Abington launches red-light camera program

Abington Police Chief William Kelly (left) said crashes are the main cause of injury in the township.
Abington Police Chief William Kelly (left) said crashes are the main cause of injury in the township. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 02, 2014

Two years after the Pennsylvania legislature allowed red-light camera systems to expand beyond Philadelphia, Abington is the only suburb to install one.

Under a one-year pilot program, cameras were slated to begin monitoring three of Abington's busiest intersections at 12:01 a.m. Friday. After a two-month grace period, violations caught by the camera will result in a $100 fine to the owner of the vehicle.

The 11 other towns in Southeastern Pennsylvania large enough to qualify for red-light cameras have either ignored or rejected the idea.

"We've discussed it," said Upper Dublin Township Manager Paul Leonard. "We don't see the crash history to warrant it."

Lower Merion's police chief expressed interest in installing cameras as early as 2012, but the township commissioners tabled the discussion after public opposition.

Until 2012, only Philadelphia was permitted to use red-light cameras. The new law opened it up to municipalities with more than 20,000 residents and a full-time accredited police force.

A 2012 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that in cities with red-light cameras, the number of fatal red-light crashes fell 35 percent. In Philadelphia, which began its red-light program in 2005 and now has cameras at 27 intersections, crashes and traffic injuries have declined citywide, according to the Parking Authority.

Abington Police Chief William J. Kelly said crashes are the top cause of injury in the township and traffic violations "are the No. 1 complaint we get from our citizens."

Signs are posted at and before the intersections - two along Old York Road, the township's main artery - to notify drivers that cameras are rolling. Officers will review every case before issuing a citation.

Turning right against a red light at those intersections will result in a citation. So will failing to stop at the "stop bar" - the white line roughly 20 feet back from the crosswalk.

The cameras are triggered when a car crosses over the stop bar when the light is red.

"If your wheels are on the stop bar when the light turns red, we're going to give you the benefit of the doubt," said Officer Chris Posey.

Kelly said Abington will neither pay for nor profit from the cameras. The fines will go first to recoup the township's costs for reviewing the citations and second to the company operating the cameras. Any leftover revenue goes to a state transportation fund, he said.

The camera company, Gatso Inc. of Massachusetts, has a $504,000 annual contract, but it will absorb any losses if not enough citations are issued, Kelly said.

Steven Kline, the only township commissioner to vote against the cameras last fall, said he still doesn't see the need for them.

Those three intersections, he said, averaged about one crash per 1.2 million cars that passed through.

"How big of a problem do we really have here?" Kline said Wednesday. "Is it worth the hassle for township residents when the incidents we're trying to solve are so small?"

Kelly said the three intersections - Old York Road and Susquehanna Road; Old York Road at Welsh Road; and Moreland Road at Fitzwatertown Road - were chosen because they have the highest crash rates, and because there is no shoulder or sidewalk area where police can park and monitor traffic.

Pamela Cottom, who works at Abington Memorial Hospital, two blocks north of Susquehanna Road, said the cameras are a good idea.

"They do fly by here in the morning. Between 6 and 8, the cars just whoo, whoo," she said.

Jenny M. Robinson, a spokeswoman for AAA's Mid-Atlantic office, had concerns last year about Abington's program but said Wednesday that she has been impressed with the township's transparency and outreach.

"I think Abington is being very sincere in their desire to improve safety and be very careful in the way they're doing it," Robinson said.

In 2013, Philadelphia issued 167,824 citations for $17.8 million in fines; $9.6 million went to the state's transportation fund, according to the Parking Authority, which runs the camera program.

PPA reported that the cameras reduced red-light crashes even at intersections that had no cameras. Citywide in the first 18 months, red-light violations dropped 50 percent and red-light crashes dropped 32 percent, according to PPA.

Kelly said he hopes to see similar results from Abington's trial run.

"Either it's going to benefit the community, make it safer, or they're going to get rid of it," he said.


jparks@philly.com

610-313-8117 @JS_Parks

www.inquirer.com/MontcoMemo

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