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Watch for traffic cameras

By Matthew Artz
Friday September 27, 2002

Red light runners and speeders beware: What the police don’t see, the camera surely will. 

Berkeley may be the next city in line to install cameras on streets or traffic signals to protect pedestrians. 

At a transportation forum at the Willard Middle School Wednesday, Berkeley transportation head Peter Hillier, said he is hoping to start discussion by next summer about bringing traffic cameras to Berkeley. 

“I think they’ve been extremely successful in reducing red light running or speeding,” he said. Similar cameras have been installed in other United States cities, including San Francisco, and are prevalent in Europe and Canada. 

Several people, however, cringed at the idea of cameras monitoring public streets. 

“Surveillance cameras ... you know that sounds too much like ‘1984,’ It’s crazy,” said Ted Chabasinski of the 2900 block of Florence Street. 

Hillier, though, maintained that the cameras would be used to punish dangerous drivers, not to spy on residents. 

If Berkeley decides to install traffic cameras it will have several options. 

The most common type of camera is attached to a traffic signal and only takes photos of cars running a red light, Hillier said. Other cameras gauge speed and are installed in the sidewalk or kept inside a police car. A new traffic signal camera that tickets for both speeding and red light running is on the market, he said. 

Hillier said that public acceptance is stronger for cameras that monitor for red light violations than it is for cameras that watch for speeders, which is a more common offense. 

If community opposition doesn’t derail cameras, cost might. 

The city would have to spend about $100,000 to install any type of camera at just a few intersections, he said. 

Despite initial suspicion by some forum attendees, Hillier asked residents to withhold judgment until the idea is hashed out. 

“What is critical is to thoroughly research the practice,” he said. “If there is strong documented evidence of a benefit then the idea may seem better to people.”  

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has advocated traffic safety measures for his district, said he was open to the limited use of cameras. 

“If they were surveillance cameras to turn us into a police state, that would be a problem,” he said. “But when it’s a picture of a license plate, that might be OK.” 


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