You're a fish in a barrel if you get caught blasting through a red light at Whittier Drive, eastbound on Wilshire Boulevard, as you travel downhill on Wilshire's six-lane roadway between Westwood and Beverly Hills.
After cruising through intersections with longer yellow-light intervals, you're entrapped by a double-whammy: A sudden reduction in speed to 30 mph on Wilshire's freeway-like stretch of road heading into Beverly Hills, coupled with an impossibly short yellow light at the bottom of the hill. And, yes, there's a photo enforcement camera at the intersection to capture the whole thing.
Jay Beeber of Safer Streets L.A., the man who got the city of L.A. to tear out its own red-light cameras, is doing something about it:
He's been lobbying the state to require longer and more consistent yellow-light intervals at red-light camera intersections throughout the state. This month the California Traffic Control Devices Committee will consider new, greater minimums of time assigned to length of yellow lights, partly thanks to the efforts of committee member Beeber.
The Traffic Control Devices Committee already concluded that shorter yellow-light intervals are less safe than longer ones. In fact, unlike photo enforcement cameras at traffic signals, increasing the length of a yellow light is a real way to prevent accidents.
Yellow-light times, the committee decided, should be extended one of two ways: by basing the yellow-light time interval on actual speeds driven by motorists at the location, or by mandating that yellow-light intervals be based on the posted speed limit plus 7 miles per hour in most cases.
Beverly Hills uses its posted 30 mph speed limit as the basis for its almost-minimally timed yellow light, which lasts only about 3.3 seconds, Beeber says. If it were based on vehicles that are traveling a more realistic 40 miles an hour or so (Beeber says actual speeds along that stretch of Wilshire are closer to 45) the yellow light duration could then be set at 3.9 seconds. That would give people approaching the Wilshire and Whittier intersection more time to slow down before putting them in the red-light zone.
That, he says, would reduce rear-end accidents. But it would also put Beverly Hills' cash cow on a diet.
The city takes in about $40,000 a month, or $1.6 million a year, from all its red-light camera tickets, Beeber says. He says that's …
… 1,200 tickets per month because [their] yellow-light time is based on speed no one is going. Beverly Hills [sets the interval] at the minimum, or a tenth of second of the minimum, because they like generating a lot of tickets. Most red-light tickets are given within one second of a light turning red, so if we extend the yellow times to a reasonable time there would be far fewer tickets.
Beverly Hills has a school, El Rodeo, near Wilshire and Whittier Drive. And other cities have argued that the money incentive is overplayed – that they only see a fraction of the $480 payment that red-light violations can bring.
We reached out to Beverly Hills Police Department for its response but instead played phone tag with an official.
Beeber says a short yellow light is dangerous because it encourages drivers to slam on the brakes and stop short and ups the possibility of getting rear-ended or running reds. “They're ensuring people are running that red light and putting kids in danger,” he says of the fast yellow light at Wilshire and Whittier.
The speed limit on that stretch drops from 35 to 30 mph in a span of about 200 feet, he says. And the camera is not making things safer: Collisions have actually gone up slightly at the intersection since the red-light camera was installed in 2008, Beeber says.
The state committee will make its recommendations to Caltrans, which can institute longer yellow-light times. But a Beeber-inspired bill that would do the same thing is also making its way through the California state legislature.
In the meantime, red-light camera tickets issued to motorists can be ignored in L.A. County, as long as you know the details.