Will the program further fuel racial disparities?
When you’re at any Minneapolis intersection controlled by traffic lights, you may see vehicles speed up and cross just after the light turns red. They’re red-light runners, and perhaps they’re also speeding as well. It’s resulted in a deadly rise in crashes not just in Minneapolis, but throughout the state as well.
“Sometimes people go 70-plus miles per hour on a city street… Driver speeding is our number-one factor contributing to severe and fatal crashes in the city,” said Minneapolis Vision Zero Coordinator Ethan Fawley.
The city hopes to get approval from the state to clamp down on those deaths by installing cameras to track the license plates of vehicles that speed, and perhaps run red lights. City staff say the cameras would only photograph the license plates of the violating vehicles, not faces. Those who own the vehicles that are caught running red lights or speeding will receive a $40 citation akin to a parking ticket, or a warning if their vehicle did it for the first time.
Fawley says the program is not intended to be a cash cow for the city. Violators could waive one of the fines by taking a traffic safety course. And if they never pay and constantly re-offend, the city can only take a maximum of $84 in outstanding fines to collections.
Minneapolis has tried to use cameras to enforce red-light running before. But the state Supreme Court struck it down in 2007 citing state law, which did not allow cities to establish their traffic enforcement camera program. It did not rule the use of traffic enforcement cameras unconstitutional.
The city of Minneapolis is lobbying the state legislature to change the law to allow their speed enforcement—and perhaps red-light running—programs to take effect as early as next summer. “The city will conduct an analysis to inform camera locations that look at crashes, speeds, and other factors, equity, and other potential treatments,” said Fawley, who adds they will also conduct community engagement on where the cameras will be placed.
Studies on traffic enforcement cameras have shown mixed results. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found cameras that enforce red lights decreased the fatal crash rate at all signalized intersections, regardless of location, by 14 percent, and 21 percent in larger cities. A study in the “Ain Shams Engineering Journal” found speed enforcement cameras in Qatar reduced speeding from seven to 15 percent.
However, a study conducted by three Phoenix-area doctors and two University of Arizona students published in the “Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine” found speed enforcement cameras had a negative effect on vehicle collisions. A 26-mile roadway segment that had speed enforcement cameras still had an increase in collisions before and after cameras were introduced and removed, though the crash rate was less than that of a 14-mile segment that never had cameras installed or removed.
The transportation advocacy organization Our Streets Minneapolis is also worried that the program will further fuel racial disparities. Many of the city’s intersections where crashes, red-light running, and speeding happen are in neighborhoods where people of color and low-income people are more likely to live. The organization pointed out these neighborhoods also are more likely to have highways and wide boulevards that foster speeding. Consequently, anyone who lives in those neighborhoods is more likely to drive fast because of how the roads are set up.
University of Minnesota student Nia Prayer believes the city should work on addressing its infrastructure so people don’t have to drive fast to get around. “The streets were set up like that [with wide, fast-moving traffic] before [low-income people and people of color] moved in. And they had no control over that. The focus should be…fixing the Metro [Transit] system, making that more reliable, and then also changing the streets. If that doesn’t work, the last option should be the cameras,” said Prayer.
If approved, the cameras might not enforce transit-only lanes, such as the red-painted lanes on Lake Street in Longfellow and 7th Street downtown. Legislators may amend the pending bill to allow cities to use traffic cameras to enforce transit-only lanes. Longer-term, the city plans to redesign streets to foster slower driving, with the help of a $20 million grant they received from the federal government in December.