The editorial "Alexandria's voluntary cameras" (Aug. 2) included incorrect information and missed many critical facts.
First, none of Alexandria's traffic signal phases have been altered in any manner in an effort to increase violations. The City of Alexandria has not "quietly shortened" any signals, according to Director of Transportation and Environmental Services Richard J. Baier. Let's set the record straight. The last time the city's traffic signal phases were changed was in 2008, consistent with Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) guidelines and subsequently approved by VDOT. In that instance, no yellow light phases were decreased. In fact, at one intersection (Patrick and Franklin streets), the length of the yellow light phase was increased.
Second, accident prevention is an important and valid reason for operating a photo-safety program. For example, at one location where cameras are now in use, at Gibbon and Patrick streets, there have been 45 accidents since 2008. Reducing the number of accidents at this high-volume intersection to improve safety is our goal. In addition, studies have shown the type of accidents at intersections where photo-safety programs are implemented change from the often deadly side collisions ("T-bone") to less serious rear-end accidents.
Third, payment of fines is not a voluntary act. If violators fail to respond to the violation notice, the matter will be turned over to a collection agency. Contrary to the assertion in the editorial, tickets are valid in Virginia if they are sent in the mail, and all tickets issued by the city are viewed and verified by the Alexandria Police Department before they are sent to the violator. Violations may also be viewed online by visiting the website address listed on the violation.
Finally, I would like to emphasize that the goal of the photo-safety program is not to generate revenue - it is an investment in public safety. For the record, the city's earlier photo-safety program (1997-2005) generated excess revenue only in its early months. As drivers altered their behavior - the purpose of the program - revenues decreased, and the city took in less money from the fines than it paid to run the program. We expect the same thing to happen this time. Our goal is not to "teach anyone a lesson," but to reduce accidents, prevent injuries, and decrease traffic congestion.
EARL L. COOK
Chief of Police
Alexandria Police Department
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