Sunday, April 01, 2007

BUS STORY # 27 (Intersection)

A month had gone by since I started taking the early bus, and Dan* [Bus Story # 6, parts 1, 2, 3, 4.] looked to be another casualty of the schedule change. I missed his wonky take on things.

But one afternoon, after climbing aboard the outbound Lomas bus going up to Turner, I found Dan grinning at me from the bench seat behind the driver. “I thought we’d lost you,” I said. He said he’d been alternating between taking the later bus and having his wife drive him in. The later bus wasn’t really cutting it, and the early bus was just too early. “Man, that’s an extra 20 minutes sleep out of each morning.”

After swapping our schedule-change woes, a trip through the intersection of Lomas and Juan Tabo got us back to normal. “See those cameras?” he said, pointing to what looked like a giant metal birdhouse mounted on a steel pole. “This is one of those red light camera intersections.” I’d read all about them. There were a dozen or so of these intersections scattered around the city which photographed the license plates of drivers either running red lights or speeding through the intersections.

“Fifteen,” Dan corrected me. “And they aren’t scattered.” Turns out a few of his coworkers had decided to do a little extracurricular analysis of the program. One of the data folks began with a map of the distribution points. Dan asked him what this map told them. He answered that wasn’t his job; he was just the data guy. Dan laughed. “Government workers.” Dan didn’t think of himself as one of them, of course.

The group correlated the distribution points with the intersections that were, one, the busiest, and two, had the highest number of accidents. “So what does that tell you?” he asked me. “That they’re trying to reduce the number of accidents.” He smiled. “Or that they’re trying to maximize income.”

“Income” was a hundred bucks for the first ticket, $250 for the second, $500 for the third and over. Dan cited some numbers that suggested the city was making a killing on these tickets. “But that just proves drivers here are irresponsible,” I countered. I also thought it proved drivers here weren’t real bright since they kept getting tickets, but I kept that to myself.

Dan went for the coup de grâce. The group took a field trip to several of the intersections and timed the duration of the yellow light. Sure enough, they found some interesting discrepancies. “People learn how much yellow light time they have at a frequently-used intersection, then use that learned response at other intersections where the timing is different. When that time is shorter, the city makes a hundred bucks. Or more.”

I wanted to know if there were any stats yet about the impact on accident rates, but we’d come to my home stop. Before the schedule change, we would have resumed the debate in the next day or two. But it’s been another month or so now, and I haven’t seen him since. However, I have seen the laser flashes in the Lomas/Juan Tabo intersection every morning on my way to work. Another reason to take comfort from riding the bus.


From the city website:

In 2006, accidents in the City of Albuquerque were down 8% citywide and 30-40% at red-light camera enforced intersections. In addition, the Albuquerque Fire Department reports a 23% decrease in Level 1 trauma calls at red-light camera enforced intersections. The great news, with violations being down by as much as 50-70% at the oldest red-light camera intersections lives, money and time are being saved by this successful traffic initiative.

Also from the city website:

How could I request that someone check the timing of the yellow going westbound at Montano and Coors? I use the intersection all the time and do not believe the yellow is anywhere close to 3 seconds.

Please contact City Traffic Engineering at 857-8680 as they can handle that request.


*Real name changed.


Anonymous redorgreen said...

From the Dec 07 NM Marketplace: "After running a red light in Nottingham, England, a man noticed a traffic camera at the intersection. So he went and got a power saw to cut the camera down. After his arrest for removing the device, he was told it hadn't recorded his traffic infraction in the first place."

6:14 AM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Thanks for the great post. Like your New Mexican nickname, too.

6:09 AM  

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