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For the past decade the problem of red light running has continued to grow throughout the nation. In 2001, in Florida 114 motorists were killed in red light crashes. Law enforcement has attempted to address this problem through public education and enforcement, such as the annual "Stop Red Light Running Week."
A red light violation is one the more difficult infraction cases to make. Our courts require that officers must be able to testify to the following key elements to prevail:
These requirement necessitate the officer be on the same side of the intersection as the violator, thus forcing the officer to follow the violator through the same red light. These factors make red light enforcement difficult and dangerous. They almost preclude entirely any opportunistic enforcement of this violation.
The City of Richardson, Texas, first developed the concept of enforcement lights in the late 90's. In Texas red light cameras are legal, and are used in many metropolitan areas. Richardson uses enforcement lights in conjunction with red light cameras. They currently have 42 intersections covered by enforcement lights, with another twenty scheduled for installation. Seven other cities in Texas use this technology for red light enforcement.
Clearwater Police Lieutenant Steve Burch read an article on Richardson's project and it's success. He brought this to the attention of the Pinellas County Community Traffic Safety Team, and the U.S. 19 Task Force. Both organizations supported the development of this technology.
The City of Clearwater is the first municipality in Florida to use this technology. Several steps were taken to bring this about.
Installation: U.S. 19 and S.R. 60
The intersection of U.S. 19 and S.R. 60 (Gulf
to Bay Boulevard) is one of the top ten locations in Clearwater
for traffic crashes. This intersection is an overpass (U.S.19) intersection
with S.R. 60 running east and west. The intersection has six different
movements to the traffic pattern. Enforcement lights now cover all
six movements. Due to the cycling sequence of these movements it
is possible for one officer to cover five the six movements at one
The lights were first installed on August 31, 2001. A press release was distributed announcing the program. However, only the local community papers covered the installation. None of the major TV stations or daily papers seamed interested despite the press releases and phone calls. The program was also promoted on the department's cable access television show, "Blueline CPD". The department also deployed a variable message board in the area to warn motorists of the strict enforcement in a campaign called "Stop for Red or Stop for Blue."
Members of the Traffic Section immediately began working the location. In the period between 8/31/2001 and 12/31/2001, the Clearwater Police Department issued 519 red light citations at this location. A running total of the number of citations issued was displayed on the message board as part the continuing education component.
We conducted surveys of the intersection using volunteers to monitor for red light violations. We compared the number of violations at U.S. 19 and S.R.60 to violations at similar overpass intersection, S.R.60 at McMullen Booth Road. Both carry the same amount of traffic volume. The surveys were done on the same day of the week and during the same time of day. For the surveys we only monitored southbound traffic exiting the overpass to turn east on S.R.60. The McMullen Booth intersection had twice as many red light violations in an hour as the U.S. 19 intersection.
A check of call-for-service data covering August 31 to December 31, 2001, for calls for service related to traffic crashes, revealed a 11.7 percent drop in the number of calls for traffic crashes compared to the same time frame in 2000. Despite this drop, the number of crash reports for the location actually increased by 8 reports for this time frame. This increase is due to the Department changing its reporting protocol in 2001 to require a crash report for any crash occurring on a public roadway. In early 2002, the department will evaluate the crashes for actual red light crashes. This analysis will be more accurate for a time span greater then three months.
On January 16, 2002 during "Stop Red Light Running Week" this intersection was hit again with enforcement. This time the local newspapers and television stations covered our activities and we benefited from the exposure.
Representatives from both Clearwater Police Department and Traffic Engineering will be serving on a committee sponsored by FDOT to establish guidelines and methodology for installing enforcement lights throughout the state.
In February of 2004, we added eight additional intersections to the enforcement
light program. Currently we have the following intersections under the
protection of enforcement lights:
In addition, we will soon be adding the following intersections:
SR580 and Landmark Drive
The Florida Department transportation has funded over 400 enforcement
lights in the Tampa Bay area with over 100 intersections under their protection
throughout the area.
Every other year or so, CPD conducts a scientifically and statistically valid survey of Clearwater's residents, who are our "customers." Invariably, the survey rates traffic problems as the number one problem for residents of Clearwater.
Speeding and careless driving seem to be the primary transgressions of traffic scofflaws in city neighborhoods.
CPD's Traffic Section is the clearinghouse for all traffic-related information, and CPD's officers issued over 40,000 traffic citations in 2002. Yet despite these efforts - and our aggressive posture is a direct result of the requests and pleas of our "customers" - we're still facing the chronic problem of people speeding through residential neighborhoods.
The problem is so pervasive that in 1999, city engineers, police, and fire officials met with residents from eight different neighborhoods to work together to develop engineering plans to "calm" the traffic in those communities.
There are many benefits to effective, safe "traffic calming" through engineering design. First, such programs usually end up being a "long-term" fix, and have a significant impact on the problem. Such projects are frequently not only aesthetically pleasing, they also often increase property values.
Unfortunately, there are some down sides to "traffic calming," particularly, the cost - usually $500,000 and up - associated with such endeavors. It can also take years to get from initial planning to completion. And not every neighborhood or street (large, busy traffic arteries, such as Gulf-to-Bay or Gulf Boulevard) is suitable for "traffic calming" engineering.
In 2001, Chief Sid Klein asked District I Commander, Lt. Mike Waters, and me to address the speeding problem on the barrier island of Sand Key. The Chief suggested we purchase a speed trailer - one with a radar-driven message board to remind motorists to obey the speed limit.
In researching the plan, we discovered we could buy a post-mounted automated speed sign called a Speed Board for half the cost. Further, with additional ground-mounted posts, the Speed Board could be just as portable as a trailer. Another benefit of the Speed Board is it can be deployed for long periods of time without adding to roadside clutter.
After almost a year of work, enforcement and the capture of data, the speeds on Sand Key have dropped. Sand Key residents tell me they're pleased with the outcome of this "experiment." The Speed Board clearly had an impact.
In March of 2002, Lt. Burch submitted a grant proposal to the Florida Department of Transportation to fund a joint project between CPD and city engineers, to cover some of the eight neighborhoods slated for traffic calming. We'd hoped to buy three more speed boards and 21 more mounting posts to be stationed throughout the participating traffic calming neighborhoods, but the grant request was denied.
However, Chief Klein took the Speed Boards idea - proven to be effective - to City Manager Bill Horne who approved a plan in which the city and CPD would each contribute $15,000 to fund the project.
City Engineering's contribution will be the materials and labor to install the posts and to rotate the Speed Boards from location to location. We're calling this new endeavor "Operation Speed Watch," and the program is designed to have significant citizen involvement from Neighborhood Watch Groups, civic associations, traffic calming committees and residents.
A city committee (comprised of Engineering and CPD employees) will meet regularly with core traffic calming committees of some of the eight traffic calming neighborhoods, communities that will be our focus for the next five years. We'll monitor residents' satisfaction with the appearance and effectiveness of the Speed Boards, and work with them on the rotation schedule for the four boards.
To give these boards some added posture, Traffic Section and Patrol Division officers will conduct enforcement both when the boards are initially deployed, and shortly after they have been moved. We've found this gets motorists' attention.
Lt. Burch designated Officers Jonathan Walser of the Traffic Enforcement Team as Community Traffic Officer. He will be the residents' point of contact.
The City is excited about the potential of Operation Speed Watch. We believe that with the assistance of neighborhood residents, we'll be able to elevate our ability to address traffic concerns of Clearwater's citizens.
Operation Speed Watch is not intended to replace our on-going traffic-calming plans. Rather, it's intended to serve as an interim tool in making the streets safer and to apply attention to neighborhoods' traffic problems until traffic calming can be implemented. If successful, we look to expand the program to those areas where traffic calming is not possible or applicable.
On March 25, 2003, engineering installed posts in the Greenlea/Otten area and we immediately began enforcement operations. We have scheduled a meeting with the Morningside Meadows community and will finalize plans for the installation of posts in that community. By July 2003, the Department added the Weed Valley and South Evergreen communities to the program.
Once installed we will take the following operational steps:
In its first full year of operation we realized significant successes with Operation Speed Watch. Speed studies indicated a three mile-per-hour decrease in the average speeds in communities participating in the program.
The program is so successful and popular, the Sand Key Civic Association purchased their own speed board. This purchase will provide year-round deployment in their community. In March 2004, we ordered two additional speed boards and will soon evaluate additional communities for this program.
The THI (Traffic Homicide Investigations) Command Vehicle is one of two command buses in the Clearwater Police Department and is assigned to the Traffic Section. Constructed on a twenty-five foot bus body, the vehicle is equipped with the following:
The THI command vehicle responds to all traffic homicide call outs. In addition, it can be used to support DUI wolfpack and checkpoint operations. The mast camera system is equipped with a remote audio system to record standardized field sobriety testing. In addition to its operational roles, the THI command vehicle is also used to make traffic safety presentations for neighborhoods, schools, and community groups.
For the past thirty years, traffic safety experts and law enforcement officials have been preaching the importance of wearing safety belts. Occupant restraint (safety belt and child seats) enforcement has been a priority with the Clearwater Police Department. Chief Sid Klein and the Department have worked hard over the years trying to convince our lawmakers of the need to make seat belt enforcement a primary violation. As of this date the offense is still a secondary violation, requiring an officer to have another suspected violation to conduct a stop and issue a citation.
We know seat belts save lives, and in other states around the country we have seen significant increases in usage after the passage of a primary law. These states have also benefited from reduced traffic fatalities and injuries. It has been estimated that if Florida could achieve an 80 percent compliance rate, we would save 200 lives a year, and prevent well over 100,000 injuries. This would translate into a saving of over 200 million dollars in costs to our society.
In 2002, the Department issued over 3000 citations for seat belt violations; through strict enforcement and public education efforts we have been able to see periodic compliance rates as high 87 percent. As a result of our efforts in the last two years, we have seen the lowest annual fatality rates in the last ten years, with a record low of 12 traffic fatalities in 2001.
The Department is committed to not only maintaining this level of success, but also actually improving on it. To that end we implemented a program in December of 2002, which will be carried out throughout 2003. That program is known as Operation Buckle Up. Here is how it works:
By conducting these operations in areas with chronic speeding problems, we actually get "more bang for our buck." These operations cause motorist to slow down along with impressing the need for them to buckle up. The operations have been well received by residents and city officials alike. Operation Buckle Up has become an integral part of Operation Speed Watch. Usually, when the speed boards are deployed, a Buckle Up Operation is conducted almost immediately.
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