Tampa City Council votes against renewing red light camera contract

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Just this week, two high school students were hit by a car while crossing Hillsborough Avenue on their way to school. Other students have died and Hillsborough is considered one of the deadliest places in the country to be a pedestrian.

Tampa City Council chair Frank Reddick says he is disappointed that not even a small portion of revenue from the red light camera program has been invested in making roads safer. He says even though accidents and citations are down, the need to invest in infrastructure, like pedestrian crossings in between intersections, is more important. He doesn’t understand how after so many fatalities in recent years, more has not been done.

“We could be working with the DOT, we could be working with the county government, county roads, and we won’t have a situation that we are dealing with now, where we have a young lady who is brain dead sitting in a hospital, because she was hit by an automobile on Hillsborough Avenue. And this is the 4th time in two and half years that a child has been hit on Hillsborough Ave. I think if we used some of those dollars, 25% I think we could utilize, work with the DOT, work with Hillsborough, put some devices there or some flashing lights or something to improve that area.”

Miranda was one of four council members to vote against renewing a contract with the company managing the cameras. City Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin also voted against the cameras, but because she also thinks the revenue stream could be better put to use.

“I am not camera shy, I voted for cameras, we are on cameras everywhere. As a matter of fact, one of the things I look at, I look at the citations- I think the citation amount could be raised, truly. I think you run a red light, make it to where you really feel that pain.”

Even though the contract didn’t get renewed, three council members voted in favor of renewing the contract including Lisa Montelione. She thinks crash mitigation studies prove the cameras are effective.

“Issue of whether or not red light cameras are serving the purpose that I feel they were put there for, to change behaviors and drop crash rates- happened. Crashes have gone down.”

She adds the mid-block crossing on Busch Blvd prevents people from jaywalking – something that is blamed for many of Hillsborough’s pedestrian accidents. Montelione lamented that criticism about the county’s high pedestrian and cyclist fatality rates isn’t fair.

“We are working in transportation safety. We are stopping people- a police car is parked in the parking lot, waiting for people to not stop at that mid-block crossing, they do it randomly so people don’t get used to it, oh it’s Tuesday they are going to be waiting for me. When people talk about we are not doing things, again just as Mr. Suarez said earlier, we are doing things, and it irritated me when they say we aren’t doing things, because the public thinks we are sitting on our hands and we are letting people die on our roads, and we are not, We are active, we are very proactive and money is being put into these features, not just by city of Tampa but by the DOT and the Florida Department of transportation.”

Of the 40 most dangerous intersections in Hillsborough County, 21 have red light cameras. The contract renewal had been set for April 7. What will happen with the program now isn’t entirely clear. But Tampa Police Chief Castor supports it. She says intersections with cameras have become safer, but at the same time, there has been a twenty percent rise in accidents at the nineteen without cameras .

“Our contract is cost neutral. And that means that it will never cost the city of Tampa to operate these cameras. I mean I could be the eternal optimist and hope that everyone stops running red lights, but I don’t know that that’s going to be the case.”

Council members Frank Reddick and Mary Mulhern also voted against renewing the red light camera contract. In addition to Montelione, council members Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez also voted in favor of the program.

Just two weeks ago, St. Pete City Council voted 6-2 to kill its red light camera program by September.