If the early data is any indicator, Menlo Park's new red-light photo enforcement program could add a lot of money to the city's coffers now that the system has started ticketing drivers as of June 10.
In a trial run of the system, 194 drivers were caught running left-turn red lights while turning left on to Willow Road from Bayfront Expressway from May 6 to June 4, according to Diel Hutchins, a program manager with the Menlo Park Police Department.
The intersection is the first to be equipped with still-image and video cameras that catch drivers who run red lights, allowing the police department to mail tickets, as well as photos of each alleged violation, to drivers.
Since May 6, the city has been mailing warnings to drivers caught by the cameras, but starting 12:01 a.m. June 10, the department will start mailing tickets of at least $378 to red-light runners.
Big revenues ahead?
If the trial period is a sign of things to come, money generated by the cameras could easily exceed the $100,000 of revenue the system was projected to bring in for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
For every $378 red-light ticket, the city receives $150, Ms. Hutchins said.
If 194 red-light violators are ticketed each month through the system, the city would collect about $273,000 annually. That total takes into account the monthly per-camera fee of $6,350 the city has agreed to pay Los Angeles-based Redflex Traffic Systems to install and monitor the cameras.
And more cameras are on the way.
Ms. Hutchins said two cameras -- one for each direction of El Camino Real at Ravenswood Avenue -- should be up and running in coming months. Cameras will also be installed on El Camino Real at Valparaiso Avenue, and on Sand Hill Road at the entrance to the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.
Menlo Park Police Sgt. Sharon Kaufman, echoing remarks made by City Council members and city officials when the red-light photo program was unanimously approved in 2006, stressed that the cameras are intended to increase safety, not to boost revenues.
She said putting cameras at frequently traveled intersections will make drivers think twice before running red lights.
"I've seen some very serious ugly crashes there," Sgt. Kaufman said of the Willow Road/Bayfront Expressway intersection. "As much as people would probably prefer to see live officers at these intersections, it's not logistically possible."
Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist David Halberstam was killed in a three-car accident at the Willow Road/Bayfront Expressway intersection last year.
Sgt. Kaufman said it's likely that only 60 to 75 percent of red-light runners will actually receive tickets, as the camera system won't be able to identify some drivers. As drivers get used to the cameras, the number of tickets and revenue for the city will drop, she predicted.