 2010

What does everyone think about they proposed red light traffic cameras Mayor Burt spoke of in his State of the City Address? After all of the problems in neighboring cities over them, are they a feasible option?

Comments (39)

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Posted by Wary
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 2, 2010 at 11:34 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

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Posted by phooey
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2010 at 11:36 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

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Posted by more?
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2010 at 11:37 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

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Posted by upset
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 2, 2010 at 11:38 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

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Posted by red light runners kill
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 3, 2010 at 12:14 am

If the idiots would stop running red lights and killing innocent people, then these cameras would not be necessary.

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Posted by Driver
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 3, 2010 at 9:40 am

Hurry for Mayor Burt for having the guts to suggest them to the opinionated citizens of Palo Alto! I received one in San Mateo off Dumbarton Bridge and the fine including online traffic school totalled some $500. You bet I won't try to run that turn light again. Red light traffic cameras are effective in curbing red light running. I live near Jordan Middle School and every day I see cars running the signals at Embarcadero/Louis Rd., Embarcadero/Greer Rd; Oregon Expressway/Louis Rd. They are clearly running the lights when the light is clearly red, not just turning red, because my light is green when they are still crossing the intersection. I know these are cut-through streets and people are trying to get to work, but that's not a good excuse.

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Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2010 at 10:18 am

I hope if they do put in red light cameras they go off actually accident statistics, and not just off people trying to push their own personal agendas.

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Posted by bicycle commuter
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 3, 2010 at 12:59 pm

I commute by bike roughly two days each week, from roughly St Francis/Embarcadero, to south Campbell. A little over 50 mi RT. Roughly speaking, at 30 to 50% of the stop lights, there is a red-light runner. Not scientific, but for what it's worth...

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 3, 2010 at 1:14 pm

I think that they are a great idea as long as the use of these cameras is posted.

What will they do with all the bicyclists who run the red lights?

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2010 at 8:42 pm

The sooner the better. Put them on Embarcadero and Oregon for sure.

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Posted by Lois
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Why only three, I think they should put them at every major intersection along El Camino, Alma and Middlefield - great idea, I'll vote for Pat Burt again!!!

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Posted by C-Parker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2010 at 5:21 am

I think as a measure to ensure the safety of pedestrians (esp. children) and other road users it is necessary to install red-light cameras. I would then ask for them to be installed at all the major junctions along these major roads.

People who play with the safety of other, esp. repeat offenders should be fined heavily/license revoked for 3-6 months plus fine.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2010 at 8:03 am

If the aims of cameras are to slow traffic and make it safer for all road users, then this may be a good idea. If the aim is a source of revenue, then it is a bad idea.

If the goal is to reduce red light runners and succeeds, there will be very few running the lights and there will be very few fines. If there are few fines then there will be no income from the cameras, just the expense of having them.

The success of the cameras would mean that the expenditure probably outweighs the income. In such cases there would be a tendency to time the lights to catch more motorists to generate income and that would definitely be wrong.

Prevention and safety measures should never be looked on as sources of income. Period.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 5, 2010 at 8:12 am

In the UK they have a nice strategy of balancing the expenditures versus prevention using speed and red light cameras. There are lots of locations which are signed as having such cameras but, at any one time, only a fraction of those sites are in operation - you just don't know which ones. And the ones that are in operation 'show no mercy'.
As the experts will tell us intermittent reinforcement is the best method of encouraging learning and good behavior.

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Posted by all for it.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2010 at 8:43 am

Great idea! Should also include speed cameras.

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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2010 at 12:05 pm

I'd be in favor of it if I knew that they were extremely accurate. Are there studies showing how accurate these devices are?

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Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 5, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Whatever they do, they should take a serious look at the timing of the yellow lights. The time it's yellow is very very short, maybe 3 seconds at most.

THAT seems very dangerous. There have been several articles in the national press about how cities are shortening the yellow so they can nab people for red-light violations when in fact it's very dangerous.

If that's how they're trying to make money, shame on them.

Fwiw, once you're in the intersection when it turns yellow and then immediately red, you're supposed to proceed. I got confused about that and asked because I wasn't sure if I was supposed to reverse when it changed on me so quickly on Middlefield.

Having people wonder about things like that is a real safety issue.

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Posted by new in town
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 5, 2010 at 12:52 pm

I love the idea of stopping the dangerous practice of people racing through an intersection after the light is red. It's incredible. I regularly see up to three cars at Oregon and Middlefield.

Also agree with Jo Ann that many yellows in town are bizarrely short.

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Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Dumb idea. Anyone who thinks this is a good idea deserves to have a camera installed in their bedroom that goes straight to Palo Alto PD.

It's all about revenue. Studies have shown that red light cameras do not reduce accidents (and in some cases, increase them). This is all about imposing yet another tax on Palo Alto residents.

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Posted by another resident
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 5, 2010 at 1:49 pm

I hope they install one at Arastradero & El Camino. At every light change there are several red light runners.

As long as the yellow light timing is within the legal range these cameras will only punish the blatent red light runners. You only get a ticket if you enter the intersection after the light has turned red.

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Posted by CHinCider
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 5, 2010 at 2:00 pm

To "Toady" -

"...have a camera installed in their bedroom that goes straight to the Palo Alto PD".

Geeze, Toady, do you keep going when told to stop in your bedroom? If so, that's rape, and probably should be reported to the police.

Stopping at a redlight is legally required too. Why the fear of being monitored on that?

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 5, 2010 at 3:53 pm

A fine for running a red light is just that, a fine for breaking the law. It is not a tax. I think it is a great idea, every day I see at least 3 people run red lights, all over town. I suspect Menlo Park has a lot less red light runners now that the lights are installed.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 5, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Outside of commute hours, the green left turn arrow from Middlefield onto Newell is only about three seconds. Barely enough time for one car, let alone two to get through on green or yellow. . Complaints to the city are not heard. The yellow lights at all of the intersections including the high-ticket ones in Menlo Park are waaaay too short where I've often gotten caught in traffic jams turning on green, light goes to yellow, traffic stops, and I'm stuck out on El Camino on red witb no place to go except go on a red light. Since the city plans to rummage through our garbage bins and now maybe install punitive tricky red light cameras, what other 'hammer and sickle' ideas are coming forth out of City Hall? I have no objection to the cameras if they are set fairly with adequate yellow lights.

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Posted by jb
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 5, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Two comments:

1. Bicycle rider, I hope you are not one of the red light runners.

2. When did the yellow light begin to mean "go real fast" instead of "prepare to stop?"

I wonder if it is partly a generational thing. A little girl behind me, one day, lay on her horn for the duration of a red light when I stopped because the yellow light had been on for many drivers ahead of me. I slowed down and stopped just as a red light turned on.

It is not part of the rule that you get to go scott free if you got into the intersection before yellow went red. You must, however, get yourself out of the way of everyone that you are about to mightily inconvenience by stopping in the intersection. You are covered with shame. You did not win one more little battle to defeat time. You revealed yourself to be hopelessly impatient, a victim of arrested development of the adolescent variety. Heaven help the person who finds themselves in bed with you.

Slow down, enjoy life.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2010 at 7:17 pm

It is actually wrong to enter an intersection if your exit lane is blocked. In other words, if there is a traffic jam ahead of you even if you have a green light you should wait until such time as the exit is clear before you cross the intersection. The only time you should stop within an intersection is when turning left but only if your exit lane is clear and the reason you must stop is because of oncoming traffic or pedestrians crossing. Otherwise, do not enter the intersection.

If you stop within an intersection it is not OK because if the light changes to yellow or red you will be stuck in the middle and prevent the green light traffic from entering.

Good drivers know this.

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Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2010 at 7:20 pm

@CHinCider - I guess you don't understand. Let me make it simple for you. This is just another nanny state big brother thing to start photographing you for everything.

What's next - having your garbage man turn you in for not recycling properly?

Oh wait, the Palo Alto fascists are looking at doing that too.

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Posted by Ed
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 6, 2010 at 10:57 am

We had a family friend killed five years ago this month by a red light runner. Every time I see one of these idiots (and they ARE idiots for the most parts) speeding up when the light turns yellow I can't even begin to say how angry it makes me. People really need to get a grip on priorities. When is it worth taking a life (and perhaps your own as well) for that minute or two saved? As for the red light cameras -- great idea. Driving is a privilage, not a "right". That's why you are supposed to have a license. If you can't follow the laws of the road you don't belong on the road. It is the public sphere, not your bedroom.

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Posted by They got me again!!
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 6, 2010 at 1:45 pm

What people may not realize is that many of the fines are given to drivers who don't stop before turning right on a red light. In fact more tickets were given in South San Francisco for this than for those who simply went straight through a red light.

I must admit that I sometimes slide through a right turn without coming to a complete stop. Oh boy, these cameras going to get me!!

Due to budget cuts in July the PAPD is disbanding their motorcycle traffic officers' team, so this is another way they'll get you.

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Posted by Tired of Red Light Runners
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 6, 2010 at 2:23 pm

The California Law is:
"A yellow signal light means “CAUTION.” The red signal
is about to appear. When you see the yellow light, stop if you can do so safely. If you can not stop safely, cross the intersection cautiously."


If people would stop interpreting a yellow light as speed up and do the best you can to not stop, then we wouldn't need these camaras.

The length of the yellow light is supposed to be tied to the speed you are traveling and the ability to stop PRIOR to the light turning red.

I travel through a camera intersection every day and it is so refreshing to be able to actually proceed on a green light, instead of waiting for all of the red light runners at all of the other intersections.

I am all for cameras at all busy intersections.

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2010 at 8:05 am

Accuracy of the cameras - A friend got a ticket in Menlo Park. The camera took a video of both her driving thru the light and of her license plate. She could view it online for accuracy.

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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2010 at 1:28 pm

I would rather the state, county or city to spend a little money on a GOOD DRIVER campaign. What do I mean?

I would like to see some billboards that say, "DON'T BE STUPID -- USE YOUR BLINKERS" and "BAD DRIVERS CUT OFF A DRIVERS" or something like that.

I have been shocked by the poor driving habits in California...and especially in this area. I think that a good driving campaign that simply emphasizes the driving laws that so few people obey might do some good.

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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2010 at 2:08 pm

That didn't come out right. I meant, "BAD DRIVERS CUT OFF OTHER DRIVERS."

I guess you could use something like "Don't be annoying -- use your blinker."


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Posted by Lee Thé
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 7, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Those who think red light cameras are a Good Thing are missing a few facts, which leads to people who consider themselves moral taking what turns out to be an immoral position—in the name of morality no less.

Any facts I cite can be independently verified by going to highwayrobberydotnet and using its links to go to the original sources. The website is opposed to red light cameras, but the links go to things like the Virginian and Texas departments of transportation and other such relatively objective sites.

Argument 1: The law is the law. Don’t try to beat the yellow light and you won’t get a ticket.

Um, the cameras aren’t red light cameras. They’re yellow light cameras, because they’re only profitable when used in conjunctions with the shortest yellow light timing state law allows. There have been cases—including ones here in California—where the yellow light timing was actually illegal, and numerous fines had to be refunded.

The shortest timing that’s legal is 3.0 seconds. When that’s increased to 4 seconds, the number of infractions drops by 80% and pretty much stays there. It stays there because those who miss the yellow by less than a second aren’t trying to “push the envelope.” It just takes them that long to make the go/no go decision once the light turns yellow and to actually stop. It this were not so, the level of infractions would be the same as for 3 second timing after a short period of adjustment. But that’s not what happens.

You don’t have to believe me, though. Try it. Have the yellow light set to 4 seconds and see what happens. Only you won’t get to, because Redflex (the Australian company that makes and operates the camera systems) will refuse to allow their systems to be installed unless you time the yellow light as short as is legally permitted.

Locally, some of the most “productive” cameras exploit a special loophole in California state yellow light timing standards: it lets you use the minimal 3.0 second yellow light on the left turns from expressways onto city streets.

So for example, say you’re traveling on the Bayshore Expressway at the 50mph speed limit and you plan to turn left onto Willow to go to Menlo Park. Willow has a 40mph speed limit. The left turn light there has exactly the same short timing as you’d have turning from a 35mph speed limit road like El Camino Real onto a 25mph side street. These are very different situations, yet the cameras treat them identically. There’s reason to believe that turn lights from high speed roads are the biggest moneymakers among so-called red light camera setups.

Worst yet, few accidents are caused by drivers turning through intersections in the first place. They’re caused primarily by drivers barreling through intersections, going straight, around 5 seconds after the light has changed. They aren’t trying to beat the yellow. They don’t even know the light is there, either because they’re drunk, or stoned, or distracted, or being chased by the cops, or chasing someone else. Red light cameras mean nothing to such people.

Just such a driver nearly killed my spouse and me on El Camino, here in Palo Alto, a few months ago, so I’ve seen what I’m talking about. A few years ago I was nearly killed on my bicycle, traveling up Embarcardero, by a teenage girl running a stop sign on a residential cross street. She never saw the sign, judging from her behavior as she tore across Embarcardero. Luckily she did so during a lull in the traffic. Only I would have been killed if I hadn’t stood on my brakes. Otherwise it would have been carnage.

And sometimes the law isn’t legal. For example, dozens of California cities have illegal contracts with Redflex that indemnify Redflex if the ticket count goes below a certain level. This is unconstitutional, under the “fruit of the poison tree” principle explicitly stated in the Constitution. And appellate judges are finding this to be the case in one jurisdiction after another. But these cases only become a binding precedent if they’re “published,” and California’s municipal governments have been successful at preventingt this to date.

At some point someone who gets a ticket will have the resources to take a case to the state Supreme Court, and then we might see many millions of dollars of tickets being refunded by cities. Every one of these illegal contracts state that they aren’t illegal, by the way, just before the illegal clause. And no “traffic commissioner” is going to overturn a ticket on these grounds. And no appeal will have a prayer of success unless you spend a lot on a lawyer or are one yourself. This makes the local traffic courts conviction machines, and everyone associated with them knows it.

All this parallels what happened half a century ago when many cities ran speed traps—abnormally low speed limits with half-hidden signage and a cop permanently stationed there. But the state legislature banned speed traps. What we need today is an update banning time traps, forcing cities to use reasonable yellow light timing. That will eliminate red light cameras, but it shouldn’t. It only removes them as a source of profits. They still work fine at helping police track down dangerous red light runners. Which leads me to:

Argument 2: Besides catching bad guys, red light cameras help fill city coffers.

The problem with this is that it’s blatantly immoral. But let’s start on a practical level. Half the money leaves not just our city but our state, going to an Australian company. What’s left goes to fill in the gap between what most of us earn and the 40% or so more than us that employees in the public sector get for comparable work. But all of that money moves out of residents’ discretionary income.

So these fines succeed in moving over half the money away from the local economy--Starbucks and Mike’s Bikes and Shady Lane and Safeway--all of which surely need our business. It's income redistribution from private sector employees to public sector employees plus a foreign country.

And on a moral level…suppose a the fine for a crime should be $100, just to pull a number out of the air. Only you make the fine $400—which is about what a red light camera ticket runs. Assuming the crime was committed, and the law was legal, and you got the right perp, then that $100 is perfectly justifiable. The other $300 is theft, no different than the last time I was in La Paz, Mexico, and a couple of local cops tried to shake me down. If you read that local cops robbed people they caught committing crimes, you'd demand that they be fired, wouldn't you? How is this any different?

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

So I’m appalled that Palo Alto’s mayor actually brags about all the money he hopes to make off people he regards as criminals—except, as I’ve shown here, many of them will be manufactured criminals.

Speed traps are immoral. Time traps are immoral. Stealing from criminals is still stealing, and, yes, it’s immoral.

And if you advocate soaking lawbreakers for far more than the gravity of the crime justifies—you’re immoral.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Peter Carpenter

You are correct about traffic cameras in the UK, but there are more cameras at reduced speed areas (e.g. where the speed limit changes lower in a situation similar to where Central Expressway turns into Alma on the Mountain View/Palo Alto border) than at traffic lights. They are generally known as speed cameras rather than red light cameras.

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Posted by Henry
a resident of another community
on Mar 8, 2010 at 12:52 am

For a camera program to make a profit, it must issue tickets for rolling right turns. Lots of them. A local example of the emphasis on right turns is Emeryville. If you Google Emeryville ticket counts and go to Set # 3 on the page of Emeryville documents, you will find a link to some bar graphs. Look at the ones for 40th & Horton. There's 55 times as many tickets for rolling rights as there is for straight thru. That is your future with cameras, Palo Alto.

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Posted by Driver
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 8, 2010 at 9:16 am

Lee The,

I have to agree that when I got my ticket, it was at the end of a yellow light, because I would never run a red. Still, it would keep me from running a yellow in the future, which surely would keep people from running blatant reds as they do around here.

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Posted by Al Capone
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 8, 2010 at 10:50 am

"Stealing from criminals is still stealing, and, yes, it's immoral."

I agree! The government stole my money and it is immoral.

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Posted by Lee The
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 8, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Driver, look on your ticket. The photo will show exactly how much you missed the light by. I ask this of people, and the length is almost always much less than one second after the yellow turned.

Personally I think we should have red light cameras, and ticket drivers who miss the light.

But they will be a cost item, not a profit item, because they'd be for missing four second yellows instead of three second yellows, and the fine would be $100 instead of $400. $100 is a deterrent for anyone with limited income, while $400 isn't a deterrent for the affluent, while a point on your driver's record probably is.

If Palo Alto's poo-bahs really think people missing yellow lights is a significant safety hazard, they should be willing to spend money to reduce it. And if they want to avoid the moral hazard of fining-for-profit instead of fining-for-prevention, they'll be happy with the least amount that deters instead of the greatest amount they can get away with.

Note that nearly all other states have red light fines in the $25-$125 range.

As for the driver from Emeryville, talking about rolling rights--those aren't a hazard for hitting other cars, but they do present a hazard for bicylists who are themselves running a red light. I'm a bicyclist myself but I don't approve of cyclists interfering with others' right of way. OTOH a rolling right turn isn't the driver's right of way either.

I think my compromise would be to ticket rolling rights but for, say, $50 instead of %400+. That's a deterrent but it isn't exorbitant.

Remember, exorbitant fines make ordinary citizens resentful of the law. We all keep a little record book in our heads of every time we think we were victimized--particularly by those with the power of the state held over our heads. The result is a citizenry actively looking for ways to evade the law, and, among the more juvenile, for opportunites to vandalize state property or even private property.

State lawlessness begets personal lawlessness.

Using the cameras the way I described here would strike most people as reasonable and fair, even when they did get caught. The current system has the opposite effect.

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Posted by Arem
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 11, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Lee The,

Good posts...the vendor contracts stipulate that the cities must enforce right turn violations because that's where the money is; not the straight-through violations!
You and everyone else in opposition need to write the Mayor and the City Manager!

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