Menlo Park launches photo system to catch red-light runners

Violators will face fines of at least $378

Red-light runners beware: Menlo Park will start a trial run of its new red-light photo enforcement system on Tuesday, May 6.

That's when cameras installed at the intersection of Willow Road and Bayfront Expressway will start snapping photos and capturing video footage of drivers who run red lights on northbound Bayfront Expressway, according to Diel Hutchins, a program manager with the Menlo Park Police Department.

For 30 days, drivers caught running red lights at the intersection will receive warnings in the mail. After the trial period expires, violators will be ticketed via mail for at least $378, Ms. Hutchins said.

Included with each ticket will be photographs of the location of the car in the intersection, the license plate of the car, and the driver's face, she said. Ticketed drivers will also be able to go online and view video footage of their alleged violation.

Other intersections

Cameras will soon be installed at the intersections of El Camino Real and Ravenswood Avenue; El Camino Real and Valparaiso Avenue; and on Sand Hill Road at the entrance to the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Ms. Hutchins said. She noted that the police department will announce when the trial periods for each intersection's cameras will begin.

Public officials have stressed that the purpose of the program is to decrease accidents, but it could add up to $500,000 a year to the city's coffers.

The camera system was approved unanimously by the City Council in November 2006.


Posted by new guy, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 6, 2008 at 7:08 am

Let watch how the light timing will change to "catch" more money.

Free money!

Posted by remedy, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 6, 2008 at 12:36 pm

All you gotta do is remove your front license plate and pull down your visor to shild your face and you can blow that light all day long and not get caught

Posted by Non Trusting Beleiving, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 6, 2008 at 4:00 pm

Please would SOMEONE from the Almanac investigate this legitimate suspicion that a New Mexico state Senator has about these being Cash Cows for the Govt???
Web Link

This is certainly far TOO MUCH unchecked POWER for a MACHINE to have in this day and age. Remember that the City of Menlo Park gains NO MONEY from any law abiding citizen. That is why I far that this program is a big cash cow and ticket mill for the police. I therefore expect many FALSE citations to be given to line the coffers of Menlo Park. People would be very foolish and naive to take the stated word of the city at face value for such a vital issue.

In order to have a happy society we need to be able to have high trust and confidence in the actions of government. Very sadly we can not afford to have such trust in government under this historical context.

You all need to read this ADDITIONAL article from Popular Mechanics and answer the LEGITIMATE questions which are brought up about UNCHECKED POWER. In particular the following paragraph badly needs to be intelligently rebutted:

Web Link

This problem can be aggravated by jurisdictions that shorten the duration of yellow lights, apparently to generate more ticket revenue. Last year, CBS News reported on an especially egregious case in Maryland: A traffic-camera intersection had a 2.7-second yellow light, while nearby intersections had 4-second times. Shorter yellow lights are more dangerous--but shorter yellow lights plus traffic cameras generate revenue.

Web Link

Albuquerque, NM has operated red light cameras since 2005, generating 80,000 tickets worth $5 million in tickets. Apparently, the technology is a boon to safety and city coffers. State Sen. William Payne, an Albuquerque Republican, agrees the cameras are lining the city's treasury but doubts they do anything for safety, reports the Albuquerque Tribune.

Posted by Donald, a resident of another community
on May 6, 2008 at 4:58 pm

The machine whose unchecked power I fear is the automobile. In order to have a happy society we need to have drivers who drive safely and considerately. We can no longer afford enough police officers to keep driver behavior within reasonable limits. Programs like this are the wave of the future. They just need to be implemented in a way that guarantees fairness.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 6, 2008 at 6:32 pm

I read somewhere that these systems cause more accidents than not. The idea goes that drivers will speed through a yellow faster to avoid the red and/or brake harder to prevent stopping in the intersection.

Here is a report by the Virginia Department of Transportation:
Web Link

Also, there is a spray that you can put on your license plates that white out the plate when a flash is applied. It basically makes your plates undecipherable.

[portion deleted]

Way to go!

Posted by Donald, a resident of another community
on May 6, 2008 at 7:27 pm

Those sprays and covers that claim to make your license plate unreadable by these systems are all frauds. Go ahead, buy one and run a few red lights and see what happens. The report you cite is woefully incomplete, since it doesn't mention broadside accidents (T-bones), which are the most dangerous kind and the kind associated with red light runners. We have a crisis on our roads, with selfish drivers willing to risk other people's lives to save themselves a few seconds, and a police force inadequate to control them. Do you have any better (and affordable) suggestions than these cameras?

Posted by GiveMeABreak, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on May 7, 2008 at 1:21 am

"violators will be ticketed via mail for at least $378"

Public safety, my ___! This is "revenue enhancement," pure & simple.

First, the utility tax, now this.

What next, city-council? Parking meters? Public library membership fees? Park entrance fees? Toll booths on El Camino?

My wallet runnth out!

Posted by Intrigued, a resident of another community
on May 7, 2008 at 8:00 am

In the UK, they started with camera here and there...and made so much money they put them up at every intersection, and cities and towns fell over themselves to buy the cameras. Next came the speed cameras, and same thing there. The sudden influx of millions of dollars is good for the city I suppose, but at what cost is it to us, and where does it end? I like that we are a free society and would like to keep it as such. I still think we should be able to face our accuser, as the constitution demands, not a camera caretaker. The fine also seems inordinately high. Tax and fine us to death. I fear we are closer to socialism than we think.

Posted by Donald, a resident of another community
on May 7, 2008 at 4:21 pm

I think a $378 fine for running a red light is way too low. The fine for littering is $500-$1000, but running a red light is extremely dangerous. If you think it is too much to pay, then I suggest you don't run red lights. By the way, cities have no control over the fees, which are set by the state and county. In Santa Clara County the County court system processes the fines and takes the bulk of the money. Cities don't get much from moving violations (parking tickets are another story). I assume it is the same in San Mateo County.

Posted by worried pedestrian, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 7, 2008 at 5:51 pm

It's unfortunate that this is needed, but let's face it. We need it to protect pedestrians as well as other drivers who expect to be safe when they proceed at a green light.
People are in such a hurry that they are not being as careful as they should, and they're not driving at speeds they should. Like the Terminator, many seem to think that yellow and orange (yellow turning to red) lights mean "speed up" rather than "prepare to stop" as we learned in drivers' ed long ago. I have seen the incidence of red light runners increase in San Francisco and now it's here in Menlo Park, putting people at risk. This is a safety measure first and foremost. If it helps the city's revenues, that's nice but it won't be much if people drive safely.

Posted by stopped up, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on May 7, 2008 at 11:21 pm

Does anyone else find it interesting that the first camera has been activated at the intersection where a famed author was killed because of a red light runner? I don't think that's coincidence.

I wonder if installation of El Camino cameras at Ravenswood and Valparaiso will tend to shift traffic onto Oak Grove and Encinal--streets where you can still buzz through a red light at El Camino without fear of reprisal.

Posted by L. Kranston, a resident of another community
on May 8, 2008 at 9:08 am

I think that you will find that the majority of the violations will be right turn on red violations when a driver does not come to a complete stop before making the right hand turn, or if the police follow a practice of strict enforcement, when a driver stops beyond the white pavement marking before making the right hand turn. The second most ticketed violation is when a driver, or driver(s) continue to make a left hand turn after the traffic light has turned red. Only vehicles already stopped in the intersection can complete a left hand turn after the traffic light turns red, not the vehicles stacked in the turn lane. The least ticketed violations will be for drivers that completely violate a red light when the cross traffic has the green light or a green turn arrow. Until drivers become adjusted to the system beware of rear end collisions caused by vehicles coming to an abrupt stop so as to avoid driving into the intersection after the light turns yellow. Also pay particular attention to where you stop before completing a right turn on red maneuver, and stop completely so as to avoid a ticket. If you are interested in the safety achieved at the intersection, forward a FOIA to the PD requesting crash information before the equipment was installed and then again at six month to one year intervals. Good luck.

Posted by trafficking, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 8, 2008 at 10:11 am

There is a dedicated right turn lane on El Camino northbound at Ravenswood. Because traffic only moves one direction at a time, and because U-turns are not allowed, when the westbound traffic has the green light, the northbound right turn cars can safely turn without coming to a complete stop, so hardly anyone does.

That lane really needs an arrow, but I'm sure the city/state "can't afford" one.

The biggest problem at that intersection is that westbound traffic continues to turn left well after their light has turned red and the eastbound traffic has the green light.

The most dangerous problem is that northbound drivers in the right turn lane seem to think they have the right of way even though the eastbound cars have a green light or the southbound drivers have a left turn arrow. And the red light camera may not catch those drivers because they don't actually enter the intersection.

I am really disappointed that the traffic dept doesn't do anything about the very dangerous intersection at Laurel and Ravenswood, where at least one child on a bicycle has been struck in the last year. That intersection needs left turn lanes and arrows, or do we have to wait until a few people die?

Posted by Chester Su Hong McFly, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 8, 2008 at 9:38 pm

I'm completely with Donald on this one. All the nonsense, hyperbole, and FUD about big brother sending unwarranted tickets to law-abiding citizens aside, this really is about making people pay when they're unable to rein in their selfish desire to shave a few seconds off their non-emergency drive from point A to point B. If you can't drive without wantonly and recklessly breaking the law, stay home and watch Oprah reruns. Unbelievable, the entitlement felt by so many drivers!


Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 9, 2008 at 9:10 am

Having recently received a ticket for not stopping at a stop sign, I think that they ought to have one roving camera placed at various stop signs throughout the city.

The importance of careful, heads-up driving is easily forgotten by long-time drivers who think they are good drivers, and by new drivers in a culture that has never known a slower pace of life.

Vehicles are weapons when driven irresponsibly, and seeing people drive irresponsibly and get away with it is bad for society as a whole.

Bad drivers don't learn from close calls, of which there are many in a city without sidewalks.

This technology is a small step in the right direction, given the shortage of police on the streets and a go-go culture in innappropriate places -- the streets.

Posted by new guy, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 9, 2008 at 2:21 pm

The majority of people who drive do so safely, and follow the basic rules. Do we have too many accidents at those intersections? What is the need, other than to "generate revenue" for the city, and increase the insurance rates of our citizens.

Every study I have ever seen on traffic enforcement always comes back with the same answer: the only thing that increases compliance with the laws are marked police presence.'

So what is the real take here. Does the city need to hire people to process the pictures (does a judge review them), and who gets control of the light timing?

Posted by Richard, a resident of another community
on May 9, 2008 at 5:59 pm

New Guy,
Yes, the presence of an officer in uniform affects people's driving behavior. There are not enough cops for everyone to see one all the time everywhere they go. If the cops hang out at an intersection for a day, then things will improve there.....until they leave. Running red lights leads to the most deadly kind of crash on city streets: broadside crashes. Red light runners are usually going fast, too, which increases the damage. As was pointed out above, Menlo Park will not be making money on these tickets. It was also pointed out that there are state standards regarding the length of yellow lights, so the city can't change them arbitrarily. This is not a scheme to trap people or generate revenue, it is a way to increase safety without having to hire additional police. A police officer makes $85-$100K a year. They get vacation, paid time for professional education every year, they have lots of expensive equipment they need to carry and maintain, and they need to spend time doing administrative duty and appearing in court. Furthermore, most cops want to spend their time "catching real crooks" and not writing traffic tickets. Menlo Park does not have any dedicated traffic patrol, so writing tickets is way down the priority list for the few expensive officers in the city. Using cameras that will work 24 hours a day every day of the week for a modest installation fee makes a whole lot of economic sense if it results in greater compliance with the law. We will see how that works out.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 9, 2008 at 8:39 pm


Cops make a lot. Sure. But you'd be surprised to know what city employees, who do NOT risk their lives every day, rake in every year.

Our city manager, in my guess, takes the place of 2-3 full time cops ($250k in salary and benefits). City liason person (middleman between us and city) takes the place of one cop. No way to dispute that. We are not holding back on cops because of money. It is being allocated in veeeeeery interesting ways.

Anyway, red light cams are not going to prevent the speeders on my street nearly missing old ladies and women with stollers. It is like a raceway or something.

Should anyone be entitled and above the law? No. Is this a token slap on the wrist? Maybe. Is this a way to get some extra spending cash? Probably.

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 9, 2008 at 10:44 pm

Joanna's comments are again without merit. What he/she fails to do is a market report of what other city managers make. She also misppropriates the number because she can and has no problem lying. Joanna, you are a dinosaur and your time has come and gone. The city is moving on without you. Stop trying to ruin this forum and stay on topic.

Posted by GiveMeABreak2, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 10, 2008 at 9:34 am

When they change the penalty from $378 plus to a day in jail, then I will believe this is about public safety and not "revenue enhancement".

Posted by Donald, a resident of another community
on May 10, 2008 at 11:54 am

Many other countries have traffic fines that are proportional to your income. I heard of a non-injury hit and run in Germany that resulted in a $2 Million fine, which was 6 month's income! If we got serious and raised fines that high we might have better compliance even with the small number of cops we have now.

Posted by Why???, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 11, 2008 at 9:50 pm

How come every time Joana makes a comment she is bashed senseless? Are people really that sensitive to criticism of the city? How about a little adult behavior in the public discourse? Just a thought.

Posted by Mira, a resident of another community
on May 12, 2008 at 8:17 am

The only times I've noticed that Joanna is "bashed senseless" is when her posts are senseless. That's not always, but too often. I agree, let's be adults on this forum. I enjoy the reasoned discussions, but not the childish rants.

Posted by sick of speeders, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 12, 2008 at 8:26 am

Joanna is perceived (rightly or wrongly) as being an advocated of the ousted council (Mickie, Nickie, and Lee) and bashed accordingly. Sometimes it does feel like a kneejerk reaction. Sometimes it's deserved.

In this case, I agree (at least partially) with her post. I would like to know more about how all our city employees spend their valuable time. If the police are above writing traffic tickets and only want to play cops and robbers, maybe they should go to another town. Surveys have repeatedly shown that traffic is THE main issue for residents, and if the police are too overqualified to enforce the laws, then who will?

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 12, 2008 at 11:29 am

I don't feel I am bashed or bashed senseless. There are one or two trolls here who think that I am affiliated with with politicians. Nothing could be further than the truth and I take their comments as I would a stranger in Berkeley.

It does seem that that guy is sensitive to any type of criticism of our elected and non-elected officials. I wonder (actually I don't) why. Want to talk about affiliation with the city? Try him. ;-)

Aaaannnyy way onto important matters... the day we stop questioning what our elected and non-elected officials do is the day we stop deserving freedom.

I certainly do not trust their decisions blindly.

*Want to give away our pools? Not smart.

*Want to give our money to a private business and shut out residents from a building they saved? Nope

*Want to hire a city manager that is unjustifiably exxxxpen$ive? Nope

*Want to hold private sessions on what to do with a $20 million + gym? Heck no!

*Want to put up red light cameras? If the purpose is to get more money, then no. If it is for safety (doubtful) then yes.

You see, It doesn't matter who your friends are or who you voted for. Bad decisions are made all the time. It is up to us to identify the shady ones. It is up to us to put pressure on elected and non-elected officials when they make unwise decisions.

I ask of you... who among you approve of private meetings between city staff and the private donor?

While I am at it, let me bring up my favorite topic... city expenditures.

We sure do waste a lot of money. Before anyone whines "well other cities do it..." let me ask this: do you get what you pay for?

Do we enjoy a city that is run well and that is for the people instead of private enterprise? Do we enjoy the speed in which our concerns are addressed (if at all)?

WHATEVER the answer, would it be any different if our city staff were paid reasonable wages?

While I don't have time to get into it, paying staff a premium just because other cities do it is very weak. You no longer pay for top talent. You just hire ordinary people for extraordinary wages just because ONE city decided to up the ante.

I beg of you to tell me that $250k for a city manager (housing stipends, car stipends and more juicy stuff) is at all worth it. Would someone paid half of that (still too much) do a worse or better job? In my opinion (based on what the job description is), no!

Why write all of this? Red light cameras bring in a lot of dough. Why do we need it? What do national studies say when it comes to speeders?

I hate speeders... but I hate waste more.

Posted by Alex, a resident of another community
on May 12, 2008 at 12:14 pm

There is no excuse to run a red light. If you can't pay or think $378 is too much then don't run the red light. $378 is way too low for running red light. No one is asking you to run a red light so why complain? Just OBEY the traffic rules even if the cop is not watching you.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 12, 2008 at 1:01 pm


Excellent comment! I agree 100%!

Posted by Why???, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 12, 2008 at 8:18 pm

Thank you sick of speeders for the explanation on Joanna. I feel like I understand a bit better now too. Thank you too Joanna for your thoughts. I love good debate, so keep it up. Thanks for the context.

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 12, 2008 at 9:57 pm

Let me set the record straight here. I can point to more than ten different obvious mistruths and callous accusations that Joanna has posted here. I started following her in October last year when she was trolling to kick out our council for evaluating a deal to save the park theatre. I voted for this council and I am frankly happy to see the BS politics of the past council go away. But I have no issues with strong statements. Joanna has proven to be just as bad as those past folks. If you will bear with me I will prove it with links to her lies. I want this forum to be a place to have fair discussion, not to allow poisoning statements from Joanna go unchecked.

Below she misleads readers on the budget, police department, high speed rail and the park theater. Awful.

This is why I am here. To make sure she does not get away with it.

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 13, 2008 at 9:12 am

Get a job Falsie.

Posted by Internet user, a resident of another community
on May 13, 2008 at 8:56 pm

"truth" wants this to be a place to have a fair discussion. Guess again. This is the internet, where fairness has no place. Anyone with enough time can overwhelm anyone else. Who knows whether Joanna is really a Menlo Park resident, really a woman, or even a human? Forums like these are not places for fair and rational discourse. They are good places for shouting matches and reinforcement of prejudices. Some people participate just to make mischief and anger others. I know someone who writes under a whole bunch of different names, and sometime argues with himself just for fun! Don't take any of this too seriously.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 14, 2008 at 1:49 pm


Your unfortunate comment means that you don't know what you are talking about. Falsie keeps crying out that everyone but him is lying. What is there to lie about you ask? Nothing. When you take publicly available information like salaries and benefits and agree with them or disagree with them, there is no lying. Falsie keeps trying to cause problems.

Why? Good question.

Falsie seems to have been very hurt by what I have written in the past, more specifically the Park Theater. I mean, who else would take the time to cite previous discussions (inarticulately and inaccurately, I might add and which I find amusing) and list them out? Maybe he had a vested interest in one of the topics? Maybe he is on the council? A family member of the council? Whatever the reason, he sure likes to cause problems and derail the conversation. And guess what? He wins. Because here I am wasting my time writing this.

Anyway, User, I whole heartedly disagree with your statement that no serious discussions can be had online. Is the Almanac site perfect? Heck no. There could be a lot of improvements but great topics are brought up. Why are the topics brought up? Because citizens have needs and questions. It is easier and less intimidating to do so online than in front of the world (video broadcasts) only to be told to "talk to staff" after the meeting.

Posted by David Boyce, Almanac staff writer
on May 14, 2008 at 1:54 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

Joanna - Just a note to ask you to elaborate on improvements you might recommend for Town Square and/or The Almanac's web site.


Posted by Donald, a resident of another community
on May 14, 2008 at 8:44 pm

Is there any way you can keep people from hijacking discussions? This was about red light cameras until Joanna showed up and diverted the discussion to her favorite topic.

Posted by Chris, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 15, 2008 at 1:49 pm

The hijacking of threads seems to be the rule, not the exception, for these types of forums. Frustrating.

But now to the subject. The MPPD abandoned their traffic division awhile back because of budgetary factors, if my memory serves me. There just aren't enough officers out there to enforce traffic laws, and the streets just get more and more dangerous not only for drivers but for pedestrians.

Another poster said the length of yellow lights is dictated by the state, and I hope he/she is correct. If that's the case -- or if we can have assurances that the yellow light won't be shortened once these cameras are installed -- I think the cameras are preferable to red-light runners continuing their dangerous driving with no consequences.

Posted by HeyMrAlmanac, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 15, 2008 at 6:15 pm

I'd be interested to know if these things actually "work" - in other words, does the incidence rate go down over time or not.

Someone must have those numbers somewhere. Since I haven't seen it brought up, I'm assuming that they really don't work as a deterrent.

Also, the shortening of the yellow light is a (pardon the pun) "red light" that this is just a money-making adventure operating under the guise of traffic safety.

These two items are ones I'd like to see the Almanac investigate and come up with answers on! (Are you game, Mr. Almanac?)

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 16, 2008 at 11:35 am


I posted this link above. It is an interesting read. It is about the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Texas Transport Institute.

Web Link

Posted by HeyMrAlmanac, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 16, 2008 at 2:27 pm


Thanks for the link. As Raymond's father on "Everyone Loves Raymond" would say: "Holy crap!"

Are our esteemed council members aware of this? If not, someone should speak up and blast them with this (sounds like a perfect job for you, Joanna!).

And for the rest of you, here's the first part from the link that got me going (for the full version, go here:
Web Link

2007 Virginia DOT Report Shows Red Light Cameras Increase Accidents

A new Virginia Department of Transportation study shows accidents increased by nearly a third where red light cameras were used.

The Virginia Transportation Research Council today released a report expanding upon earlier research into the safety effects of red light cameras in Virginia. The new study, funded by the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, provided a city-by-city assessment that showed significant increases in the number of injuries and accidents at intersections employing photo enforcement.

The change in the frequency of injury accidents varied widely among jurisdictions -- down 5 percent in one but up between 6 and 89 percent in all others. Even within a jurisdiction some intersections fared better than others. In Fairfax County, for example, the total number of crashes increased at every intersection with a camera, except for one -- Route 50 and Fair Ridge. VDOT increased the duration of the yellow light from 4 seconds to 5.5 seconds on August 12, 1998. Research by the Texas Transportation Institute confirmed that longer yellows yield significant accident reductions. Overall, the data in the VTRC report painted a grim picture consistent with prior, independent investigations.

"The cameras were associated with an increase in total crashes. Arlington and Fairfax County saw significant increases, Falls Church and Vienna saw non significant increases, and Fairfax City saw a nonsignificant decrease."

Although it is now widely accepted that red light cameras are associated with increases in the number of rear end collisions, the VTRC report did not solely attribute the overall increase in accidents and injuries to this type of collision. Angle collisions also increased.

Posted by HeyMrAlmanac, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 16, 2008 at 2:35 pm

Sorry, I inadvertantly left out the last part (given below) which has an interesting observation in regards to "industry claims that it was a temporary phenomenon."

"Cameras were associated with an increase of between 31 percent and 54 percent for rear-end crashes overall," the report found. "The association of the cameras with angle crashes differed among jurisdictions, although a preponderance of test results suggested an increase."

Contrary to industry claims, this was not a temporary phenomenon.

"The cameras were not associated with a decrease in rear-end crashes over time after the initial increase that followed camera installation," the report found.

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