Phoenix Ranks Most Dangerous Red Light Running Intersections

By Christina Estes, Mark Brodie
Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2020 - 5:05am
Updated: Wednesday, January 29, 2020 - 11:56am

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Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
A photo enforcement camera in north Phoenix.

For the first time, Phoenix’s Street Transportation Department presented a data driven process to choose intersections for red light cameras. But city council members remain split on the future of photo enforcement.

The Street Department analyzed three years of pedestrian and red light crash data and came up with a list of dangerous intersections. The top three are: 27th Avenue and Adams, 21st Avenue and Glendale and 43rd Avenue and Encanto.

Tuesday’s special meeting was called so the council could review the methodology and discuss the current request for proposals from photo enforcement companies. Several councilmembers raised questions about how violators are notified, how much tickets cost and who gets the money.

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Councilmember Carlos Garcia and Vice Mayor Betty Guardado expressed concern that notification letters sent by the photo enforcement company that contracted with the city until Dec. 31, 2019, had been in English only. Councilwoman Laura Pastor said she received a school zone speed enforcement notice and found it confusing.

Some members also questioned whether red light cameras were the most effective method to improve safety at the intersections. 

“It might be something fixable besides just putting a camera up there,” Councilman Michael Nowakowski said. “It might be something about visibility ... I know that the one right here in my district on 51st and Thomas, it’s the lighting. If you try to make a right hand turn on Thomas off of 51st you can’t see anything, it’s so dark at nighttime.”

He asked Street Transportation Director Kini Knudson if there were common factors among the most dangerous intersections his department provided.

“Where I live there’s not a huge number of red light cameras but I tell you I see red light running everyday,” Knudson said. “I see impatient drivers, I see people speeding.” 

Last year the AAA Foundation found Arizona had the highest rate of red light running deaths per capita. On average, Phoenix reports 1,520 red light running crashes per year resulting in 88 fatalities or serious injuries. Councilman Sal DiCiccio, an opponent of red light cameras, asked how many crashes were the result of people being rear ended because they slammed on brakes to avoid getting tickets. Knudson did not have a number to provide.

On Dec. 31, 2019, Phoenix turned off cameras at a dozen intersections after the council failed to extend a contract with the company that operated them.

Pastor said her district has the most pedestrian fatalities and red light runners, “So we have to do something right now. This is one of the tools, it’s not all the tools but we have to do something because I’m afraid there’s going to be another fatality.”

Guardado said she understands “the importance of having red light cameras but also understand we also definitely need a more comprehensive plan.”

Mayor Kate Gallego, who supports red light cameras along with Councilwomen Debra Stark and Thelda Williams, said she is committed to working with Guardado to make Phoenix a safer city. In April 2019, the council did not have enough support to pursue a pedestrian safety project called “Vision Zero” which cities like Tempe and Portland, Oregon have adopted. Guardado and Garcia were not council members at that time.

The work study session ended with the council holding the current request for proposals open until March 31 to give staff time to address some council questions and concerns. The public safety subcommittee is expected to take up the issue before then.

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