Red-light camera era begins

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June 13, 2005 // UPDATED 1:55 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Four Downtown intersections on list for $130 tickets

Minneapolis Police switched on their first red-light camera June 7. It triggered the start of the 30-day grace period.

Owners of vehicles that run red lights will get a warning letter. It will direct them to a city Web site where they can watch a video clip of the violation.

Starting July 8, the city will start issuing the $130 tickets to offenders.

The first camera has an eye on the West Broadway & Lyndale Avenue North intersection, tracking vehicles westbound on Broadway. It is the first of 16 cameras planned for 12 city intersections.

The city chose four Downtown intersections for the first round of cameras:

- North 3rd Street & 2nd Avenue North (near a westbound entrance to I-394)

- South 9th Street & Park Avenue (by

Centre Village)

- South 8th Street & 5th Avenue South (a block south of the Hennepin County Medical Center)

- North 11th Street & Hennepin Avenue South (by the northern end of Laurel Village).

The city will post a "photo enforced" sign in advance of the intersection, warning drivers the camera is watching. It has published the list of targeted intersections and created a Web site to explain the system: www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/stoponred.

The city made no effort to hide the cameras. They are clearly visible, a large shiny silver box on top of a post.

City leaders held a news conference announcing the first camera was operational. Police Chief Bill McManus said the purpose of the program was not to punish, but to reduce accidents.

Some have questioned whether the program is a city effort to raise more ticket revenue.

The city has a contract with Redflex Traffic Systems to run the program. The city leases the cameras for approximately $5,000 per camera per month, or $965,000 annually, said Lt. Greg Reinhardt, who has spearheaded the project for the Police Department.

The Department should know in three to four months whether the cameras have helped reduce accidents, he said. It should know by year's end whether the city would break even on the cameras as expected, or whether it would cost money or raise money.

"As it goes along, we should see fewer violations," Reinhardt said.

Bruce Higgins, Redflex president and CEO, explained how the system works. Workers have buried a pair of inductive coils in the street near the target intersection. The coils detect the presence and speed of passing cars. The computer knows when the light is about to turn red and the system calculates whether passing cars would run a red light. If so, it triggers what Higgins calls "a capture sequence."

The cameras take three pictures, he said. The first shows the light has turned red before the vehicle enters the intersection. The second shows the car in the intersection on a red light. The third shows a close up of the license plate.

The camera also takes the 12-second video, Higgins said. The technology will even display how many seconds the light was red when the driver drove through.

Redflex staff will forward information on the violation to the police, who make the final decision whether or not to issue a ticket.

At Broadway & Lyndale, the system only monitors the traffic westbound on Broadway. Some intersections will have multiple cameras.

Asked about people who might try to beat the system with some kind of license-plate hiding device, Higgins and Reinhardt said don't try it.

Sprays simply don't work, Higgins said.

Reinhardt said anything that tries to block the camera reading the license plate is illegal. A mechanical device might block the camera, but "when you get T-boned, what good is it?" he said.

If someone tries a device to block the license plate, the police could ticket him or her for an equipment violation. The $100 fine is less than the ticket for running a red light, but the likelihood of getting caught is greater. Police could ticket the person anywhere in the city.