St. Petersburg red light camera changes coming; Tough questions on Pasco County's

6:03 PM, Jun 13, 2013   |    comments
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- City traffic engineers briefed councilmembers Thursday on St. Petersburg's new yellow light policies that are intended to make intersections safer and provide drivers more time to stop safely.

Following a 10 News investigation into reduced yellow light lengths across Florida, particularly at red light camera (RLC) intersections, the council took a proactive approach and commissioned an independent study on traffic and timing.

The report by Kimley-Horn & Associates (KHA), provided to council this week, analyzed drivers' approach speed and safe stopping distances. It indicated -- by and large -- the city has doing a good job exceeding the state's low yellow light minimums.

TIMELINE: 10 News' Short Yellows Investigation

But following the study, the city's traffic department will make additional changes to benefit drivers and prevent possible unwarranted RLC tickets.

At any given intersection, St. Petersburg will extend the yellow lights on left turn lanes to match the same intervals as the through lanes. Currently, some of the timings run shorter because approach speeds are less. The change should result in fewer RLC tickets on left turns, and more predictable intervals for drivers.

The city will also expedite the process of re-timing its lights to meet FDOT's new minimums. Following 10 News' reports, the state announced an increase in perception-reaction time (PRT) in its minimum yellow light calculations, essentially mandating an increase of 0.4 seconds to any short yellow light.

Traffic engineers in St. Petersburg expect to have to re-time just 41% of its lights across the city to match the new state minimums. However, a 10 News analysis of red light camera intersections, specifically, found St. Petersburg will need to re-time 12 of its 22 approaches monitored by cameras, or 55%.

The consultant study also indicated drivers' 85th percentile speed was below the posted speed limit at all but two of the city's RLC intersection approaches.

St. Petersburg's Transportation and Parking Management Director, Joe Kubicki, says the traffic counts for the study were not taken "at" the intersection, but "upstream from the intersection, beyond the dilemma zone and outside the area of breaking."

 

Kubicki tells 10 News that the city does not plan to add FDOT's new PRT adjustment to its other intersections, however, meaning the city will have more RLC intersections set to FDOT's minimum that it does right now.

Federal safety standards suggest areas with a lot of elderly or truck traffic should consider an extra 1/2 of a second on all yellow intervals to allow for safer stopping. But an FDOT engineer told St. Petersburg's consultants the extra time would not be allowed, contradicting what the agency's top signal engineer told 10 News.

Council Chair Karl Nurse said when the issue comes before the full council next week, he plans on lobbying for a 1/3 second grace period for drivers who get cited at the very start of the red signal.  He says it would help differentiate between "violators" who are blatant versus inadvertent.

"I'm encouraged that we continue to take steps in the direction of safety, rather than just a revenue device," Nurse said of the city's RLC program.

Kubicki said the city's traffic department was also preparing a report that analyzed how much the average violator "ran" a red light by.

Pasco County Developments

Meanwhile, the red light cameras that got 10 News' initial investigation started, on US-19 in Port Richey and New Port Richey, were under fire Thursday morning at Pasco County's MPO meeting.

"There is not consistency, there is not uniformity," Commissioner Henry Wilson said, directing his frustrations at county traffic engineer Robert Reck.  "You can roll your eyes all you want, it's not there, so we need to have more discussion about this."

Yellow lights on US-19 in New Port Richey and Port Richey are set to 4.3 seconds, the state's bare-bones minimum.  But in unincorporated Pasco County, the lights were 5.5 seconds.  However, Reck told 10 News the county was in process of reducing those too.

"From what I know," said Commissioner Jack Mariano, "it is not as safe to have (yellow intervals) set at a shorter time."

FDOT engineer Gary Thompson explained that the state is now changing the times of yellow light intervals set at 4.3 seconds to 4.7 seconds because they are factoring in the new PRT.

But Mariano and Wilson, in particular, indicated the minimums - and lack of consistency across the county - was not safe enough for them. 

"If youre going to change the lights then the public needed to be notified," Mariano said.  "Especially when the data shows that its not going to be any safer and the data proves otherwise that were actually gonna make it more dangerous by making these changes.

Commissioners indicated the topic would be added to the next meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, with Reck and Thompson presenting crash and safety studies conducted at each intersection where a red light camera is installed. 

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com..

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