Councilman Kevin Flynn Votes Against Denver’s Red Light Camera Program

Despite marked reductions in red light running and crashes since Denver PD began enforcing the law with unmanned cameras in 2008, City Councilman Kevin Flynn isn’t ready to commit to the program long-term. He voted against a new contract with Xerox, the contractor Denver PD uses for the program, at a committee meeting on safety Wednesday.

The contract would expand the red light camera program beyond the four intersections it covers now, and provide more nimble cameras that Denver PD can easily move from intersection to intersection. The contract Flynn voted against also covers the city’s speed camera program, which enforces speeding at 150 locations with a heavy focus near schools and parks.

City Councilman Kevin Flynn.

Flynn’s colleagues voted to send the contract on to a full legislative session. He held out because he wants to give drivers more time to stop with a longer yellow light, effectively giving them a better chance of avoiding fines.

Denver PD officers presented data showing that after an initial drop in red-light running, drivers adapt to a longer yellow signal and just begin running reds again — even though they have more time to stop. It wasn’t good enough for Flynn. Drivers are speeding, he said, and red light cameras should account for that.

“If we make this [longer yellow light] commitment and stop giving $75 tickets to people who are just driving normally, but they’re caught because we’re using the posted speed limit as our guide instead of how fast people are actually going — people have to stop from how fast they’re going, not how fast we wish they were going — I could support this.”

But the point of speed cameras and red light cameras is to make streets safer for everyone by changing drivers’ behavior, not catering to it.

“Our purpose is to change people’s driving habits, whether it involves speeding or red light running,” said Ted Porras, Denver PD’s photo enforcement unit supervisor. “As Denver continues to work on becoming a more wallkable, bikeable, and safe environment for residents and all transportation modes… photo enforcement becomes a more important tool in traffic safety and acts as a force multiplier.”

Denver only has red light cameras at four intersections citywide: 6th and Lincoln, 8th and Speer, 6th and Kalamath, and 36th and Quebec. The program is “quite small” compared to other cities, Porras said. But it works. Before Denver PD launched red light cameras in 2008, those intersections averaged 76 crashes a year at legs where the cameras would later be placed. According to Denver Public Works, as of 2015, those legs averaged 39 crashes — and that’s with an exponential increase in traffic [PDF].

Denver is a Vision Zero city, which means ending traffic deaths and serious injuries is the priority. Engineering is crucial to reaching that goal — as Councilman Jolon Clark said Wednesday, intersections need to be redesigned “to keep bicyclists and pedestrians alive.” But enforcing laws that protect people from dangerous driving is also an important tool. Vision Zero is about saving people’s lives, not saving reckless drivers money.