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Update: Albany 'Red Light Cameras'


Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, a Democrat from Albany, introduced legislation back in the spring that would authorize the city to engage in a five-year demonstration program deploying automatic red light ticketing cameras at up to 20 intersections. City Police Chief Steve Krokoff and Mayor Kathy Sheehan signed on to the idea.

The city council voted 10-5 to pass a resolution in support of exploring the program.

Red light cameras are mounted alongside traffic lights, employing sensors to take photos of any vehicle travelling through an intersection when the light is red. The picture is used to identify the vehicle’s license plate number, and a fine is issued to the car’s registrant via mail.

Supporters claim the cameras help prevent crashes and violations. Opponents say the cameras use an inaccurate method of targeting violators.

Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation approving red light cameras at intersections in Albany, New Rochelle, Mount Vernon and Yonkers. Assemblywoman Fahy was pleased.   "The city is authorized now to use cameras for up to twenty intersections. And it is about using technology to supplement very critical and scarce police resources. Traffic safety is a big issue, yet there are a number of other very serious issues that the police work on, and we need them focused on, so this is really, it's a supplement to use technology to slow traffic down."

Former GOP mayoral candidate Jesse Calhoun, who is now challenging Fahy for her Assembly seat, formed the action group “No Albany Red-Light Cameras,” or “N.A.R.C.,” to oppose the measure.    "We had a post card campaign that we launched and we submitted over almost 250 cards now to city hall, opposing red lights. It seems like they really are just poised to cram it down the city throats. There's plenty of city council members who are opposed to them, so it could come down to a vote. We're hoping that the city council votes against this."

The city council has to give the plan final approval after studying where to deploy the cameras.

Buffalo and Syracuse received state permission to implement red light camera programs in 2009, but never did.  

Calhoun contends red light ticketing would just be another tax on the poor. He says it's anybody's guess as to when a vote will be taken. Common Council Member Dorcey Applyrs:    "I feel that this is an issue that residents should have the opportunity to weigh in on."

Calhoun believes many aspects of red light camera systems also pose civil rights issues and deprive citizens of due process.   "Just from the standpoint of having a private entity performing direct police work is where a lot of people, even on the progressive side, have objections, and I would totally agree with them."

So what are possible alternatives?    "Lengthening yellow light times. The road diet idea that's been put forward. Madison (Ave) especially, people have been talking about making that two lanes with one middle turn lane."

Another former mayoral candidate, conservative city political watchdog Joe Sullivan, suggests instead of mounting red light cameras, use the devices to monitor activities at the Port of Albany.    "They're not necessary. All the mayor has to do is issue a proclamation that the traffic laws will be strictly enforced in the city, and put the police out to do it. Those cameras should be re-allocated to watch our infrastructure, especially the oil trains at the rail yards and their routes, because there's been a lot of publicity about this lately, and you can bet the foreign terrorists are looking at these issues."

Some cameras are watching in and around the port.  Many municipalities across upstate New York have surveillance cameras strategically positioned along city streets, with more expected to be installed in the months to come in places like Hudson, where police have found cameras to be such effective tools, the police commissioner is calling for more to be erected in certain sections of the city.

Attempts to reach the mayor's office and Albany Police spokesman Steve Smith were unsuccessful.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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