An inexpensive blue-light system mounted on traffic signals will help spot red-light runners, officials said.
By JOY POWELL, Star Tribune
Last update: April 18, 2008 - 12:28 AM
For the first time in Minnesota, Burnsville police are using new technology -- an inexpensive blue-light system mounted on traffic signals - to spot red-light runners, who cause most of the serious crashes, officials said Thursday.
In February, the "enforcement lights" were mounted on signal poles at two busy Hwy. 13 intersections. The bright blue lights, placed at 90-degree angles on the poles, activate when the signal turns red. It is visible to officers parked nearby but not to approaching traffic.
"We're excited about it," Police Chief Bob Hawkins said Thursday. "We'll be able to put it to good use."
Typically, two officers would work together to nab red-light violators, with one officer radioing ahead to the other. When an officer works solo, he or she would often have to tail the motorist and run the light as well, Hawkins said. The new method is much safer, he said, for police and motorists.
The technology has been installed at intersections on Hwy. 13 and County Roads 5 and 11, where big trucks and others whip by in zones marked 50 and 55 miles per hour.
Signs warn approaching motorists of a "Red Light Violation Reduction Site."
Hwy. 13 and County Road 5 is the second-busiest intersection in the metro with about 70,000 vehicles a day, Hawkins said. On Thursday morning, in one five-minute period alone, Hawkins saw eight drivers run a red light at that intersection.
Within a month, city officials plan to install another enforcement light at Nicollet Avenue and Burnsville Parkway to better protect pedestrians, said Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, who led the news conference.
Two pedestrians were killed in the past 18 months at County Road 11 and Hwy. 13, though neither involved red-light violations.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation worked with Burnsville and Dakota County to install the technology, which is already reducing crashes in Florida, Texas and Nevada.
(Bloomington is considering the use of a similar system.)
In one Florida intersection, a three-month evaluation found a 50-percent decrease in red-light violations and an 11 percent decrease in crashes. Police issued 519 tickets there with the new system.
Still, Hawkins and others said the priority is not to write tickets but to save lives.
Burnsville averaged 950 crashes a year from 2002 through 2006, with 38 percent of them at intersections. Of those 360 crashes per year, about 70 percent were right-angle crashes at signal intersections -- and most likely involved red-light runners, officials said.
The new enforcement is one way to help Minnesota pursue its program "Toward Zero Deaths," which involves many agencies working together, said Ray Starr, assistant traffic engineer for the state Department of Transportation.
In addition to enforcement, the state is engineering safer roads, educating people about risky driving behavior such as drunken driving or not using a seat belt, and also strengthening emergency responses that can prevent a crash from turning fatal, Starr said.
The lights cost $1,000 for each four-way intersection -- a price that will quickly pay for itself as police are able to reduce from two to one the number of officers needed to stake out a red light area, said Kautz and Hawkins.
"There is a tremendous issue with these red-light violators being the primary cause of severe crashes," said Howard Preston, senior transportation engineer with CH2MHill, a traffic consulting firm in Mendota Heights.
"There's almost nothing you can do at a signalized intersection for $1,000 that will have this much of a positive effect in reducing crashes," he said.
Burnsville had planned to institute "Photo-Cop" cameras to catch red-light runners, but the Legislature banned them, Kautz said, so the city turned to enforcement lights.
Burnsville received an $8,000 grant from the Minnesota Local Research Board for the project.