Mville cops have blue-light special for red-light runners
August 28, 2008 · Updated 9:29 AM
MARYSVILLE Antsy drivers might want to know about a new blue light special local police have in store for red-light runners. Heres a clue: it aint cheap and it has nothing to do with K-Mart.
For the last couple of months the Marysville Police Department has been using a new tool to help keep intersections safe: tiny, but bright blue LEDs have been mounted on 11 of the citys 27 signalized intersections. They are mounted on the back of the signals and synchronized to let police know when a light is red. That means cops can now observe intersections from afar and apprehend red-light runners more safely.
We can watch and we dont have to chase them through the intersection, explained Doug Lee, traffic sergeant with the Marysville Police Department.
Before the blue lights were installed, an officer had to observe the infraction from in front of the signal head, where the red, yellow and green lights face oncoming traffic. When an officer did observe a car running the light, the pursuit required them to follow the violator through oncoming traffic: not a good idea since opposing lanes have the right-of-way with their green light. The danger is even greater for motorcycle officers.
This is just one more tool for our safety, Lee added. It works really well for us.
Jim Maples is a veteran who rides a motorcycle on traffic detail and he said that as traffic volumes increase on Marysville streets more drivers arent waiting for the light to change. Cutting the corner at the 88th Street railroad crossing at State Avenue is a big no-no he watches for, as well as impatient drivers testing the shades of yellow, orange, pink and solid red. Its a serious subject for the veteran officer.
We posted them at some of our intersections that are more of a problem, Maples explained.
Those problems jump around, depending on the time and direction of travel during morning and evening commutes. The intersection of First and State is a big problem in the mornings, according to Maples, who said drivers headed westbound on SR 528 will often cut through the residential neighborhoods south of Fourth Street, weaving through Third, Second and First streets to get to the flats south of town. The morning business is brisk.
We get a lot of red-light runners there, Maples said. Its a prime location.
The strip of Fourth Street east of the
I-5 intersection is another constant headache, all the way to State Avenue and beyond, he added, and the traffic squad issues many citations at Fourth and Cedar.
The blue lights are a new aid for the police, but the $95 devices are just a step below the red-light cameras that issue citations. City traffic controls technician Tom King has been installing them the last couple months and said they are much less expensive than the cameras that issue citations with a picture of the car and driver violating the red light. Those cost thousands of dollars and bring many headaches with them, according to Lee.
While the camera can snap pictures all day long, there is a huge amount of staffing required backstage to process the photos, first at a private-party vendor who screens the pictures and then the citys police department and court. Marysville has a traffic committee comprised of police, engineers from the Public Works Department and a couple of City Council members, but the red-light cameras havent gotten a green light yet.
Its still pending, Lee said. Theres still some talk about it.
The cameras posted at some intersections are only used for traffic management purposes, by scanning and measuring the number of cars waiting for a signal to change. In the past metal wires embedded in the asphalt were tripped by measuring the change in magnetic induction of a vehicle as it stopped. The induction loops would get ground up each time the street was repaved, however. Now the cameras do that job, and allow traffic engineers to monitor the streets remotely and tweak signal timing as needed, according to assistant city engineer Jeff Massie.
We can actually watch traffic and make adjustments. Its just a little easier to do the adjustments from your office, Massie said. Thats kind of a new technology. Some people arent comfortable with that.
The cameras are fairly high resolution, but he doubts someone could make out the person behind the wheel, and thats not what they are for in the first place, he added. People living near an intersection with the cameras dont have anything to worry about.
Its difficult for people to pick out faces, Massie said. For the most part those cameras are pointed at the lanes of travel and certainly not pointed at anybodys residence.
King said the cameras are also used to close intersections for emergency vehicles. Fire, EMT and police vehicles have strobe lights tuned to a certain frequency and the signal will automatically shut down to allow them to pass. Some people try to flash their brights on and off quickly to make a signal change, but that doesnt work.
Thats an old wives tale, King said.
King said he has gotten many calls from residents asking about the blue lights.
You can see those up to half a mile away, King said. The police department requested em. Red-light runners have been a big issue and we talked about installing the red-light cameras but the city is holding off on that.
He said other cities such as Olympia and Everett have also started to use the blue lights. For the most part, the cops say they only lie in wait up to a block away, although they can see the blue lights from further distances. An infraction for running a red-light used to cost $101, but according to Lee that just went up, to about $112. The courts have been appraised of the new tool and drivers wont get any sympathy from the bench, he said.
The judge is online with it, Lee said.