PPP: Majority Support for Red-Light Traffic Cameras in Pittsburgh

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Red-light cameras are a progressive way to reduce auto collisions and increase police productivity, and the revenue they raise is required by law to go to traffic safety improvements, which can include upgrades to bike and pedestrian infrastructure. All the money is raised from people breaking the law, rather than useful economic activity, so there’s really no downside to 100% enforcement of the traffic laws. It’s a win-win.

Pittsburgh has been considering installing red-light cameras at some of its more dangerous intersections, and now Public Policy Polling is out with some fascinating survey results on political attitudes in Pittsburgh toward this policy.

A solid majority of residents (59-35%) support installing the cameras, and this is driven by lopsided support among women. Women support the cameras by a huge margin (68-27%), while men are only narrowly in favor (48-46%).

Women were more likely than men to think running red lights is a problem (58% of women vs. 40% of men), and they were more likely to believe that others would drive more carefully in the presence of red-light cameras (66% of women vs. 47% of men).

Asking how respondents expect other people to react to a policy is something pollsters often do to get more accurate statements of opinion. Poll respondents have been known to attribute better behavior to themselves than to others. In this case, 60% of women said they personally would be more careful around cameras, and 44% of men did – a bit lower than how they expected others to respond.

Women were also more likely than men to support red light cameras if the cameras could be used to help catch other crimes like rapes and murders (78% of women, and 51% of men). Overall, 66% of respondents were more likely to support the cameras if they’d be useful for helping solve other crimes, versus 18% who were less likely.

Every demographic group supports installing the red-light cameras, but especially young people between 18-29 and registered Democrats.

You can check out the full cross-tabs here.

This entry was posted in Miscellany.

58 Responses to PPP: Majority Support for Red-Light Traffic Cameras in Pittsburgh

  1. Traffic cameras are just another form of Policing for Profit as Capitalism distorts our Justice System. These companies are bottom-feeders and take a 40% cut of the tickets while creating MORE dangerous intersections by fixing the lengths of yellow lights to entrap drivers. You can read about how private companies and crooked politicians have turned our Police forces on their ear in every attempt to squeeze money out of the general public at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-privatized-police-state.html

  2. Jim says:

    A word to the public:

    If you see an article quoting the results of a poll, and the reporter doesn’t seem to have inquired into who paid for the poll, take the results – and anything else the reporter says – with a grain of salt.

    This sounds like one of the polls paid for by the camera industry, and you don’t stay in the polling biz very long if your poll findings fail to favor the guy who paid for the poll.

  3. It is EASY to get virtually any poll results you want, if the questions are phrased cleverly enough.

    http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/36/3655.asp

    There have been 30 actual votes by citizens on ticket cameras and the cameras lost 27 of them.

    The city referred to that sent uniformed officers around to encourage support was East Cleveland. They told citizens that if the cameras were voted out up to 60 more city employees would be laid off, most of them police or firefighters.

    Once citizens experience the true revenue nature of ticket cameras, they almost always say NO. The apparent support for the red light camera cash registers will evaporate into deep resentment, if they are ever installed.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I thought these questions were phrased very conservatively. What do you think is leading about them?

      Also struggling to understand why you think a direct vote is more representative of true public opinion than a poll. In a plebiscite, the people who are most animated about the issue show up to vote. It doesn’t capture the views of all the people. And that’s why city council members should make the call.

      • The questions were quite clever, implying that greater safety results from the cameras. In reality, cameras frequently raise the crash rates, as they did in Philadelphia per the Police Department data.

        Once people experience the revenue nature of the cameras which is the true motivation to use them, the opinions change. Here is a list of California cities that had cameras and took them down and a few were cities where the Council voted to never install them.
        Anaheim, Bell Gardens, Belmont, Berkeley, Burlingame, Compton, Corona, Costa Mesa, Cupertino, East LA, El Monte, Emeryville, Fairfield, Fresno, Fullerton, Gardena, Glendale, Grand Terrace, Hayward, Indian Wells, Irvine, LA County, Lancaster, Loma Linda, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Maywood, Montclair, Moreno Valley, Murietta, Paramount, Pasadena, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, Redwood City, Rocklin, Roseville, Rowland Heights, San Bernardino, San Carlos, San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Fe Springs, Santa Maria, Santa Rosa, South Whittier, Union City, Upland, Westminster, Whittier, Yuba City, Yucaipa,

        James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

  4. If the poll had included these questions, the results would have been totally different.

    1 Are you in favor of ticketing drivers for 3/10th of a second violation?
    2 Are you in favor of using red light cameras to mostly ticket for slow rolling right turns?
    3 Are you in favor of ticketing drivers who stop just over the limit line?
    4 If you could reduce red light running by increasing the yellow time by up to about 1 second, would you favor that over using red light cameras?

    THESE are the ways that red light cameras are used to ticket mostly safe drivers for small technical fouls that do not present crash risks to anyone. They are part of the business plans.

    Note that drivers who violate the red by under one second (MOST of the tickets) will clear the intersections during the all-red phase, and their chances to cause t-bone crashes are zero. Note that federal research shows only 0.4% of all crashes at signalized intersections involve a right on red turn, and only 0.06% of all crashes with injuries or fatalities involve a right on red turn. Virtually all right on red tickets are about $$$, not safety. See our website for many examples of how adding up to about one second of yellow reduces violations by 60% to 90%, but cities using cameras hate to do this because it guts the revenue stream.

    If red light cameras ticketed only unsafe drivers, no one would object. But the cameras would lose so much money they would never be used at all under that restriction. The cameras typically lease for $4,000 to $5,000 per month per camera and must ticket mostly safe drivers to just pay their own costs, let alone produce the profits like the $10 million per year that Philly expects to get.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

    • Jon Geeting says:

      It sounds to me like motorists can avoid all of the scenarios you describe by following the rules. Stopping behind the line. Not making illegal right on red turns. Less aggressive drivers are not going to get tickets.

      • True, Jon.

        The point is that most tickets go to safe drivers who presented no crash hazards to anyone.

        The PURPOSE of ticket cameras is money, not safety. I find that to be immoral on the part of governments. Enforcement should be 100% for safety and 0% for revenue. The sales pitch used by the camera vendors is a deceptive bait-and-switch presentation.

        James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

        • Jon Geeting says:

          The purpose should be a zero tolerance policy for aggressive driving, designed to make people obey the traffic laws to the letter. Not overshooting the crosswalk lines. Not making illegal turns. A safe driver is a driver who obeys all the rules, not somebody who pushes the limits a bit like you’re implying.

          • Enforcing for technical right turn fouls that cause only 0.06% of crashes with injuries or fatalities is about money, not safety.

            Enforcing straight through violations for split second violations caused by yellow intervals deliberately set too short for the actual approach speeds is a total racket that should be illegal.

            James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

          • Jon Geeting says:

            Maybe you don’t like the technicality, but it’s still illegal. No one has shown that deliberately short yellow lights are a widespread issue. That’s a conspiracy theory.

          • Anyone who thinks that deliberately setting short yellow intervals is a “conspiracy theory” needs to read the series by Noah Pransky at WTSP 10 News in Tampa.
            http://www.tiki-toki.com/timeline/entry/135673/10-News-investigates-Floridas-Yellow-Light-Trap/#vars!date=2013-05-13_00:00:00!
            Using yellow intervals too short for the actual approach speeds is a key element in the for-profit business plans for camera vendors and the cities that use them.

            James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

          • Jon Geeting says:

            I didn’t say it hasn’t happened, I said the idea that this is a widespread phenomenon is a conspiracy theory. The number of documented cases is small.

          • The number of cases where adding 0.5 to 1.0 seconds of yellow drastically reduced violation rates is quite large. To suggest the former shorter yellows were the result of “accidental” engineering errors is massively naive.

            Georgia mandated yellows must be 1.0 seconds longer than the minimums by formula at all camera intersections. The violation rates dropped 70% to 80% and most cameras were removed.

            And the claims by some paid camera spokespersons that the violation rates rebound with longer yellows are totally false. Longer yellows are a permanent fix for most straight through violations – a fix that is fiercely opposed by camera companies and their business partner cities that use cameras.

            Here is the data for those that care to read facts.
            http://www.motorists.org/red-light-cameras/yellow-lights

            James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

          • Jon Geeting says:

            Not taking your word for it. You’ll have to actually show that this is widespread. The solution is for these lights to be programmed remotely and monitored by the regional DOT to ensure there’s no tinkering.

          • I never ask anyone to accept my word for it. I just ask people to read the research by unbiased academic sources and investigative reporters – people and groups that are NOT in the camera revenue stream. They are on our website.

            In almost every case, when one second is added to the yellows, the straight through violation rates go down 60% to 90%. If anyone cannot conclude the yellows were too short, they simply do not understand how the scam works.

            In the early days of cameras, yellows were often shortened just before cameras were installed. People saw this for the scam it was and the practice is no longer common. Today the camera companies survey areas, find the places where the yellows are already too short and recommend the cameras be put at those locations. It slightly disguises the scam, but not by much when you read the reports of drastic drops in violation rates when yellows are lengthened.

            James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

          • Jon Geeting says:

            Sorry but I have to laugh at the idea of an organization that explicitly advocates for the interests of motorists as unbiased.

          • It is an inverse sort of issue for us. We don’t make any money when we achieve safer, fairer, less-predatory traffic laws and enforcement procedures. It actually makes it harder to get new members in that area, because once the speed traps, the badly engineered lights, the for-profit ticket cameras, etc. are gone – people think the problems are all fixed and they don’t need us anymore.

            Unbiased, as I use the term here, means NOT in the revenue stream for ticket cameras or other forms of predatory for-profit enforcement.

            James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

          • We really are biased when it comes to traffic laws and their enforcement. We think it is totally wrong to enforce for profits using deliberately mis-engineered speed limits and traffic lights which sometimes raise the overall crash rates. We think such tactics are an abandonment of the oaths of office for politicians to serve their constituents, and the rules for legal and ethical conduct for licensed professional engineers.

            James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

  5. There is another very serious aspect to red light cameras that is not often discussed. They do serious economic damage to the communities that use them, particularly under the rules in Pennsylvania and Florida where the state takes a massive cut of the total revenue.

    Red light cameras typically lease for $4,000 to $5,000 per month per camera and to my knowledge none of the major camera vendors is located in Pennsylvania. ATS is the biggest vendor, they are in Arizona. Redflex, the discredited vendor caught in a $2 million dollar bribery and corruption scandal in Chicago, is also in Arizona with a parent company in Australia.

    A city with 10 cameras at $4,500 per month per camera will ship $540,000 a year out of their local economy to the vendor in another state. Then under Pennsylvania law, PennDOT gets most of the profits, so that money goes to Harrisburg. These hundreds of thousands and eventually millions of dollars would leave the Pittsburgh economy doing serious harm to the local businesses, employees, churches, charities, and the local tax base.

    It is hard to understand why people like Mr. Geeting want to harm Pittsburgh’s economy so badly in this way, when adding a second of yellow would eliminate most straight through violations and almost all right on red turn violations have nothing whatsoever to do with safety.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I’m all for keeping more of the money at the local level where it’s raised. I agree it’s wrong for the state DOT to take such a large cut.

      But there’s nothing harmful to the economy about buying traffic enforcement products from out of state. It’s not like they make these cameras in Pittsburgh, and even if they did, the best option is always to buy the cheapest one that works to your specifications. That’s just cheap populism designed to try to put your shameless defense of reckless rich people in a less disgusting light. There’s certainly no harm done to the economy from perfect automated enforcement of the traffic laws, including red lights and the speed limits.

      • If anyone really believes that shipping $540,000 a year from each ten cameras to an out of state camera vendor is good and a positive effect for a city’s economy, they have a rather different economic value system.

        The Pennsylvania law was deliberately set up to rake off most of the profits to the state, after paying the camera vendor business partners their large cut of the take. The same happened in Florida where the state gets 52.5% of the gross total revenue from the cameras. Ron Reagan (no relation to the former President) who crafted the Florida camera law now works for the National Coalition for Safer Roads, the front group paid by the camera company ATS to spread ticket cameras nationwide – for profits.

        James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

  6. phillydem says:

    I lived within short walking distance of two of the busiest, most dangerous intersections in NE Phila where the 12 lane Roosevelt Blvd (US Rt 1) crossed 1 4 lane street and 1 2 lane street. There were many accidents at these intersections, but they were mostly caused by motorists getting stuck in no man’s land when 1 or more cars attempted to make left turns into an oncoming line of traffic trying to either go straight or make their own left turns. Cars routinely HAD to run red lights in order to get across the 12 lanes of north/south traffic or the 2/4 lanes of east/west traffic and out of harm’s way. It was a problem easily solved by re-setting the lights to sequential vice simulataneous east/west north-or-south going left turns, but we got red light cameras instead. The cameras did nothing to improve the safety
    of either intersection and created conditions for more rearend collisions because they didn’t address the underlying left turn across many lanes of traffic problem.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      That seems like a clear case where red light cameras wouldn’t help. But why is there a 12-lane road anyway? I think a lot of the conditions that “force” people to run red lights or violate other traffic laws could be addressed with road diets, lower speed limits (nobody needs to go above 20 mph in urban grid areas), and other traffic improvements. But red light cameras and speed cameras have a role to play. Nobody should be going so fast in an urban area that they have to slam on the brakes to avoid going through a red light.

      • It only takes the yellow to be about 0.5 seconds too short to make the cameras very profitable. And high speeds are not required to increase the rear end crash rates. Set the yellows for 30 mph approach speeds when the actual approach speeds go up to 35-37 mph, and ATS would be VERY happy to install a profitable camera at that location.

        If you put speed limiters on all vehicles with a maximum of 20 mph in urban grid areas, total gridlock would result.

        James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

      • phillydem says:

        Roosevelt Blvd, otherwise known as US 1, has 6 lanes each north and southbound – 12 total. The 6 north and south lanes are then subdivided into 2 3 lane segments each segment divided by fairly large median strips (3 total) with trees. Rt 1 used to be the major east coast highway, but became a business/commercial/residential corridor after I-95 was built and took away most of the pass-through traffic. It’s the major road in NE Philly connecting the NE to Center City and is lined with rowhouses, duplexes, businesses and strip malls.

        The point is red light cameras were advertised by the mayor’s office as being the answer to the dangerous conditions at many Rose Blvd
        intersections. Everyone who lived near or used the Blvd knew the real problem – left turns into oncoming traffice – and made those views known. The cameras were supposed to make everyone slow down, but that didn’t lessen the danger. It’s pretty obvious the cameras were a bill of goods, but I’m sure they do bring in quite a
        bit of $s for all concerned.

  7. Stephen Donaldson says:

    Poll claims”support”. So how was this one gamed!
    (Of course a more interesting question was did a certain RLC vendor pay to do this poll).

    Valid question. the IIHS was recently exposed engaging skewing the results of a poll.

    http://www.mmdnewswire.com/red-light-cameras-129850.html

    May 21, 2013 — Plagued by scandal (1), gross mismanagement (2), and financial setbacks (3), purveyors of red-light camera systems and their supporters continue to misrepresent public opinion on automated traffic ticketing schemes.

    That’s the conclusion of the National Motorists Association http://www.motorists.org/ after reviewing the latest red-light camera public polling results released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The April 2013 poll http://washingtonexaminer.com/most-d.c.-residents-support-traffic-cameras-survey-finds/article/2528053, which surveyed 800 Washington, D.C., residents, claimed that the overwhelming majority favored red-light cameras.

    “We question the results of this poll since only 38 percent of the respondents were regular drivers,” said NMA President Gary Biller.”The majority of D.C. residents drive on a regular basis so targeting non-drivers skews the results. The IIHS used a similar polling tactic in Houston where it contracted a phone survey of about 300 city residents and proclaimed 57 percent supported red-light cameras. This was only a handful of months after 53 percent of 335,000 Houston voters cast their ballots to eliminate the ticket cameras.”
    http://www.motorists.org
    http://www.banthecams.org
    camerafraud on Facebook

  8. Stephen Donaldson says:

    Of even more interest if if there is all this “support” of RLC, THAN EXPLAIN WHY RLC VENDORS HAVE REPEATEDLY ENGAGED IN ATTEMPTS TO DENY THE VOTES A SAY ON RLC!

    http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/41/4156.asp

    Texas: Group Accuses Camera Company Of Conspiracy To Deny Vote
    Emails show Sugar Land, Texas city officials colluded with photo enforcement attorney to block public access to the ballot.

    ATS lawyer Andy TaylorA group of anti-red light camera activists on Thursday accused American Traffic Solutions (ATS) of conspiring with the city of Sugar Land, Texas to deny citizens a chance to vote on whether to keep or ban automated ticketing machines. H. F. Van Der Grinten, known as “Captain Van,” had circulated a petition and collected a sufficient number of signatures to put the issue on the ballot — something that had local leaders very worried.

    “Copies of emails from Sugar Land city officials prove undeniably that the city of Sugar Land worked hand in hand with a camera company attorney to obtain legal advice on how to reject a citizen’s petition to call for a vote on the dangerous and unconstitutional red light cameras,” Van Der Grinten and Baytown activist Byron Schirmbeck said in a joint statement.

    The emails show that city officials began working with Andy Taylor, the attorney hired by ATS to handle Texas legal issues, before the initiative was filed. At first, officials were wary about dealing with Taylor directly.

    “He is legal counsel for ATS,” City Attorney Mary Ann Powell wrote in a March 6 email to the assistant city manager. “I told him he could ask you whether Mr. V ever officially tried to file a petition with us. He’s sorta on our side, but remember this company ended up suing city of Houston and won millions of dollars — i.e., he’s not our friend.”

    Within a month, that relationship became much friendlier, and the city began reaching out to the ATS lawyer for advice.

    “Our assistant city manager wanted me to direct a question to you if you don’t mind,” executive assistant Peggy Heinemeyer wrote in an April 5 email to Taylor. “As I have mentioned earlier in previous conversations, we have a red light camera protester and he is obtaining signatures. Would you please elaborate on the following: ‘State law allows any citizen (he is not a city of Sugar Land resident — he has a city of Sugar Land address but lives in the county) to petition to change the charter.’”

    The question was designed to find a way to disqualify the citizen’s ballot initiative. The city’s legal director set up an in-person consultation with Taylor on April 11 to discuss the strategy in greater detail. On June 4, the city cited a several obscure charter provisions to deny the public a vote.

    “It is no wonder Sugar Land officials want to ‘deal’ with Mr. Taylor and his client, ATS,” Van der Grinten and Schirmbeck said. “They both have millions of dollars in revenue at stake if the cameras get to a public vote. Every single time Texas voters get a chance to vote on the cameras they are rejected by as much as 77 percent.”

    The activists are demanding that the city turn over full details on its behind-closed-doors dealings with ATS and to call a vote on the issue of red light camera enforcement.

  9. Pingback: 7/22 Morning Buzz | PoliticsPA

  10. LinuxGuy says:

    It is interesting how simple steps can eliminate almost all crashes, such as setting speed limits to the 85th percentile free-flowing traffic speed, making yellow times longer, using a decent length all-red interval, and sensors to keep an all-red. Nobody enters late, but if they do, they can safely clear. You will NEVER see these required in any law, because cameras could not rake in money then. Add in other things, such as roadway engineering improvements and 99.999999999% of crashes vaporize.

    I have heard of the technical tickets, too. In addition to fleecing people, this ticketing will obviously cause crashes, as people will slam the brakes, or floor the gas. Safe? When you ticket people for 0.00000001s after the red, stopping a foot over the line, a non-complete stop for right on red, etc., you can tell what is driving this.

    Also, the intersections starts at the curb, not the stop line or crosswalk, so do people know this? For any turn you must slow or yield and the left stop line is way back. You are NOT in the intersection until past the curb line!

    Info came out earlier this year at two Philly intersections which showed crashes going UP and no reduction in angular crashes. Be careful about getting data from people with skin in the game. This is revenue based and safety will suffer.

    Both Dems and GOP legislators voted NO in large numbers, including fairly liberal people from Pittsburgh. Not a partisan issue, but a common sense one!

    • Correct, LinuxGuy.

      The overwhelming percentage of red light camera cash register tickets for straight through violations are for less than one second, most of which disappear by using safer, longer yellows. And virtually all right on red tickets are for non-hazardous technical fouls.

      The problem is that SO much money is involved, the racket is difficult to stop. Chicago residents and visitors have paid about $400 million. Philadelphia had collected $45 million as of 2011. Florida and Washington DC collected about $100 million each in 2012.

      Eight people testified in the House hearing in Harrisburg in 2011, seven of them representing groups that are directly or indirectly in the revenue stream from the cameras. I was the lone voice without a financial interest. The Philadelphia police were not invited to testify with their data showing increased crash rates at camera intersections.

      The only real answer is a legal ban on ticket cameras in every state.

      James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

    • Jon Geeting says:

      If people are going the appropriate speed limit, no one will have to slam on the brakes to avoid running red lights. We need to move toward even more automation of traffic law enforcement – speed cameras, red light cameras, and radar for local police.

      • Speed cameras, red light cameras, radar, lidar, etc. are almost always used for profits, not for safety. Most US main road posted limits are set well below the safest levels, most speed cameras are found only where the posted limits are set well below the safest speeds of travel, most traffic lights are deliberately mis-engineered where cameras are used, officer-run radar and lidar are almost exclusively used in what police call “duck ponds” or “fishing holes” where at least 50% and usually 70+% of the traffic under good conditions travels safely well above the artificially low posted limits.

        The founder of the National Motorists Association once made a very logical proposal, but one that would never be adopted. He said lets remove all fines and fees from traffic enforcement, only points against the driver’s license would be assessed. That way there would be no financial incentive to mis-engineer the traffic safety parameters, and no financial incentives to ticket anyone unless they were driving unsafely. The total number of tickets issued would drop to much lower levels, and traffic officers would no longer be used as “road tax collectors”. Officers could then focus on the small percentage of drivers that are actually unsafe. Safety would improve with many fewer, but far more valid, tickets.

        But the proposal would never be adopted because most traffic tickets are part of a multi-billion dollar for-profit business supported by governments and many businesses that are in the ticket revenue stream.

        There are a few enlightened areas. Texas posts most rural highways and county roads with 85th percentile speed limits. The Michigan State Police published a Powerpoint and a printed booklet on “Establishing Safe and Realistic Speed Limits” which can be found here: http://www.motorists.org/speed-limits/articles .

        But Pennsylvania and many other states still want the fine revenue more than they want real safety improvements with better engineering.

        James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

        • Jon Geeting says:

          I’m for upping some highways to 65mph, but I think for most roads in my area the speed limits are too high – especially for areas in the urban street grid, and for roads in single-family residential areas. That’s the real problem I’m concerned with – most speed limits are too high, most roads have too high “levels of service”, and this is responsible for the far-too-high number of collision deaths. Road diets and a higher rate of enforcement of the traffic laws are necessary. The technology exists to ticket 100% of speeders on our roads and highways, and I’m all for it.

  11. The only fair way to change the actual travel speeds is to change the character of the road so that drivers will only feel safe and comfortable at lower-than-current speeds. Enforcing artificially low posted limits set below the speeds that most people feel to be safe and comfortable is wrong, by any enforcement method. If 85% of the people feel (and are) safe and comfortable at 45 mph, you will find 85% at or below 45 mph and about 10% more will be in the next 5 mph interval just above the 85th speed. Change the engineering of the road so that 85% of the people feel safe and comfortable only at up to 35 mph, and that will be the 85th speed, with about 10% more in the next 5 mph.

    Such changes to sharply reduce travel speeds are generally not appropriate for our highways and our main roads that are the arterials and collectors in urban areas that carry most of the commuting and commercial traffic. Gridlock is not an acceptable result for traffic engineers or for the public. My town of Ann Arbor has about 120,000 permanent population plus the U of M students and has about 70,000 daily commuters. The traffic patterns must allow efficient movement of people and goods for the economies of our urban areas to prosper.

    Having a road engineered for 45 mph but posted at 35 mph is absolutely wrong under any form of evaluation. It yields higher speed variance, more tailgating, more passing, more aggressive driving, and likely a slightly higher crash rate — along with predatory ticketing for revenue.

    The fatality rate per mile traveled in the USA is about 20% of what it was when I got my first license in 1960 (over 5 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled versus just over 1 today). The raw fatality count is about the same as in the early 1950s, despite about five to six times the total miles traveled. Driving is incredibly safe today. If you drive about 15,000 miles per year, statistically you will be in a fatal crash about once in every 6,000 years.

    The good data about today’s driving safety does NOT mean we cannot do better.

    It does mean that most of today’s ticketing for revenue is a predatory multi-billion dollar for-profit business that contributes essentially nothing to safety, and wastes our scarce enforcement resources by making them into hated road tax collectors.

    I work hard for safer roads and a safer driving environment because I love to drive and I want to get there efficiently and safely. I have well over 1 million miles of driving experience in 21 major countries and have studies these issues for over 50 years. I testify frequently about pending legislation, and my testimony tends to mirror that of our state police whenever we both testify on a bill.

    Draconian enforcement for profits is NOT the answer.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

    • Jon Geeting says:

      But why the focus on just driving safety? What about pedestrian safety? That’s what I care about. Pedestrian deaths are a huge problem, and one important reason is that the built environment radically over-represents the interests of private cars. In the most heavily populated areas, there’s a direct trade-off between fast driving speeds and pedestrian safety, and more broadly, pedestrian convenience.

  12. It is NOT safer to put up 30 mph signs on roads where the actual 85th percentile approach speeds are 40-45 mph. It gives pedestrians, bicyclists and even vehicle drivers a totally false sense of security, and tends to degrade safety overall.

    Again, if a community insists on lower actual travel speeds on Road X, then the only fair and effective solution is to degrade the roadway environment so that most drivers no longer find it safe and comfortable at the current speed levels.

    The way America has developed with urban sprawl (Good or bad it is the reality.) makes commuting a way of life for a huge percentage of people. Gridlock is not acceptable to those people or to our economic development.

    Smart cities engineer a small percentage of their main roads to be car-friendly so they carry the bulk of the commuting and commercial traffic. The same is true for highways. Posting Interstates and other equivalent freeways with true 85th percentile limits will draw more traffic off the roughly parallel surface highways where the fatality rates are two to four times higher per mile traveled.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I’m not saying we should put 30 mph signs on roads engineered for comfort in the 40-45 mph range. I’m saying that we should reduce the level of service for cars on most streets in heavily populated areas so that the comfort zone is around 20-30 mph. I don’t think urban areas have a responsibility to engineer their streets for commuters who don’t live there. Commuting into a city should be relatively inconvenient, to nudge people toward transit or living in the same city where they work. There will always be some wider arterials, and we should discourage speeding on those roads with red-light cameras, speed cameras and radar guns for local police. If people find it a bit inconvenient to drive in cities as a result, good. My political goal is to reduce the mode share for private cars, and increase the mode share for buses, bikes and walking in PA’s most populous areas.

  13. For Mr. Geeting’s method to succeed, we needed MAJOR changes in urban planning policies almost 70 years ago as WWII was coming to an end to stop urban sprawl before it really occurred. It didn’t happen and changing that now is not practical.

    Most major cities in the USA do not have enough affordable housing, good schools, and public transport systems in walking range to eliminate most commuters. Ann Arbor has about 120,000 permanent population and about 70,000 daily commuters. There is no practical way to change this.

    Sharp reductions in the level of service on major commercial and commuting routes will lead to gridlock in many urban areas – a result that no one will or should tolerate.

    Thanks for the good discussion, Mr. Geeting. I think we understand each other and other readers have had a clear set of ideas and principles expressed for their understanding.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

    • Jon Geeting says:

      It is completely possible to retrofit our inner ring suburbs and central cities for infill development and mixed uses. It’s absolutely not true that there is nothing we can do to reduce the mode share of private cars, and make communities more walkable and better-served by transit. Car traffic is like a gas that expands to fill whatever space it is given. If we reduce the amount of road space allocated to private cars and increase it for transit and pedestrians, and stop mandating parking for housing and businesses, over time people will adjust their transportation and housing choices accordingly.

  14. And many cities that do NOT have the affordable open or poorly utilized space to do this will see many of their businesses move to the suburbs where there IS land and affordable housing and where the “you-must-stop-driving” folks do not control the government.

    SOME places can make changes, I agree. Most cannot to any material degree.

    The reason that Ann Arbor has so many commuters is that the city is an expensive place to live in any housing, and there is no way lower level employees can even afford to rent family housing here.

    Also, for families that want the 2,000 square foot 3-4 bedroom house with a big yard for the kids — there are some in Ann Arbor, they start at prices far above most people’s budget. But there are a lot of such homes in surrounding communities, places that are pleasant communities with good services.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

    • Jon Geeting says:

      That sounds to me like Ann Arbor needs to build more housing in the core. That is how supply and demand works. If they build more infill housing, the price per unit will come down.

  15. A June 2008 report from NHTSA www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pubs/810968.pdf

    Page 10-Pedestrian deaths were 11% of the total in 2006, down from 13% in 1997.

    Page 10-There is one pedestrian crash death for about each 70 million miles walked. This is a bit higher, but not greatly so, than the just-over one death per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

    Page 10-Pedestrians have a higher possibility to be killed in a non-speeding condition than in speeding conditions based on fatality per crash.

    Page 11- The pedestrian fatality rate per vehicle mile traveled has declined as a longer term trend.

    Is the likelihood of a pedestrian deats higher when actual travel speeds are higher? Sure. It is more dangerous to be hit at 50 mph than 30, that is simple physics – whether in a vehicle or as a pedestrian.

    But to focus on “speed” as the major cause here, or to suggest that we are not making progress on pedestrian fatalities as we are in vehicle ones — is simply not true.

    Does it mean we should stop trying to do better? NO. But does it mean we should strangle our cities that depend upon their commuters for prosperity? NO.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Cities don’t depend on commuters for prosperity. There is no economic cost to making car traffic slower and safer within and approaching cities. If the convenience cost is too high, people will switch to transit. Traffic congestion presents its own costs, and it would be better if fewer people commuted in by private car.

  16. The available room to build is small and the prices are very high for both land and labor. The only significant expansion has been for student housing AND some luxury condos downtown for employees of companies like Google that can afford them.

    In some of the lower cost towns 20-25 miles away, the cost per square foot of house is perhaps half that of Ann Arbor for equivalent quality.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Existing short buildings can always be replaced with taller ones. Vacant lots and surface parking lots can always be filled in with buildings. Taxing land value instead of buildings would help push down the cost of land. There are all kinds of things that can be done to build more infill housing in the places where demand is highest.

  17. You are talking about massive societal changes that simply will not occur in most places.

    I work for practical solutions that can actually be implemented.

    James C. Walker, Life Member, National Motorists Association

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Not massive societal changes – small gradual changes that add up to big changes over time. Zoning and tax policy changes make for incremental change over decades. But people first have to decide on the broad direction we want our cities to go. I’m working to promote more walkable places with good transit connections where land use and street policies are made for people who live in town, and convenience for private car drivers who live out of town is a few steps below pedestrians and buses/rail cars on the hierarchy of importance.

  18. The goals are noble. The practicalities are very low for most of the USA.

    Thanks for a good discussion, I am signing off because we are just repeating ourselves. Readers have enough information they can decide which side of the discussion they favor.

    Do note that I too believe in walkable downtowns, pedestrian malls, decent in-town transit, etc. But I also believe in making it convenient for commuters and shoppers who don’t live downtown to enjoy those areas as well. Halifax, England where my wife was born does a FINE job with a great and walkable downtown, and enough parking places to accommodate shoppers from many miles away. They aggressively advertise the parking conveniences throughout the area – and it works.

    James C. Walker, Life Member-National Motorists Association