Four years after getting rid of red light cameras, Phoenix could bring them back

By Christina Estes
Published: Tuesday, October 10, 2023 - 3:01pm
Updated: Tuesday, October 10, 2023 - 5:15pm

cars stopped at intersection
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Phoenix has identified 27th Avenue as a hot spot for pedestrian deaths and serious injuries.

The latest conversation over photo enforcement involves a different council makeup.

In late 2019, the City Council, including Jim Waring, voted not to renew a contract for red light cameras at a dozen intersections, “Because they weren’t putting them in the most dangerous intersections.”

At the time, no one could clearly explain how the 12 intersections were chosen about 10 years earlier. 

According to data analysis by the Maricopa Association of Governments, Phoenix has the most dangerous intersections across the Valley.

Here are the top five intersections ranked by crash risk, according to MAG’s research.

1. 75th Avenue and Indian School Road in Phoenix.
2. 67th Avenue and Indian School Road in Phoenix.
3. 67th Avenue and McDowell Road in Phoenix.
4. 99th Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road in Phoenix.
5. 51st Avenue and Camelback Road in Glendale.

Phoenix Councilwoman Betty Guardado represents west Phoenix, which includes the top intersections ranked by crash risk. She said photo enforcement creates an unfair financial burden for her constituents and wants to focus more on road design to reduce speeding.

“How is it that we can really invest in infrastructure in the medians that we need to provide in a lot of these intersections?” she said.

As part of ongoing safety discussion and, at the council’s direction, staff researched automated enforcement options and presented the information to the public safety subcommittee. Options included: red light running and speed cameras, portable speed towers, and mobile photo enforcement vehicles.

“I’d like to hear more about what we’re doing to get more officers out on the streets, who can move around, sit in different spots,” Waring said.

The police department says in the early 2000s, there were more than 130 officers assigned to the traffic unit. Today, it’s 43. With the ongoing shortage of officers, Councilman Kevin Robinson, who was not on the council in 2019, said photo enforcement may be the way to go.

“When every day I get a notification — it seems like every day, on a traffic fatality and what we know is that we have to change driver behavior and we do that when people know there are repercussions for their actions,” he said.

Councilwoman Ann O’Brien, who wasn’t on the council when red light cameras went away, isn’t willing to dismiss cameras for speeding or red-light runners, "If we let data drive this conversation then we would put tools that would be a force multiplier for our officers in places where we need them. We need behavior to change."

She asked staff to provide data about crash locations to the public safety subcommittee. The topic will also be discussed before the transportation and infrastructure subcommittee in October. Given the history, it’s likely the full city council would discuss photo enforcement options. The council would need to vote on any contract.

The city’s transportation department reviewed three years of crash data before-and-after red light cameras were installed at 12 intersections and found:

  • 30.7% reduction in red light running collisions
  • 30.4% reduction in injuries and fatalities in all directions of travel
  • 57% reduction in red light running crashes in the direction of travel monitored by the cameras.

During the same time, Phoenix, on average, saw a 14.7% increase in collisions and 3.6% increase in injuries and fatalities at intersections without red-light cameras. 

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