By Ryan Morgan, Boulder Daily Camera
November 27, 2006
Smile when you run that red light. In the near future, the chances of a camera catching you lead-footed will increase in Boulder.

The city plans next year to expand both its photo-radar program, which automatically detects speeders, and its red-light photo program, which snaps pictures of motorists running traffic lights.

Right now, the city has six red-light cameras. By the end of 2007, traffic engineers plan to add two more.

The city's fleet of photo radar vans will be doubled - to two - by midyear, said Bill Cowern, a city traffic engineer.

Boulder installed its first two red-light cameras at 28th Street and Arapahoe Avenue in 1998. Others followed at Table Mesa Drive at Foothills Parkway, and Valmont Road at 47th Street.

"The photo red-light cameras have shown to be tremendous successes in reducing red-light-running accidents, as well as reducing red-light violations over time," Cowern said. "They have been a significant safety benefit in the city, and we find it very easy to support putting more of those devices up there if we can find good locations."

Recent numbers aren't available, but a 2002 city study found the cameras reduced red-light accidents by 57 percent at the intersections where they're installed.

Traffic engineers haven't decided where to put the next cameras, and finding good intersections for them can be tricky.

Engineers don't want to put them just anywhere, because the devices also have a tendency to increase rear-end collisions as drivers trying to avoid a ticket slam on their brakes at the last second.

So, Cowern said, engineers need to find intersections that see a significant number of accidents caused by people running red lights. Installing cameras should reduce those more-serious accidents, making it worth the cost of a few more rear-end collisions.

Boulder's single photo-radar van hasn't had the same kind of impact. People tend to stop speeding for the van only if they know it's there, Cowern said, and that only happens if the van stays in one place long enough to scare people into slowing down.

The city will add a second van to its fleet next year and will hire additional employees to staff it and collect revenue from the tickets the system produces.

When photo radar started to become widespread about a decade ago, its opponents were many. Now, opposition seems to be waning.

The American Automobile Association once criticized the use of photo radar. But Eric Escudero, a spokesman for Denver's AAA branch, said the organization now backs programs like Boulder's.