[Kern County] Grand jury recommends Bakersfield install more red-light cameras

A Kern County grand jury is recommending the city of Bakersfield install more red-light cameras in order to reduce traffic accidents.

The report, released Friday, said red-light cameras have reduced the number of primary traffic accidents that occur on city streets. It said increasing the amount of cameras beyond the 10 intersections already equipped with them could further reduce accidents.

In calendar year 2017, the cameras captured an alleged 13,598 violations, with 9,572 citations issued.

Adding more cameras, depending on the intersection, could increase the amount of violations by thousands.

More cameras could also reduce accidents and make drivers think twice about running a red light. According to the report, intersections with red-light cameras experienced a precipitous drop in primary accidents, such as T-bone collisions, since they were installed.

In one notable instance, the Coffee Road and Truxtun Avenue intersection saw an average of 10.4 primary collisions in the seven years prior to a red-light camera being installed. From 2013 to 2018, the intersection experienced an average of 0.6 primary accidents per year, according to the report.

“I think the data shows, in Bakersfield, that they are a positive and decrease accidents, and in the long run save lives,” said City Councilman Bob Smith, who noted he would not be against adding more red-light cameras to city streets. “I’m all for them. It’s kind of on a case-by-case basis, though.”

The grand jury is a group of 19 citizens that conducts investigations into various public offices.

Bakersfield Public Works Director Nick Fidler said the grand jury had looked into the city’s red-light camera system in January.

He said he didn’t know why the grand jury wanted to look into Bakersfield’s red-light cameras, but it was unlikely that the city would arbitrarily add more cameras just because of the report.

“In general, we don’t go out and put up red-light cameras just to have them,” he said. “They have to meet some sort of need.”

He added he planned to meet with his staff next week to go over some of the recommendations included in the report.

Aside from adding more cameras to Bakersfield streets, the grand jury also recommended that city officials increase the yellow-light interval for left turns.

Caltrans requires that yellow lights with approach speeds of 25 miles per hour or less be set at a minimum of three seconds, with increasing intervals for faster speeds.

However, the report said that left turn time is set at three seconds because approach speeds are typically slower. The grand jury recommended increasing the yellow-light interval to 3.9 seconds, which the city will look into Fidler said.

In the last 10 years, citations from red-light cameras have more than tripled, according to data provided by the city, partly as a response to increasing population and more cameras being added over the years.

The city has paid the Arizona-based company, Redflex, $5.8 million to administer the system over the last decade. Although the city has earned roughly $6.9 million in revenue, costs for hiring police officers to review the citations as well as Redflex’s fee have meant the city has experienced a net loss of $602,067 since 2008 from the system.

The grand jury recommended the city hold public hearings on red-light cameras before it renews its contract with Redflex, set for August 2020.

Smith said he would welcome public input on the system.

The city last renewed a contract with Redflex in 2015.

March 1, 2019

Bakersfield Californian

By Sam Morgen