In St. Pete, seeing red over short yellow lights - FOX 13 News

In St. Pete, seeing red over short yellow lights

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There's a glaring new question about red light cameras in St.Petersburg -- only the focus is now on the yellow light, and whether it's cheating drivers out of precious time.

The St. Petersburg City Council saw the evidence at their meeting Thursday.

Here is the issue: You approach an intersection and you think you have four seconds to get through. But what happens if the yellow light only lasts three seconds? You get a ticket anyway.

And that may be happening hundreds of times a year.

The issue of short-cycling yellow traffic lights came up at Thursday's St. Petersburg City Council meeting, and one council member proposed action.

"I will be putting forward a new business item that we increase yellow light times," said council man Charles Gerdes.

Meanwhile, the mayor suspended plans for more red light cameras, claiming the current ones are already changing driver behaviors.

"If it is in fact working, I don't know that more is going to make it work any better," Mayor Bill Foster said.

And city traffic engineers are taking a hard look at their sophisticated equipment, looking for an explanation.

"It does give us pause to make sure that that's the answer and that something else isn't happening out there that we -- or really any other traffic engineers in florida and throughout the united states -- haven't seen happen," said transportation director Joe Kubicki.

And the discussion came about because a private citizen with a focused interest came back with more data.

"This is far from an isolated incident," Matt Florell told the council.

Florell poured through thousands of red light camera citations, and discovered the yellow light sometimes comes up short.

For example, he pointed to a photo of a van that was ticketed. The photo shows it crossed the stop bar one-tenth of a second into the red light.

The yellow light was one-tenth of a second too short.

"It happened 1,645 times in the first 13 months of the program," Florell said.

Florell claims some intersections with cameras have no problems, and some have a lot -- and the variances in yellow times are not always the same.

It's the sort of thing that drives engineers nuts, and not for the first time.

"Some of the things that Matt has brought up, previously we've brought to statewide safety meetings," Kubicki told the council.

In fact, Kubicki admits St. Pete Police no longer sign off on drivers who are only one-tenth of a second into a red.

"I would consider that a victory. That's something I've been asking for since the beginning," Florell said.

Florell calls those "eye-blink citations," because it takes 3-tenths of a second to blink.

The moral of the story: there's nothing unusual about the traffic equipment used in St. Petersburg.

So if short yellow light exist, the best practice might be stop on yellow.

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