Signal Timing at Township's Camera-Monitored Intersections Questioned
The state Department of Transportation in June ruled Gloucester Township's methodology for timing yellow lights at camera-monitored intersections was fine. A government watchdog is not so sure that's true.
A government watchdog is calling on Gloucester Township officials to take a closer look at the yellow-light times for its camera-monitored intersections as a North Jersey legislator wages war on the pilot program that allows the technology's use for red-light ticketing purposes here and in more than 20 other New Jersey towns.
"It's important that we get this right, because we need to be accurate in what we're doing," Joshua Berry, political director of conservative government watchdog group South Jersey Citizens, told Council Monday night.
Berry is troubled by the disparity in the times utilized by township engineering firm Remington & Vernick (R & V) to certify yellow-light times at several intersections. He received the June certifications—the yellow lights must be certified every six months under the red-light camera pilot program—via an Open Public Records Act request to the Township Clerk's Office.
For instance, for northbound Erial Road traffic at Blackwood Clementon Road, the firm's June average was based on recorded times of 4.25 seconds, 3.89 seconds and 3.91 seconds—a difference of 0.41 seconds from high to low.
John Cantwell, of Remington & Vernick, seemed to surprise many in attendance for Monday's meeting when he indicated R & V's engineers utilize stopwatches to time the yellow signals.
"The practice, frankly, is to go out with a stopwatch and take a series of measurements and average them," he said. "That is the standard that has been used for years to measure these things. I mean, you can get more sophisticated if you want to go to the expense of providing more elaborate equipment, but it really is unnecessary."
"Speaking as an engineer myself, a stopwatch is...I'm sorry that is not an accurate method," Berry replied.
Berry is also concerned with the vehicle speeds the township has been using to determine how long the yellow lights must run at those intersections.
According to state law on the red-light camera pilot program, a yellow signal of at least three seconds is required if at least 85 percent of the approaching traffic travels at speeds of 25 mph or less. For each 5 mph increase in vehicle speed above 30 miles per hour, the minimum duration of the yellow light must be increased by 0.5 seconds.
"We established the (yellow) time when the program first started by doing a speed study. The police department conducted a speed study," Cantwell said.
Remington & Vernick's June certifications of the yellow-light times indicated the 85th-percentile speed for Erial Road at Blackwood Clementon Road is 29 mph, despite the posted speed limit of 45 mph, and for Little Gloucester Road at Blackwood Clementon Road is 31 mph, despite the posted speed limit of 50 mph.
Deputy Gloucester Township Police Chief David Harkins offered general support for the red-light cameras' impact on traffic safety along Blackwood Clementon Road during Monday's meeting.
"The number of tickets has actually reduced quite a bit" over the 24-plus months since the red-light cameras went up in July 2010, Harkins said, "and the number of crashes—we're seeing a reduction in the number of crashes. And that's what the program is about. It's about safety."
Harkins noted the police department is "just getting to a phase in time where it's been in practice long enough" that crash analysis would be worthwhile.
According to police, tickets are not issued to motorists who drive into the middle of a camera-monitored intersection while the signal is yellow if the light changes from yellow to red before they completely cross through the intersection.
Monmouth County Republican Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon has been on the warpath regarding red-light cameras in recent weeks. Berry has contacted O'Scanlon's office about his concerns with Gloucester Township's timing for yellow lights at its four camera-monitored intersections.
A Virginia engineer O'Scanlon hired to analyze intersections across the state claims yellow lights at two Blackwood Clementon Road intersections are at least a half-second short, the Star-Ledger reported Aug. 2.
Gloucester Township's 2012 budget calls for anticipated revenue from municipal court fines and fees of $2.23 million—a large chunk of which is expected to come from red-light camera tickets. Actual revenue from court fines in 2011 was $2,411,591.09—nearly $1.2 million more than was expected in preparation of the 2011 budget.
"If red-light cameras go away, is this township ready to try and put a budget together without that newfound revenue?" Gloucester Township Republican Municipal Committee chairman Ray Polidoro asked Council Monday. "
Gloucester Township was one of four New Jersey towns included in the five-year pilot program that was not part of a state Department of Transportation directive to shut down red-light camera ticketing programs in June.
Berry has apparently moved on from pay-to-play reform and on to red-light cameras. At least for the time being.
"I'm not here to talk about pay to play. As far as I'm concerned, (SJC's proposed ordinance is) not going to get on the ballot this year," Berry said.
"It's dead for 2012," he added. "Maybe it will be back in '13 or '14. Who knows?"
Berry did acknowledge Monday during a heated exchange with Solicitor David Carlamere that he erred at Council's July 23 meeting in suggesting a woman who testified at a July 10 Superior Court hearing had named the solicitor's wife, Cindy, as someone who contacted her to discuss the petition's legitimacy.
The hearing transcript showed that the affiant uttered the name "Cindy Clark." The document did not support Berry's prior assertion that Carlamere jumped up to object as the woman began to say his wife's name.