Good News….(for a change)…

OK, it’s late on a friday, and a hurricane is bearing down on us, and no one wants to hear about traffic safety, but here goes anyway.

Who’s already got the safest roads in the world? Guess  what… WE DO!

Alternative graph (in response to David's comments)

[The original, more confusing graph has been removed (8/28/2011 ..RC]

(US State with the lowest fatalities)– that’s us, 0.7 in Massachusets. Next comes England (0.81) and Germany (1.06). OK, Iceland beats us by a bit (.63), but the fact is that Massachusetts is just about the world leader in traffic safety.

That’s something to cellebrate.

It’s also something to think about as we consider ill-advised plans like

H.918 a general authorization for cities, towns or political subdivisions to set up red-light cameras and speed cameras.

H.1799 a similar authorization for “automated road safety camera systems.”

Sometimes it’s just better to leave things alone – Red light cameras increase rear-end collisions, why endager our safety record for the potential of a couple bucks?

For those of you still inclined to cite death and dismemberment on the highways, please see the following (also, just a reminder, this historically low fatality rate is brought to you in part by RAISING THE SPEED LIMIT on our highways! (See 1995) — Speed Kills? Don’t think so… Time for a new slogan. Speed Saves lives.

Everyone enjoy the Hurricane, hopefully it’s only about as memorable as the earthquake.




How does this compare with other forms of transportation?


[note – 2009 was a bad year for air travel, 2008 is more historically representative]



Getting what you paid for?







17 replies on “Good News….(for a change)…”

  1. Rich, that is one weird-ass graphic. Counter to your claim that speed is safe, is Montana’s status as the least-safe US state, since they have little or no limits on highway speed. An awful lot of our vehicle miles are at a relatively low speed, just because there’s so many cars crammed into a tiny little space.

    I think that the Netherlands are also supposed to have very safe roads, but I cannot find per-passenger-mile figures. What I do find suggests that their traffic death rate per capita (2007 figures) is far lower than ours — 5 per 100,000 for the Dutch, 13 per 100,000 for us. I suspect that their low rate is a combination of safer roads, and less driving.

    I think you also have to be careful in your evaluation of red-light cameras — rear-end accidents at traffic lights are not exactly a big killer, even if they are hard on bumpers. As a sometime-cyclist who follows public opinion, I have learned that people think it is very, very, important that cyclists obey all traffic laws to the letter at all times, and if this is true for bicycles, then surely it must be even more true of larger, faster, and more dangerous (to other people) automobiles. So logically, red light cameras must be a great idea :-).

  2. Hi David – not sure what you mean by the graphic being “weird-ass”, but indeed, Montana is an oddity, but that’s what happens with statistics — take a large state, thinly populated and you can get numbers like that.

    The comparison should be to places with similar infrastructure/population, thus the comparison to west Europe – note that Germany also has no speed limits, has loads of people and a wide disparity between vehicles – sounds like a day on the Mass Pike, and their rate is similar to the US.

    The other problem with arguing the individual stats is that they’re not over a time-span. When dealing with small numbers of fatalities, even a minor change can cause a large change. Consider a town with one fatality in a year. The next year you get two, that’s a 100% increase. In reality, the increase in numbers is very small and if those two people were in the same car the fatality rate per vehicle (not per person) hold steady.

    Re the per-capta statistic, it’s just not relevant. I’m sure the per-capita highway fatality rate in Afghanistan is also quite low because (a) no highways and (b) no one owns cars. The fatality rate needs to be in correlation with miles driven, or it’s meaningless. While I could not find the figure for Denmark (the Netherlands) in miles, I did find the figure per Billion KM:

    US: 8.5
    Denmark: 8.2

    Not significantly different given the relative size difference of the populations.
    (seems to be fairly recent, but there is some mixing of years)

    Re red lights, I won’t go into it here. If you want the entire saga of how red-light camera companies make their money by forcing shorter yellow lights, please read here:

    You’ll also find a list of communities and states that have learned their lesson the hard way through increased accidents and at a high financial cost.

    BTW, I’m not sure of the connection, but following your concept on cyclists the other way, I’d support the licensing of bicycles, require classes, have them subject to yearly inspection, registration, give everyone a required reflective Jersey with a big number on it that you’d be required to (a) pay for each year and (b) wear all the time etc. Somehow, I’m not sure cyclists would find it that attractive…..

    OK, conversation’s getting snarky now, but I’ll stop but not with re-listing the communities smart enough to toss out ATS and their like:


    Photo enforcement has never survived when the question is put directly to voters. On Election Day last year, cameras were banned in Houston, Texas; Baytown, Texas; Anaheim, California; Garfield Heights, Ohio; and Mukilteo, Washington by votes of up to 73 percent against. In May 2010, 61 percent of Sykesville, Maryland voters overturned a speed camera ordinance. In 2009, eighty-six percent of Sulphur, Louisiana rejected speed cameras, 72 percent said no in Chillicothe, Ohio; Heath, Ohio and College Station, Texas also rejected cameras. In 2008, residents in Cincinnati, Ohio rejected red light cameras. Seventy-six percent of Steubenville, Ohio voters rejected photo radar in 2006. In the mid-1990s, speed cameras lost by a two-to-one margin in Peoria, Arizona and Batavia, Illinois. In 1997, voters in Anchorage, Alaska banned cameras even after the local authorities had removed them. In 2003, 64 percent of voters in Arlington, Texas voted down “traffic management cameras” that opponents at the time said could be converted into ticketing cameras.

    Need more reasons to say “no” — check out these references:

    Accidents Decrease After Red Light Cameras Removed
    May 11, 2011
    It has been five months since Houstonians voted against the use of red light cameras and to the surprise of Houston police administrators, accidents at these lights have decreased 16%. (
    In the five months after Houston voters forced city officials to turn off a camera surveillance system that fined motorists for running red lights, traffic accidents at those 50 intersections with 70 cameras have decreased 16 percent, according to recently released data.

    April 11, 2011 — North Carolina Just says no to Red Light Cameras
    A bill to ban red-light cameras from the state breezed through the Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday morning with no opposition.
    Sen. Don East, R-Surry, the bill’s primary sponsor, said as a former city cop in Winston-Salem he has always opposed the cameras. Now he wants to ban them.
    No officials from the city of Wilmington, which operates 13 red-light cameras, attended the committee hearing. No committee members spoke against the proposal.
    Star News

    L.A.’s red-light camera experiment appears to be coming to an end
    Published: Thursday, June 9, 2011 1:27 AM MDT
    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Officials expressed doubt Wednesday that the city council would take the rare step of intervening in a police oversight board’s decision to discontinue the city’s red-light traffic camera program. Los Angeles will become the largest U.S. city to join a national backlash against photo-enforcement programs.

    Rome GA Red Light Cameras Discontinued, Not Lucrative Enough
    The Rome City Manager is quoted as saying, “We covered our costs, but we didn’t cover theirs.” In other words, the city simply wasn’t able to collect enough fines from the cameras in order for the company to see a continued contract to be worth their while.
    Redflex also declined to renew contracts with Thomasville, Brunswick, and Bennet.

    City Pulls Plug on Red-light Cameras (Loma Linda CA Dec 2010)
    It was a failed experiment that many in the city of Loma Linda are glad has reached its end.
    Unexpected costs and negative community reaction doomed the city’s red light enforcement program, which had guarded four intersections until this month, when city officials decided to let their five-year-old contract with Redflex Traffic Systems expire. Loma Linda officials said the cameras did not impact traffic in their city, as they had hoped. By the end of the contract, the city owed Redflex several hundred thousand dollars, Peterson said. “The only way to alleviate the burden was to allow the contract to expire,” Peterson said. “In making their decision on the issue, the city council took this into consideration.”…”We are a camera-free zone,” Mayor Rhodes Rigsby said.

    Red light camera program discontinued in Jefferson Parish (Louisiana)
    Harahan : LA : USA | Jan 27, 2010 BY George Vieto 10
    Jefferson Parish Council President Chris Roberts announced Wednesday that due to “consultants” profiting from the revenues made from the money made by motorists who ran past red lights in Jefferson Parish the controversial red light traffic cameras that were placed in various intersections in Jefferson Parish would be discontinued effective at 1:00pm CST. The Jefferson Parish council voted unanimously discontinue the program on Wednesday and at the council meeting they will order the cameras removed from the traffic lights as soon as possible

    Council Pulls Plug on Red Light Cameras (Washington City Missouri)
    Washington City Council members voted Monday to end a three-year “experiment” of using cameras to catch violators who run red lights at two major intersections.
    The 6-to-2 vote to not renew the contract with American Traffic Solutions (ATS) came after a lengthy discussion even though it was clear early on that opponents had more than enough votes to kill the program.Rhodes said a “scatter diagram” of the causes of crashes outlined in the study shows that “85 percent” were caused by people following too close and inattention. He cited studies by “two colleges” which concluded that red light cameras aren’t a solution but do create accidents. “We put the lights in and continue to fleece people,” Rhodes said of the red light camera tickets. He was critical of ATS which he alleged has made campaign contributions to candidates who are proponents of red light cameras. He said with ATS “it’s really about profits,” not safety.

    Carolinas move to forbid ticket, speed cameras (April 2011)
    By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor
    A year ago, lawmakers approved legislation that requires tickets based solely on photos to be issued in person within an hour of the alleged violation.
    State lawmakers in South Carolina and North Carolina are now moving forward with efforts to put a stop to the use of cameras to enforce speed limits and traffic-light violations.
    In an effort to apply the brakes on a potential speed trap, the South Carolina Senate voted to approve a bill that is intended to put a stop to one town’s use of speed cameras.
    OOIDA leadership is encouraged to see legislative efforts to apply the brakes to use of the enforcement tool. The Association believes the focus on ticket cameras ignores the more logical and reasoned approach to roads and traffic. “The goal should be to keep traffic moving in as safe a manner as possible,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said.
    Spencer said communities would be better served to pursue “intelligent traffic lights that actually monitor traffic and are triggered by traffic flow.”

    Maine bans use of photo enforcement cameras
    June 29, 2009 Maine has enacted a law banning the use of red-light and speed cameras for traffic enforcement. A motivation for the law was the possibility that vehicle owners rather than drivers could be cited. The new law does not apply to the use of cameras that enforce highway toll payments.

    Arizona to discontinue speed camera program
    May 7, 2010 The state of Arizona is discontinuing its speed camera program. Redflex, the company providing the speed cameras, announced that its current contract will not be renewed. Although the contract runs through early 2011, Arizona will turn off the cameras on July 15th. Napolitano envisioned a system of up to 100 cameras that would generate $90 million in revenue a year. But the idea of the cameras as moneymakers drew strong criticism, and they did not meet revenue projections. After Brewer became governor last year, she appointed a new DPS director, Robert Halliday, who said photo enforcement’s reputation was damaged from the start after Napolitano publicly touted the program as a revenue generator.

    State orders red light cameras removed (New Mexico)
    Updated: Thursday, 18 Mar 2010, 5:22 PM MDT
    Published : Thursday, 18 Mar 2010, 5:22 PM MDT
    ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The state is ordering the city of Albuquerque to take down red light cameras at five intersections saying they’re not convinced the cameras make the streets safer.
    “The state transportation commission felt strongly that there is no clear cut evidence that they actually make the roads safer,” New Mexico Department of Transportation Spokesperson Mark Slimp said.Studies that say yes you may stop one kind of accident of inadvertently cause another when people slam on their brakes to not get a ticket,” Slimp said. Slimp said there are too many studies with conflicting information.

    In a 4-1 vote, the City Council gave the initial OK to repeal the red-light camera program.
    Hialeah City (FL) Council has given the preliminary OK to end the city’s red-light camera program, which issues civil citations to drivers caught on camera running through intersections.

    Red-light cameras in Schaumburg Il screech to a halt (2009)
    Critics say Schaumburg was more interested in collecting ticket money than improving safety…Schaumburg has called the whole thing off, citing no improvements in safety and a flood of angry-motorist grief, after red-light cameras at the village’s lone picture-snapping intersection netted more than $1 million in tickets. Bolingbrook turned off all its cameras in 2007

    Dallas Morning News – September 2009 – House votes to end Red Light Camera Use
    The House voted to end the use of cameras to catch drivers who run red lights. The cameras are in use by several North Texas cities, including Dallas, Garland, Plano, Richardson and Frisco. Opponents of the cameras argue that cities use them to raise revenue through tickets. They also say the cameras increase rear-end collisions and encroach on motorists’ privacy rights.

    Lubbock discontinues red light cameras after accidents increase 52% at intersections with cameras (Feb 2008)
    Lubbock is giving us some interesting insights on how many cities view red light cameras. They recently received a report on the first 6 months of operation. The results are so bad, the committee charged with overseeing the program is recommending it be discontinued. It is apparent that the cameras are not really improving public safety. Accidents at intersections with cameras are up by 52% while accidents at other intersections are down by 2.7%. The number of injuries is down, but one commenter on the study said that could be due to a number of factors, including the number of passengers in each vehicle. Right out of the gate, their program seems to be failing, and deserves to be discontinued.

    Accidents up near red-light cameras
    Kevin Roderick • November 10 2009 9:53 AM

    CBS 2?s David Goldstein and team got the data from the city and found that instead of fewer accidents, the number of traffic accidents has gone up at most of the Los Angeles intersections where red-light cameras have been installed. The cities of Montclair, Upland, El Monte and Fullerton have discontinued red-light cameras in part because of accidents, says CBS 2. “Huntington Beach broke its contract before it even officially began.”

  3. BTW, Montana — no speed limit? You’re thinking back in the 90’s when the day-time speed limit was “Reasonable and Prudent”

    The speed limit is in fact 75 on the interstate and 70 on local highways (two lane) one lane in each direction.

    Read more:

    You got me wondering about the high rate in Montana and I found this article from 2008, it’s a bit outdated, but still applies:

    Worst States For Drunken Driving
    Samuel Warren, 11.20.08, 06:00 PM EST
    Where the yearly number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities per capita is highest.

    If you want to avoid liquored-up drivers this holiday season, steer clear of Montana.

    In 2007, the state reported 106 fatalities in crashes involving at least one driver who was legally drunk. That comes out to 11.1 drunken driving-related deaths that year for every 100,000 people living in the 957, 861-person state. What’s more, that number is up slightly; in 2006, Montana reported 10.9 drunken driving-related fatalities per capita. (note: MA is # 48 on the list, Drunken driving-related fatalities per 100,000 people in 2007: 2.26, only NY and Utah beat us (

    One reason: With less than a million citizens stretched across 146,000 square miles, Montana faces distinctly rural challenges.

    Mostt of travel in Montana is on rural roads,” says Jim Lynch, director of Montana’s Department of Transportation, head of its Highway Traffic Safety Office, and the governors’ representative for highway safety, “So most crashes involve speeds in excess of 55 miles per hour. A more urban state like Massachusetts has less than 6% of its drivers on rural roads–the majority of its traffic is in urban environments at slow speeds. We also have much longer emergency response times because of the distance; the average response time in Massachusetts is about 20 minutes, while in Montana it’s an hour and 20 minutes. So an accident in Montana is far more likely to be life-threatening.”

    SO.. lesson is, compare apples to apples, not MA to Montana.

  4. Rich,

    The graphic is peculiar because it looks like it might be a graph, but the datapoints are only ordered, not scaled, and the states and nations are ordered separately. If you don’t look carefully at the (blurry) numbers, you can get the wrong impression about relative safety.

    I think comparing to the Netherlands is appropriate because they are similarly wealthy; Afghanistan, not so. Driving less (by choice, not because they are poor) appears to be a life-saver. If we wanted to save lives without driving less, mandatory helmet laws for car drivers and passengers would help (this may sound like a snarky remark, but it is also a factual remark; automobiles are responsible for about half of all serious head injuries, and it’s been studied in Australia).

    My problem with all the stuff-for-cyclists-should-do-for-safety is that it places the safety burden on the non-dangerous people; bicycles are approximately harmless, and cars, despite registration, inspection, driver licensing, training, and many improvements over the years to both road and auto design, persistently kill thousands of people not in cars (pedestrians and cyclists). As a public health prescription, it would be a net loss, because the lives saved would be relatively small (not that many cyclists are killed in crashes) and it would tend to drive people away from cycling, which has substantial public-health benefits. The exercise benefit to the cyclist exceeds the crash risk by an estimated 10x; the mortality rate of bicycle commuters is 28% lower than that for non-bicycle commuters in Denmark, even after adjusting for other risk factors. Cyclists are far safer for other people than cars; it is how you would want all your neighbors to get around town in a place like Belmont, and it is quieter, which has been linked to reductions in blood pressure and stroke risk. All this is backed up by better statistics than yours, that take more care to avoid confounding factors (like the addition of ABS brakes, traction control, airbags, wider adoption, enforcement of, and compliance with seatbelt laws, more thorough driver training, and an apparent reduction in the percentage of young people getting their drivers’ licenses).

    The proposal to wear bright ugly clothing is not a good one. If we were sincerely interested in cyclist safety, as opposed to satisfying our own prejudices, we would find nations with good cyclist safety, and copy what they do. That would be (among others) the Netherlands. They ride bikes in ordinary clothing without helmets.

    However, I do agree that cyclist training would be a good thing (they do that in the Netherlands). Another things that helps a lot (in my opinion, at least for this country) is lights-on-always for bikes. This was more of a pain in the past, but modern LEDs and hub dynamos make this (potentially) less expensive, and not much of a physical burden to the cyclist. Lights-on-always has the two advantages that “always” includes “at night”, and it also leads you towards a foolproof design (batteries are not foolproof, since the fool forgets to charge or replace them). It makes you more visible, does not depend on someone else turning their lights on or aiming them correctly to paint your reflectors, and doesn’t involve funny looking “special cycling clothes”. You get on the bike, and go.

  5. Hi David – forgot to mention it, but thanks for commenting, lively discussion is always enjoyable.

    re the graph – apologies for the quality, it’s a scanned version of a printed piece and I could not find it online. The circles appear to be in proportion to the numbers, but I agree, a bar graph would have been more appropriate. The facts are that Massachusetts is perhaps one of the safest states in the US as far as roadways and compared with similar countries, our roads are already among the safest, my point being that further legislation (including red light cameras) seems inappropriate at this time.

    Re comparison with the Netherlands – I wholeheartedly agree – it’s an appropriate comparison, but only on the basis of fatalities per mile driven. This correlates actual use of the vehicle (time spent on the road) with fatalities. If you use per-capita fatalities in a country with the same type of infrastructure but less miles driven per person, it’s just not equivalent. The exposure to risk is much less so you’d anticipate a lower per-capita rate. Clearly, the numbers do show this – Denmark has a lower per-capita rate, but a very similar risk-exposure profile as expressed by the the billion-KM driven metric (8.2 v US’s 8.5).

    Re “modest proposal” for bikers, I’m really not serious, just pointing out that if we treated cyclists like we treat motorists (fees, fines, regulations, taxes, license plates etc.) there would certainly be an uproar, yet it seems fine to government to count on motorists as an easy source of cash. Cycling has all of the benefits you point out and it’s criminal how cycling is ignored in city planning (for example, the “traffic calming” bump-outs on Trapello road which gave little to no thought of a supportable bike lane, or the challenge to create a bike path through to Alewife).

    Re headgear for motorists – As an autocrosser, I’m actually not terribly opposed to discussion of headgear for front-seaters in cars or, at least, mandatory curtain airbags for the morons who cannot seen to buckle up. I suspect, however, that the majority of head injuries are due to lack of seatbelt use (although I cannot find a statistic to support this, according to NHTSA of the people who survive car crashes, unbelted victims stay three-to-five times longer in a hospital and incur two-to-seven times the medical costs of those wearing safety belts ( ))

    Your proposal for “lights on always” for cyclists is an excellent one – light units are now relativity inexpensive and can run for years on a single battery . ( (about $10 including a lifetime supply of batteries). Your proposal for a power source in the hub is is also excellent one for more serious commuters (about $60-$100).


  6. David – I updated the graph on the original post. I think the bar graph is more reasonable. I didn’t attempt to convert the Billion KM to 100M miles driven for the Danish number, but, assuming proportionality of 8.2 to 8.5 it would be about 1.09 on the chart, still significantly higher than MA.

  7. Rich, the reason for treating cyclists differently is that they really are different. The “bicycles are vehicles too” message is a good one for getting people to realize we have a right to the roads (except for the interstates, where small stuff is explicitly prohibited), but it causes people to focus more on the laws on paper, than the facts on the ground. One reason we have all that hooey for car drivers to jump through is that cars are big and fast, and can cause a lot of damage if used improperly. Bicycles are much lighter and have a much lower top speed; you’d have to work really hard to do serious damage with a bicycle, and there is a direct “disincentive” to the rider. Even with all of the care we take for cars, and all of the care we don’t take on bicycles, and the variety of “creative” ways that people find to ride, when you look at a statistic like pedestrian deaths, cars are ahead 3000 to 1. There are far fewer bicycles, but even at a 1% trip share (which is about where we are, give or take a factor of two), bikes are still 15 to 60 times less dangerous. Pushing for, and obtaining, perfection on the part of cyclists would only avoid (about) 1 pedestrian death per year nationwide, the same as a 0.03% improvement in auto safety (considering only pedestrians).

    The hub-powered lights I think should be for almost everyone, not just serious commuters. I have them on two of my bikes, plus two of my kid’s bikes, and I plan to add more over time. The problem is still one of cost; there seems to be an absurd premium paid for bicycle stuff, perhaps 10 times the cost of the raw materials. I build my own. One thing people forget is that you can run into things on a bicycle, too — bike paths around here are unlit. With a good light, you can spot people in front of you from as little as the reflective bits on their shoes, or the reflection from their dogs’ eyeballs. Potholes and cracks are a substantial hazard, and lights help you avoid those, too.

  8. No arguments, you’re correct on all statements (except maybe the fatality rate difference ( shows bikes at .20 verses .70 for MA autos, a 3 to one difference, or about a 7-to-1 difference to the national 1.13 average, but clearly safer by any measure.)

    And I would fully support anything that encourages bike usage. However, the reality of life is that you typically have to pay for services (like lit bikeways). There’s two ways of doing this – out of the general tax fund (because it, theoretically, benefits everyone) or through specific taxes (I cannot image cyclists getting behind this one), or you “roll your own” (bike lights).

    (“uncle”…I give – bikes are wonderful, I own one, sometimes ride it and wish there was more infrastructural support for it, certainly was not the intention of this thread to slag bike usage 🙂

    Off topic – more stats — added to the main post (above)

  9. Oh yeah… one more thing…Here’s my list of “unreasonable demands” for cars and drivers to actually improve safety:

    1. Stricter licensing — it should cost $2-$3K to get your license and this should include time on a track, a “real world” driving test, something equivalent to the BMW safety school (I paid to put my kids through it). Mock exams, eye test, theory test, driving test, lessons, mock exams and so on – First Aid course mandatory – 100% CPR knowledge and stricter “Good Samaratin” laws.

    2. TUV(3) standards for car inspection – No rust, you have 4 weeks to fix damage to your car. You systems (brakes, lights, alignment, etc.) all need to be up-to-snuff.

    3. Mandatory yellow turn signals for all new cars (all turn signals should be yellow, not red, this was recommended to NHSTA many times, only to be rejected because of “cost issues” — gimme a break).

    4. Mandatory monitoring of yellow light lengths at all intersections at least once every 5 years to insure compliance with federal guidelines.

    5. Establishment of speed limits according to the accepted highway engineering principle of 85th percentile (in practical terms this would significantly raise speed limits on most rural highways and lower limits on many urban/town roads.)

    6. ABS(1), manditory, for all new cars.

    7. ASC(2), mandatory, for all new cars (hey! got one — this actually is a federal requirement for cars produced in 2012)

    8. HID with self-levelers, mandatory for all new cars

    9. Eliminate FMS 108 restrictions on the use of H-style bulbs for older cars (Bonus! Ma Chapter 90, section 7 actually facilitates this — look for the word “Canadian”, then look up CSA 108.1 which references EU standards — yellow lights, H-Hallogens, all legal here in good old MA!)

    Bwa Ha Ha Ha (Evil laugh) If only I ruled the world….sigh…we’d all be driving decent cars, be well trained drivers with laws to support safety instead of thwarting it.
    (sorry, at this point I’m sure Will’s ready to toss me off the board!)

    (1) ABS = Anti lock Braking System – standard on most high-end cars
    (2) Active Stability Control – standard on most high end foreign cars and some high end american cars
    (3) TUV = Technischer Überwachungs-Verein, the feared German car inspection service — toughest in the world. There’s a reason you never see a rusty, dented clunker on the Autbohahnen.

  10. The more exuberant bicycle activists propose that space for bikes could simply be taken from on-street parking and “excess” auto lanes, and that doesn’t cost much money at all :-). I might agree if you gave me enough beer first, but that would be (literally) not a sober proposal. There are places where we could do better for not much money, but I think it requires care and study.

    To return to what got us on this digression, one of the reasons I am less opposed to automated enforcement is that some sloppy driving is a real threat to cyclists and pedestrians. I watched one accident (a team effort, with everyone making mistakes) where the driver’s contribution was to stop IN the crosswalk instead of at the stop line. This made it harder for her to see the illegally crossing ped-cyclist-dog-walker (she was on a bicycle, going at nearly a walking pace, with a dog on a leash, on the sidewalk and crosswalk, during the don’t-walk phase), so that the driver started moving immediately after her light turned green, right into the PCDW who was just at that instant detouring around her (in front, yet another poor choice). My reading is that the PCDW was most at fault, but if the car had simply stopped at the stop line, she would have seen the pedestrian (like I did; I was at the stop line) and not gone immediately, with a result of no collision. The driver was NOT cited.

    Another example of this occurred just the other day; I decided to ride up and down Park Avenue on my way to work, and I coast down the Arlington side at about 30mph. A car from a side street, coming fast, did NOT stop at the stop line, but instead rolled well forward of it before seeing me and stopping. I see this, I don’t know for sure that she is going to stop, I have to brake hard. It takes two or three mistakes for a crash to occur (like that team effort above), but single mistakes like these (rolling over stop lines, not stopping at stop signs) happen all the time, and contribute to the second mistake being a bad one. I had a similar experience trying out a bike route in Cambridge; along the way cross traffic had a stop, and someone who was clearly in a hurry, was about to do one of those very fast “stops” that isn’t really a stop, but saw me at the last moment and braked to a full stop (thank you, daytime running lights).

    Signalling turns is another one. The law on this is a little squishy, and says it is only required if it “affects other traffic”, so people get out of the habit of doing it. But a bicycle is traffic, even if it is passing on the right, and it would be very helpful to know if a car intends to turn right.

    What baffles me is why municipalities tinker with their light timing after installing these cameras. I’ve read many accounts, I don’t doubt that it happens, but it seems blatantly corrupt, in a way that you’d think would cause people to think long enough to decide not to do it. LOTS of people run red lights already, anyhow.

    1. PS, clearly, the exuberance has taken hold on Concord Ave……Lots ‘o beer-n-bikers in Cambridge I hear….(Again with the snarky comments!)

      1. Yeah, but that path is (almost) wonderful. It’s a bit of a puzzle what to do when you hit Belmont, but it so thoroughly beats riding on Concord. The other part of the “almost” is at the other end when you hit Cambridge proper, you’d love to be able to continue on to Harvard Square directly, either on Concord or on Garden, but neither road has much in the way of bike accommodations. It’s okay for omnivorous riders like me, but useless to the vast majority of would-be cyclists. There is a path, but it’s not obvious, and it is somewhat convoluted, and has many stops. Bleah.

        1. So I’m curious – why not just complete the bike path to Alewife instead of adding bike lanes on Concord? There’s already bike lanes through the reservoir especially if you’re in the mood for the square(?) Feels like a biker-boondogle to me…

  11. so.. maybe you don’t quite know how the system works?

    Basically, ATS rolls into town, spreads a lot of cash around and convinces the town management (we’ll refer to them as “the rubes”) that (a) they can make things safer and (b) the town will get loads cash off of auto-light enforcement (which they’ll split with ATS). ATS agrees to install the system “for free” assuming that the rubes guarantee a particular level of income from each camera. Over the course of time, if a camera does not “produce” the rubes are forced to lower the yellow light cycle to generate more income, or pay off ATS for the deficit because they didn’t pay for the install. As rear end collisions climb and drivers get more and more angry, the rubes are forced to admit they’ve made a mistake, but it’s too late, the town is faced with either paying ATS to fold up their tent and steal into the night or to continue with them.

    See above for a list of towns that lost a lot of money and/or suffered negative effects from the snake-oil salesmen at ATS.

    In addition to this issue, there’s the structural one. Because there’s no “accuser”, there’s really no access to due process. Even when you do get a ticket, it doesn’t “count” because it’s issued by ATS, not by the state. Pay it off, no harm, no foul, no report to the insurance company, no consequences, just a nice 30/70 split of the take to ATS and the town. If you don’t pay, well, don’t worry about an arrest warrant, just worry about the bill collectors. In fact, many of the towns that tried this failed experiment found that people simply ignored the summons because it held not legal threat.

    Several of the conditions you’ve cited above would probably have been resolved with a slightly longer yellow cycle. In some cases, perhaps a “No turn on red” (which has, unfortunately led to many “stop line” violations because it’s hard to see around corners). There are federal standards for setting yellow lights, but it’s left up to the town to decide how to do it and no one polices the towns.

    Look at the surveys and studies, as well as the real world experience of the towns and you’ll see it’s an idea which looks good on paper, but the economics of the situation invariably lead to… what’d you call it…oh yeah.. “Blatant corruption”…ATS just thinks of it as “good business practice”…

    Personally, I’d rather put my money in sound engineering principles (setting up stoplights accordingly) and better education (see my prior “if I were King” rant (above)
    BTW, agree with you — People who fail to signal should receive a minimum life sentence.

    wow — quite a thread for a boring summer storm weekend!

  12. Great discussion guys! If you’d like to really engage on this issue, I’d be happy to work with you to develop some legislation in this area. We could all sit down at some point and see if there is energy to hammer out some agreed thoughts that are actionable.

  13. LOL – aside from the “If I were king” comments, I’d say that most of the comments here fall more into the “reasoned argument” class (the “If I were King” comments into the “you’re clearly crazy” class). Also, if David and I were ever to get together in the same room I’d insist on lots of beer and designated drivers! (I will not, as many would have guessed insist on ceremonial firearms)

    Be happy to discuss the issues raised above in person at any time.

    Hey — saw your comment re Tollman. Congrats! You have my support!

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