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Palo Alto police to target red-light runners

Original post made by Ray, Meadow Park, on Aug 4, 2006

I say it's about time but why limit to just three intersections? I've noticed more and more cameras mounted at various intersections, supposedly to catch red-light runners. Aren't they ongoing? Why just one-week, three-intersection program? How is that going to solve the problem long term, or after the week is over?

In addition, police should do more about STOP sign runners. My anger boils over every time I see someone bust through a stop sign as I get close to the intersection. Those drivers should be ticketed for higher fines. Running a red light is dangerous but running a stop sign is a lot more.

Comments (21)

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Posted by keep kids alive-drive 25
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2006 at 3:06 pm

Thanks to the Weekly for publishing an informative article on next week's red light running enforcement campaign:
Web Link

Re Ray's question "why limit to just three intersections?":
Here are some thoughts, with minor edits from the version posted on the original thread about red light running at Loma Verde and Middlefield, offered with the home that they might help folks understand why PAPD and TCSN chose the intersections they did.

First try doing some comparative observations of your own:

* Go to your pet peeve intersection at whatever time of day you believe is most likely to show the most violations. Find a place where you can observe drivers, cyclists, pedestrians etc without causing a safety problem. Record the different traffic violations that you observe for a set period of time (minimum 15 minutes but half an hour or an hour is great). Pay particular attention to drivers making left turns on red and those who respond to yellow/red lights by speeding up, because these are more likely to cause serious crashes. Also note whether there was anyone else in the intersection at the time, especially any "near misses". ** See Note at end of message.**

* Then choose any one of the 3 intersections targeted by next week's Stop on Red campaign (Page Mill/El Camino Real, Embarcadero/St. Francis or University Avenue/Middlefield Road) and follow the same procedure.

Here's a bet: you will almost certainly see many more violations at the TSCN target intersections than at any intersection which is not near a freeway entrance/exit or where two major arterial roadways cross. This means, of course, that at the highest volume roadways and intersections, police get more bang for their $$ and time invested, i.e. they will issue more tickets. Also, the more people that witness the flashing lights, people pulled over etc, the more likely they are to pay attention to the National Stop on Red Week safety campaign messages.

Second, drivers are more likely to see a patrol car and change their behavior temporarily to avoid a ticket at relatively low volume intersections, i.e. the PAPD will be much less likely to observe the behavior that you observe. And unfortunately, as much as we all would like to believe that driver behavior will be different once the police car is no longer at the intersection, the research is clear: 15 minutes after the police cars leave, there is NO difference in driver behavior.

Third, standard enforcement of red light running carries a real risk of unintendedmconsequences, because many drivers do not actually pull over when the police car's lights start flashing! If a high speed chase is involved, there is a substantial risk of innocent third parties being injured in any resulting crashes. In residential areas or at the intersections of minor roads with arterials like Middlefield, Embarcadero or Charleston and Arastradero, the risk of injuring or killing pedestrians, bicyclists, people in their front yards or even inside in their living rooms would be substantially increased relative to the same time period when red light enforcement is NOT occurring.

The combination of the second and third factors above has caused standard police enforcement of red light running to become controversial in many cities recently, including San Francisco.

Does this mean we citizens should NOT be pushing for "something to be done" about red light running? Absolutely not. But we should be looking for solutions that work to reduce speeding and the inattentive driving in our town and elsewhere -- red light running is just an egregiously dangerous symptom of these two much bigger problems.

Finally, a couple of links for those who'd like more information on what's being done nationally to address the growing red light running problem:

Web Link

Web Link

** Note: The more specifics you can add (time of observation, direction of travel, which lane, anything else that affects the safety of pedestrians and cyclists especially), the better. In fact, such specifics will give your complaints much more credibility than "we've just got to do something" rants.

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Posted by Ray
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 5, 2006 at 7:29 pm

I understand everything "keep kids alive-drive 25" is saying. But one question has not received an answer. What about the intersection cameras? I thought they were supposed to catch red light runners by capturing the moment on film and then a copy along with the ticket is mailed to the registered owner. I believe at least two of the three intersections to be targeted next week already have those cameras mounted. Why are they not paying continuous dividends as they were intended to?

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Posted by Jeff Bedolla
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2006 at 9:19 pm

With respect to Ray's question, in "Palo Alto police to target red light runners", I'd see a different angle. The question, "How is that going to solve the problem long-term, or after the week is over?", carries with it a the implicit suggestion that the problem could be solved if only there was enough enforcement. It is not necessary to read Ray's question that way, though. It makes more sense, both logically and also in light of the evidence, to assume that no matter how much the red light running enforcement campaign is expanded, it won't work. Expecting to correct behavior by the enforcement approach is like trying to get rid of a headache by hitting your head against the wall. It won't work any better by trying harder.

And I think that down deep we all have a sense that relying on law enforcement to fix matters is more the expression of frustration than the result of sober reflection. I mean, even the first respondent, "keep kids alive-drive 25", expresses candid doubts as to the efficacy of attempts to encourage desirable behavior through negative reinforcement:

"..(U)nfortunately, as much as we all would like to believe that driver behavior will be different once the police car is no longer [present], the research is clear: 15 minutes after the police cars leave, there is NO difference in driver behavior."

I am not implying that efforts such as the RLR enforcement campaign are not without use. They do have a part. It is an enforcement campaign, though, and the thrust of the program is to catch violators in the act. It does not directly address the deep-seated behavioral patterns that give rise to such abuses. Therefore, in the long term, the problem continues. Indeed, the idea that something is effectively being done gives rise to an additional level of difficulty in taking truly substantive measures. Programs of this sort also tend to exacerbate the climate of cynicism in society concerning law and order.

So, what is the value of such programs in the first place, if they don't go to the root? Well, even though there are the attendant undesirable unintended consequences of misdirected social policy, this program will at least reinforce the presence of the social conscience. As long as people skirt the law in a furtive manner, the existence of a higher standard of authority is admitted. Programs like this in a way are also like taking something like an antibiotic to fight an infection. Society is indeed "sick" if the threat of consequence is necessary to constrain socially dysfuntional behavior. What is really wanted, of course, is a healthy society, not just symptomatic relief.

Is that higher goal attainable? The NTSA says that "Driver behavior is the most significant contributing factor to the occurrence of red light running." There is hope after all.

Jeff Bedolla

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Posted by Ray
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 6, 2006 at 9:04 am

OK, I don't mean to sound like a broken record, but does anyone have an answer to my question about the CAMERAS mounted at intersections? Aren't they supposed to record the infractions? Aren't they supposed to catch red light runners without the need for any police presence? Am I missing something when the police say they will target some of the intersections already with the cameras mounted and operational?

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Posted by Jeff Bedolla
a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2006 at 10:33 pm

Hey, Ray--I think the way it is going to work is the video from the selected cameras is going to feed into the police unit which will be waiting down the street to catch the guy. I think the police are restricted to real-time physical arrests. The idea of actually just taking a picture of a car and then sending the owner a ticket would probably be unworkable. Besides, even if the sheer volume of citation traffic didn't overload the system--red light running happens a lot!--just because all red light runners were caught doesn't mean people would drive right. Driving right is what is needed, not penalizing people for running red lights. If people learned how to drive they wouldn't need tickets all the time. The problem would go away by itself.

Ray, you had several questions in your original post. Just for example, you were especially concerned about stop sign abuse. See, the camera thing wouldn't even touch that. I just think it is absurd to even worry too much about the enforcement end of all this. That may be something we have to have, but it isn't going to solve anything--in the long-term.

Jeff Bedolla

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Posted by Ray
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 7, 2006 at 9:19 am

Jeff, as you can see from the two posters who cut and pasted the same article at the same time (what a coincidence!!!), red-light cameras ARE in action. It's just that some smart-alecks have come up with a way to defeat the setup. So, unless the authorities have an answer for this reflective paint thing, a lot of red-light runners will be able to continue their antic with impunity. I think the paint should be made illegal. Otherwise, what's the point of wasting tax payer money on those expensive cameras without getting the anticipated payback and results?

I might just spend a few minutes at one of the intersections this week to observe the festivities. :-)

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Posted by Jeff Bedolla
a resident of another community
on Aug 7, 2006 at 11:51 am

Hi Ray!

But if they make it a crime to own the paint, only criminals will own the paint!

I keep coming back to this point--enforcement of the law is not the answer, voluntary compliance with it is. From the standpoint of what would be socially desirable, I guess if you have a high-tech enforcement system it would be a waste if it didn't generate suckers. So, now what do we do? Obviously somewhere people must have had the bright idea to ramp up enforcement measures, and now we actually need to have people bust the lights just to make the investment pay for itself. I am sure there is a lot of vested interests who would are chagrined to realize they are out on a limb on this thing. If that is so then if people started actually obeying the law on their own they'd really squirm. There is a lot of social investment in the expectation that people will not follow the law. That means there are a lot of people whose livelihood is tied up with that poor opinion of their fellow citizens.

I didn't know about all that stuff that got pasted in by our two named friends, TJAnke and John Bakas. I would like to look into those references. Thanks for sharing, you guys! I intend to look into this further. I have sat in on two meetings of the Roadway Safety Workgroup, in which this red light running enforcement program was set up for this very week. [This workgroup is part of the Traffic Safe Communities Network which happens to be having a full network meeting, chaired by Santa Clara County Supervisor Jim Beall, this Wednesday (August 9th), from 10:00-11:30, at the Valley Medical Center's public health information office--770 S. Bascom Avenue in San Jose--conference room 136. It's right off 280 in San Jose.] Strangely enough, at neither of the meetings I attended, was the fact about reflector paint mentioned. I think I may have said there that there were legal issues involved in the implementation of the program, but no one told me that they were just stuck due to the Photo-Blocker. I guess the police might have a perceived self-interest in catching offenders, but if they have let themselves become swept up in enforcement mania they need to be set straight. Non-compliance with the law is the norm out there, wherever you go. Law enforcement is not the answer. It hasn't worked so far--is it actually true that the police themselves don't drive 25?--and the proposed rat-box system is just more of the same.

The answer is not enforcement. It's compliance. Getting to compliance is the challenge.

Jeff Bedolla

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Posted by Kirk
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 7, 2006 at 12:55 pm

Actually, I only see consistently blatant red light violations at the big intersection (for example, Page Mill and El Camino).

I think bicycles are a much bigger problem. Bicyclists seem to think that stop signs/red lights are just there for cars. WRONG!

The Pedali Alpini folk need to obey the traffic laws.

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Posted by Ray
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 7, 2006 at 3:55 pm

If I understand Jeff correctly, neither the red-light camera nor the enforcement up-ramping is the answer, because everybody breaks the law including police.

Well now, the County of Santa Clara must be run by a bunch of misfits since it is doing both with vigor! Let's stop wasting our tax dollars for the sake of lawlessness.

Photo-Blocker is legal. Great! I'm getting me some.

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Posted by Jeff Bedolla
a resident of another community
on Aug 7, 2006 at 4:10 pm

Hi Kirk,

You say "Bicyclist['s] seem to think that stop signs/red lights are just for cars. WRONG!", right? That leads to this: The laws are for everyone. Do you think so? Can you imagine a world where it was normal to follow the law? I suggest trying it. Imagine that was the way the world was, the way you think it should be, a world in which the laws were obeyed. Now, live in that world yourself. Be the example. Like, when you're at a crosswalk, wait for the green hand/man, because the law is the law, and it's all good, right?

Jeff Bedolla

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Posted by check the facts, please
a resident of another community
on Aug 7, 2006 at 11:33 pm

Delayed response to Ray's questions about intersection cameras in Palo Alto:
I’ve got news for you – Palo Alto doesn’t actually have any red light cameras (aka photo enforcement, photo radar) anywhere in town. Don’t know the history of why not, but it might have something to do with all the bogus “invasion of privacy” issues that tied some communities up in court for years (now resolved – it’s legal to take pictures of a driver who is breaking the law). And the cottage industries selling stuff purported to foil the cameras (like those fake messages some spammer posted earlier today) are probably another deterrent.

Maybe you can talk to the traffic enforcement officers in the PAPD and find out more.

In any case, what the PAPD and other law enforcement officers in Santa Clara County rely on is a cheaper technology called “rat boxes” that makes it easier (and much safer) to catch those vehicles turning left who enter the intersection on red and keep on going. See today’s Mercury News for a great graphic explaining how it’s done:
Web Link

This graphic, in turn, is connected to the front page article about the Stop on Red campaign: “It's time to stop and think: INTERSECTIONS FROM PALO ALTO TO GILROY TARGETED FOR TICKETING”
Web Link

Public commentary on the article would also be of interest to folks reading these posts!

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Posted by Jeff Bedolla
a resident of another community
on Aug 8, 2006 at 9:20 am

Hi Ray,

I really don't understand what you meant by: "Let's stop wasting our tax dollars for the sake of lawlessness." If people choose to break the law, that is not good for society. And what is not good for society is bad for the members of the society. If people imagine their self-interest is separate from the common good, that's when the police have to enforce the law. It is best for all concerned when individuals realize that the law is designed for their benefit. Law enforcement is a necessary social recourse when individuals are operating on false premises, because there are adverse social consequences to errant personal behavior. Sometimes a miscreant can learn a valuable lesson from the social correction process, too.

There is a low degree of social organization these days. It seems to me that the modern traffic environment is so complex that the average person is overwhelmed in adjusting to it. I believe that education is the way to effectively address the current situation, not enforcement. I don't mean we can just do away with enforcement altogether. We as a society are in effect addicted to it. The answer is to replace the shoulds of following the law by the voluntary choice of the driver. That takes time. There has to be an increase of voluntary driving self-control, so there will be less of the need for law enforcement intervening.

What I am saying, Ray, is that by individual drivers starting to drive properly, gradually the effects that you yourself observe will abate. Further, I maintain there is really no effective alternative. I feel that it is vital to get out that message. I would like to hear people say, "That's right on, Jeff!". But I do appreciate your responses to my e-mails, Ray, because that is a start.

Jeff Bedolla

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Posted by Ray
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 8, 2006 at 2:41 pm

To "check the facts, please" (what a nice moniker), you seem to know a lot about Palo Alto without being a resident here. Perhaps you are right about the red-light cameras. I don't know because I see the same kind of cameras at some intersections in Palo Alto that I see in other cities. These are mounted highup usually atop the lights looking straight at you as you drive up. Maybe you can explain what those cameras are used for here in Palo Alto.

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Posted by Shannon
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 14, 2006 at 8:42 am

the cameras are owned by caltrain not palo alto.

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Posted by Nikki B.
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 16, 2006 at 3:40 pm

I have been out of town for about 10 days and began reading all the posts. I see that many have been busy sharing their thoughts/ideas regarding red light runners and speeding. It is wonderful to know that our community is standing together in order to protect pedestrians and drivers who obey the traffic laws.
GOOD NEWS! I have seen many police officers driving up and down Middlefield to the point where I am seeing one about every minute and I am not exaggerating. I have seen this on Alma and Colorado Avenue too. This makes me very happy. I do believe that cameras on the lights would be ideal for when the police are protecting other areas but everything takes time. Thank you to all who have acknowledged our posts but more importantly thank you to the Palo Alto Police Department for responding. School begins Monday and it is nice to know that there are more officials as well as neighbors keeping a watchful eye out for all of us.

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Posted by J.Johnson
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2006 at 6:24 am

And so what happens when the cops go away and back to their usual routine/shift rotation (less overtime)?

There is one thing the city could do that is cheap and VERY effective but won't: speed humps.

This is a problem that everyone says they want stopped but no one really wants stopped. Speed humps make rampant speeding stop cold but no one likes them and will lobby against them night-and-day.

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Posted by Jonathan Gray
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Aug 25, 2006 at 10:24 am

Jeff and Ray, as to the posters of the photoblocker spray-not all red light cameras WORK properly! Sometimes they give tickets and the cameras malfunction. Obviously the two of you have never been a victim of a faulty red light camera. AND to top it off the city is not putting these cameras up to make the intersections safer, they ae putting them up to make MONEY!!!

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Posted by Grace
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Aug 30, 2006 at 2:21 pm

I have never run a red light and was surprised when I got a ticket while in NY for six months project last year. It seemed I was fined for driving past the crossing lines to let an ambulance go through. I meant to fight it in court but never got the time to do so...ended up paying the fine to avoid points on my license. Are you telling me those cameras which don't distinguish between right and wrong will be installed in our cities now? I just checked and their website claims it is legal to buy their spray. I'm going to buy one...I don't intend to run red lights but as the English say..Once beaten, twice shy!

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Posted by Maria Gath
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 23, 2006 at 3:43 pm

We’ll we’re not just being tracked online, as anyone who has ever received a speeding ticket or was ticketed for running a red-light with a split-second yellow light will attest. No, the authorities, and there are so many flavors of authority today it boggles the mind, seem intent on tracking our every move – online and in the real world of brick, mortar and asphalt.

Though we often hear that tracking terrorists, or other evil-doers, is at the heart of this new version of Big Brother peering over all of our shoulders, a closer look at the realities of the situation reveal that other, more mundane factors are driving this insidious trend. Namely the desire of government authorities and their corporate allies to increase profits on the backs of regular working Americans. Surprised?

Privatizing police function ultimately compromises all of our privacy. It’s an obvious and flagrant abuse of authority. Many law enforcement authorities and smaller governmental entities see speed and red light cameras as an important new source of revenue. Citing safety concerns and a shortage of law enforcement officers, these cameras are proliferating rapidly in cities across the country.

The business model employed by the manufacturer of these cameras and the cities that use them reveals the true motives behind the spread of the technology. These cameras cost money to build, install and maintain. If the ultimate goal is to enhance safety by reducing the amount of vehicles that run red lights, then the costs don’t justify the ongoing expenses. It is just that simple. These devices have to continuously issue expensive citations to pay for themselves.
Repeated studies demonstrate the best way to enhance red-light safety is to increase the length of the yellow light. In a lot of documented cases where enforcement cameras have been installed, just the opposite – a reduction in the duration of the yellow light – has occurred. As a result, rather than delivering safety, these devices are causing an increase in rear-enders.

But there is more to it that just that, say privacy advocates like A recent news item on the organization’s web site notes that government agencies admit to losing personal information.

And of course, private companies that gather our personal information “leverage” it for commercial gain. As we now know, these companies build very detailed profiles of all of us; our interests, our behaviors, locations we frequent, individuals we call and email, all of this data ends up in a commercial data bases.
So how is the information gathered by camera-based vehicle code enforcement systems being stored? In private data banks with no public access.

That’s unconstitutional. Not only does an alleged offender have no right to confront his or her accuser in these cases, but defendants also have no access to the private image databases being maintained outside of normal, constitutional oversight.

So if an individual cited and ticketed by these automated devices was not in reality speeding, or if a camera has malfunctioned in any way, there is no constitutional recourse for the accused. And that’s just not right.

It is, however, a testimony to the American entrepreneurial spirit that when government fails us, as in protecting our privacy; small, private companies rise to fill the void. PhantomPlate, Inc. is one such company, chartered to make an honest profit while protecting its customers from unwarranted and unconstitutional invasions of their privacy.

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Posted by Big Kahuna
a resident of Stanford
on May 13, 2008 at 2:41 pm

None of those cameras are "red light" cameras. That is, they don't snap pictures and mail out tickets.

However, those cameras are everywhere. Take a ride on Sand HIll Road from ECR up to 280: there's a camera at *every* intersection facing in every direction. They've been there for years.

Why? Who paid for them? Who owns them? Who monitors them?

I've never been able to answer those questions....

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Posted by Driver
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2008 at 3:51 pm

I believe those cameras at intersections monitor traffic flow for the changing of the lights rather than anything else. The old system of sensors in the roads are outdated and these cameras can "see" whether cars are turning, or whatever.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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