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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.

Paul J. DiBartolo August 18, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Oh wait, when it comes to handing out red-light camera tickets we use a stopwatch - truly high-tech - but when it comes to checking license plates we spend thousands of dollars to purchase state-of-the-art scanners that collect more data than anyone knows what to do with. And then we request money to go back for more. When I suspected some kind of 'faux pas' with my red-light camera ticket and was curious about the yellow-light timing, I used a digital camera and a computer video program that breaks the timing down into hundredths of seconds to determine the true timing...it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this one out. How much is Gloucester Township paying the largest contributor to Democratic political campaigns in GT to do this job? And they're using stopwatches? No wonder council refuses to answer any questions citizens ask at council meetings about this and instead sit bleary-eyed and return zombie-like stares. BTW, why even go as far as using stopwatches? Why not use the tried-and-true 'one-one-thousands, two-one-thousands method'? This is an outrage.
A. Carroll August 18, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Perfectly put. I can hardly wait for their cogent response.
Debi August 18, 2012 at 04:44 PM
When I read about the millions of dollars this red light camera system is raking in all over the state, it is plain to see that "safety" is not the main concern here. Like everything else in New Jersey, it is another way for the state to use its "cash cows", our automobiles, as a way to pad their coffers. The worse one I've encountered in the local area is the light on Blackwood Clementon Road in front of Rita's Water Ice. Whoever timed that light with the one at Millbridge Apartments, was just figuring out how to get the most money out of everyone's pockets. I've seen more "inches away from a rear end collision" there than anywhere, because of the timing. Disgraceful! New Jersey politicians and local police departments...do not think for one split second that anyone is buying this new money grab as anything other than just that!
Paul J. DiBartolo August 18, 2012 at 05:38 PM
No, no, Debi, it's true that it's all about safety. I know that because that's what they told us.
Michael August 18, 2012 at 06:55 PM
They won't have a response, Glenn will stare out at the public like a deer in the headlights, Michelle will be reading text messages on her cell phone, and John Cantwell will be trying to convince everyone that stop watches are high tech.
Jim August 18, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Red light cameras do just one thing well: They record crash videos, which can be studied to find ways to prevent crashes. For example, a study sponsored by the TX DOT reviewed 40 crashes videoed by red light cameras and found: "With one exception, all of the right-angle crashes occurred after 5 secs. or more of red." (thenewspaper daht com/news/02/243.asp) Those runners (5+ secs. late) don't do it on purpose. They don't know (most violations are by lost or distracted visitors - Hallandale FL just revealed that 78% of their tickets go to visitors) or don't remember (distracted or impaired "locals") that a camera is up ahead, so the presence of a camera won't stop them. To cut these real late runs and the crashes they cause, a city should improve the visual cues that say, "signal ahead." A. Paint "signal ahead" on the pavement. A study sponsored by Florida's DOT found that doing so could cut running by up to 74%. B. Make the signal lights bigger in dia. or, add another signal head. A study by the Texas Transp. Inst. (TTI) found that doing either one could cut crashes by 47%. C. Add backboards to the signal heads, or enlarge those you have. The TTI study said doing so could cut crashes by 32%. D. For nighttime, install brighter bulbs in the street lights and put up lighted name signs for the cross street. These things should be tried at the city's worst intersections, and the results published, before there is any consideration of putting in red light cameras.
Linda Musser August 19, 2012 at 05:59 AM
Very well stated, Paul. It's laughable that they could even say that they use a stopwatch with a straight face! Could these meetings get anymore bizzare? I also don't know why Patch felt the need to even mention "Pay to Play" in the article about red light cameras. To be fair, Patch should post the video of the "heated discussion" so residents could really see how this went down.
Paul J. DiBartolo August 19, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Jim, the only problem with the suggestions to cut accidents and red-light runs that you document is that they all cost money to implement. So, implement ideas that have truly documented evidence that they reduce accidents = spend money...or, implement red-light cameras financed by the red-light camera company salivating over making money on each ticket as payment for services rendered = make money for the township. This reminds me of the "You give me $50 or you punch me in the face" dilemma that Joe Pesci faced in "My Cousin Vinnie."
GTWatchdawg August 19, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Just something to think about. What other town in New Jersey has "Red light" cameras at just about 4 consecutive intersections of one road? I am also surprised that with Blackwood Clementon AND Erial Roads being County roads, that the county doesn't want the revenues.
Paul J. DiBartolo August 19, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Is it actually four consecutive? I thought we skipped over one intersection. But, here's the deal, we need to slow motorists down so they can see all the glorious places along Blackwood-Clementon Road to stop & shop. Ignore all the empty businesses, we keep them around so we can dream about what "coulda, woulda, shoulda been." We should probably raze them and build solar farms; that's where the real money is!
GTWatchdawg August 19, 2012 at 06:41 PM
I am sure that they would have Kevin Piccolo list them. Isn't the "usual" buying price $1? Makes for quite the profit. It pays to have Democrat connections in Gloucester Township huh. The GT MUA will have a hand in it, and oh let's throw in the Housing Authority. Planning Board will whisk it all though.
A. Carroll August 19, 2012 at 08:00 PM
I'm still waiting for yammby or someone to jump in here and try to defend this. Where have all the experts gone?
A. Carroll August 19, 2012 at 08:12 PM
You are right, Debi; that pair of lights used to be timed together, and when they were, traffic flowed smoothly through there. Now the red-light camera experts have oh-so-cunningly offset the timing, and right about 2 seconds after the first one turns green and you go, the next one is turning red. People are having a lot of trouble coping with that 'go & stop.' I've seen some very close calls. But, hey, a few more bucks snagged by catching people with that unexpected second light's timing no doubt improves safety . . . our money is for sure safer in their pockets.
Rick Lions August 19, 2012 at 10:41 PM
R&V uses a stop watch ? I wonder if it has big hand and little hand and a big stop button on the top
Paul J. DiBartolo August 19, 2012 at 11:23 PM
No worries. mate, if there's no little hand they can just round off to the next big hand number. Who's counting anyway?
John Reynolds August 20, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Our Red Light Cameras were certified by a Pay-To-Player standing in the street with a stopwatch? And he only used three samples, the longest varying twice as much over average as the shortest? No self-respecting engineer would sign off on that. They could have hired a monkey with a sundial. Even YAMBY, or one of the other jackoffs with a Mickey Mouse watch could have come up with those numbers. When those cameras are ruled illegal, the town should replace the vacant businesses along Blackwood-Clementon Road with 24-hour strip clubs and spank joints to make up for the lost revenue – it could be the new Admiral Wilson Blvd., minus the classic architecture. With the trend toward regionalization and redistribution of problems from the cities to the suburbs, along with the garbage associated with Cooper when they get here, Gloucester Township will be the new "City Invincible!"
James C. Walker August 21, 2012 at 03:25 AM
The camera installation for Erial Road approaching Blackwood-Clementon Road is flatly illegal under NJDOT rules for timing yellow intervals, with or without a camera present. The posted limit is 45 mph and NJDOT rules require yellows calculated for the posted speed limit divided by 10 rounded to the next full second. That would require a yellow of 4.5 seconds rounded up to 5.0 seconds and the yellow measured 4.0 seconds during the National Motorists Association investigations from 7/30 to 8/1. Similarly, the camera for Little Gloucester Road approaching Blackwood-Clementon Road is flatly illegal under NJDOT rules. The posted limit is 50 mph and NJDOT rules require a yellow of 5.0 seconds. The yellow was 4.0 seconds during the National Motorists Association investigations from 7/30 to 8/1. Both cameras should be immediately removed as non-compliant. Please note we measured the yellow intervals with a digital camera that counts frames per second. We also verified the times by stopwatch measurements and got times within 0.15 seconds of the camera numbers. Our stopwatch variance was less than 0.1 seconds in three measurements. James C. Walker, National Motorists Association, Ann Arbor, MI (a member of the NMA team investigation New Jersey red light camera installations)
A. Carroll August 21, 2012 at 10:57 AM
How would facts matter to our Gloucester Township royalty?
James C. Walker August 21, 2012 at 12:50 PM
For A. Carroll and the many others above. Politicians have to get reelected if politics is their career. If enough people object strongly and repeatedly to the cameras, the tide of government approvals may turn against the cameras. Some 35 cities in California have dropped cameras. Many still use them, but the tide is turning in California and elsewhere. People are TIRED of their wallets being used as a source of extra taxes with "gotcha" ticket cameras that punish tiny technical fouls, while giving us terrific videos of bad crashes they did NOT prevent. Red light cameras were not designed to stop the terrible crashes, they were designed to make money from mostly safe drivers. The entire industry of red light cameras is a money-grab scam that is NOT related to safety. If you don't like people being financially abused by the cameras, then get involved. Send letters and emails to local officials demanding the cameras be removed. Write letters to the editor and guest editorials to local media about the scam. Contact your Assemblymen and Senators in the Legislature asking them to support Senator Mike Doherty's bill SB1952 to ban the cameras statewide. Ask your coworkers, friends and neighbors to join the fight too. Maybe join us in the National Motorists Association, as we are working very hard to bring down this predatory industry. James C. Walker, National Motorists Association, Ann Arbor, MI
Paul J. DiBartolo August 21, 2012 at 01:33 PM
The good people of Gloucester Township, and Blackwood specifically, sit by idly and are distracted by 1/2-hour or longer awards ceremonies at council meetings before council gets down to the business of Gloucester Township. Additionally, once the ceremony is over, half the people get up and leave. It probably doesn't really matter anyway because the real business of Gloucester Township is conducted long before council ever sits down in chambers on Monday nights. Council meetings are an exercise in futility for those of us in attendance trying to get answers because none are ever forthcoming. The votes are placeholders for what has already been decided. Good citizens of Blackwood, do you not know you're bearing the brunt of the red-light camera taxes? You live and travel in the area most heavily controlled by these spy-eyes in the skies and the data proves that Blackwood addresses are the most heavily ticketed. Do yo enjoy this kind of official abuse? Wake up!
A. Carroll August 21, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Some of us are awake, all right; we just make detours . . . although rumor has it that stop-sign cameras are coming into use, I think maybe it was in California (what a shock). I like the suggestions given above (and plan to follow them enthusiastically), but being originally from Indiana myself many years ago, I am not sure that a nice guy from Michigan will readily comprehend the monolithic sleazy political culture here that has Gloucester Township locked down.
James C. Walker August 21, 2012 at 11:14 PM
For A. Carroll. I understand local politics pretty well. I have a different issue here in Ann Arbor. The city council and the city engineers like to post speed limits below the 30th percentile speeds of traffic and sometimes below the 5th percentile. This means that 70+% or sometimes 95+% of the traffic under good conditions is above the limit, often by 10 to 15 mph. The rea$on$ $o many ticket$ are i$$ued here on tho$e under-po$ted road$ i$ obviou$ to mo$t ob$erver$. If safety is the goal, then posted limits are at the 85th percentile speed of free flowing traffic under good conditions. With some exceptions I saw, NJ speed limits are decent in most places, but the cameras have to go away. I started studying the often-adverse relationship between traffic laws and enforcement procedures versus improvements to traffic safety in my freshman year at college in 1962/63. It is fairly unusual that all the engineering parameters and the enforcement procedures in an area are set up for safety. Regards, Jim Walker NMA
A. Carroll August 22, 2012 at 10:29 AM
For Mr. Walker - I can see that you've gone through a lot of research, and I appreciate your expertise and thank you for having weighed in. Every bit helps, and this is an election year when many voters are recognizing the need to take action, even here in blue-blue-blue Gloucester Township. We have plenty of speed traps, too, but we know exactly where they are. You are right; the enforcement procedures are exactly the problem here. It will get interesting when they start using speed detectors to mine us for being one mph over the limit.
James C. Walker August 22, 2012 at 01:40 PM
For A. Carroll. You are right that automatic enforcement is the problem. You can stop it, both locally and statewide. It just takes some organization with friends and neighbors to impress the local councils that they must change, or be replaced. Statewide, get behind the bills to ban the cameras. Statewide and nationally, consider joining the NMA. We are the people that got the National Maximum Speed Limit repealed in 1995. We are a small but effective group and we welcome more members to increase our effectiveness. Jim Walker, NMA

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