Tucson's traffic cams: Are all lanes created equal?
Tucson's traffic cams: Are all lanes created equal? Video by kgun9.com
KGUN9 News reporter Kevin Keen talks with Tucson DOT manager Michael Hicks about traffic camera systems
Signs like this one posted ahead of an intersection indicate at least some lanes are monitored by a traffic camera system
Sensors like these embedded at intersections can indicate that a traffic camera system is monitoring a particular lane of traffic
This satellite images shows the intersection of 22nd and Wilmot. Notice only lanes on 22nd, running horizontally, have sensors monitoring traffic at the time this picture was taken
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Kolb and Speedway. 22nd and Wilmot. Nogales Highway and Valencia. If you drive in Tucson, you know those intersections have speed and red lights cameras. But is all traffic there being monitored? Do the cameras treat all lanes equally?
“When they come to an intersection like this one, they assume that the intersection--everywhere--is fully covered,” KGUN9 News reporter Kevin Keen said, “and that if you speed and if you tear through a red light, you’ll get in trouble. Is that the case?” “That’s not the case,” said Michael Hicks with Tucson DOT.
In fact, KGUN9 News discovered out of the eight photo enforcement intersections across Tucson, not one has cameras pointing in every direction and sensors covering every lane. Meaning, you can avoid getting flashed, depending on which direction you’re driving or which lane you’re in.
Three things help indicate which lanes and directions of traffic are being monitored and which aren’t: sensors, cameras and signs.
Take, for instance, 22nd and Wilmot. A satellite image of Wilmot reveals sensors are not embedded in the pavement where traffic drives straight through. A KGUN9 News viewer brought this to our attention. You can also notice the absence of those sensors while on the street. There also aren’t any cameras monitoring traffic driving straight on Wilmot. Those signs stating “photo enforcement ahead”? They aren’t even on the street. The traffic here is not photo enforced.
Another example: Grant and Swan. Here, not all lanes in each direction are being watched. “The whole intersection’s being monitored except for some particular movements,” Hicks told Keen, pointing to particular parts of the intersection. “If you’ll notice, the left turn movement here is not being monitored, but the through movements are.”
KGUN9 News wanted to know: Who decides which lanes and directions of traffic are covered by the cameras and why?
“The city, along with American Traffic Solutions, will ask for an evaluation of a major intersection--say, a Campbell-Speedway-type of high-volume intersection,” TPD Sgt. Tim Beam said.
Beam says the police department, along with ATS--the private company that installs and maintains the systems--consider the volume of speeders and red-light runners when evaluating an intersection, among other things.
“If all the traffic on average is complying, why would you put a camera there?” Beam explains. “What we’re trying to do is get people to change their driving patterns, try and change their driving habits.” Other considerations include engineering limitations and the feasibility of installing cameras.
“Why not cover every lane?” Keen asked ATS Vice President of Communications, Charles Territo. “Sometimes, that’s just the limitation of the technology,” Territo said over the phone. “There are limits to the number of lanes that the current technology can cover.”
What’s long been a criticism of Tucson’s traffic cameras is that ATS is only in it to make money.
“Does profitability come into play in any of those intersections as well?” Keen asked. “There are no profits if people don’t run red lights,” Territo said. “Over time, the number of violations fall. As those violations fall, so will the number of collisions at the intersection. The ultimate goal of these programs is to reduce the number of violations and change driver behavior.”
TPD is up front about letting drivers know which lanes are covered and which aren’t, but you have to ask or know where to look.
“Is it misleading in anyway?” Keen asked. “I don’t think it’s misleading,” Beam said. “Any time anybody wants to call us and get that kind of information they can on the Tucson Police Department web site.”
“The bottom line is, and I hear this all the time: ‘I’m very careful when I drive through a Speedway-Kolb because I know those intersections have cameras,’” Beam said. “Thank you. That’s exactly why the cameras are there.