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Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014

Cities tweaking yellow lights amid red light camera flap


Published:   |   Updated: June 23, 2013 at 06:08 PM

SOUTH PASADENA - Traffic cameras have been a boon for many Florida cities, some of which collect hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from people running red lights.

The controversy raised over the red-light cameras has also raised questions about the length of yellow lights, and many cities are now reviewing whether their light cycles safely allow people to navigate intersections.

Last week, the South Pasadena City Commission sent a letter asking Pinellas County and the state for permission to extend yellow light intervals to the maximum time state law will allow, a move likely to reduce the number of violations. City leaders say the nature of South Pasadena - its elderly population and the large number of drivers who pass through on their way to and from the beach - creates concern over whether 3.6 seconds is enough time for the average driver there to stop.

The state also wants to increase yellow light times across Florida, but South Pasadena officials want to make the move earlier and to extend yellow lights longer than under the state plan.

"It's our city," said Commissioner Arthur Penny, who drafted South Pasadena's letter to the county. "A lot of people go through our city. It's like a gateway to the beaches."

On Tuesday, the five-member commission unanimously approved a letter requesting that all traffic signals be adjusted to reflect the maximum allowable time, which would be determined through a traffic study of the city's major intersections.

In Pinellas County, red-light cameras operate in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Gulfport, Kenneth City, South Pasadena and Oldsmar. Tampa and Temple Terrace also use them.

Cities throughout the state have been under scrutiny recently after reports that some municipalities quietly reduced yellow light durations to increase the number of red light citations. In 2011, the state began allowing cities to adjust their yellow light times to correspond to the posted speed limit rather than the average speed at which drivers actually travel, which often is higher.

Critics say not basing those times on reality may boost revenue for cities, the state and red light camera companies but artificially inflates the number of red light violations while making intersections more dangerous.

"You used to have five seconds to get through, now you have three," said St. Petersburg City Councilman Wengay Newton, a staunch opponent of

red light cameras. "I'm telling you, it's extortion."

In May, the Florida Department of Transportation announced it was raising yellow light minimums by almost half a second. The new rule is scheduled to go into effect at the end of this year for intersections with red light cameras and in June of 2015 for all other roadways.

In St. Petersburg, transportation director Joe Kubicki said the city would be lengthening yellow light times at many intersections as advised by FDOT.

kbradshaw@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7999

Twitter: @kbradshawTBO

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