County catches red-light camera fever

San Carlos will become the sixth city on the Peninsula to install a red-light camera at a major intersection as three other cities in San Mateo County eye the populardevices.

Cities are lining up to purchase the cameras, which photograph red-light runners, to reduce accidents at thoroughfares and generate cash for traffic-safety programs.

Since San Mateo became the first city in the county to install the cameras in 2004, Redwood City, Daly City, Menlo Park and Millbrae have installed the devices at major intersections.

Redwood City and Menlo Park added cameras in the last few months, and San Carlos is planning on installing them in the coming months.

South San Francisco and Burlingame are awaiting Caltrans permits for the devices, and Belmont is also considering adding them.

“It does tend to be the case that traffic is always one of the top five complaints from residents [in San Mateo County],” San Carlos Assistant City Manager Brian Moura said.

Police departments in those cities say the cameras are put in place to prevent accidents.

“Just knowing there’s red-light cameras slows people down,” said Burlingame police Capt. Mike Matteucci.

As a bonus, cities also earn money from the citations issued — $358.50 in Millbrae, for instance.

Revenue generated by the cameras often funds other traffic-related needs within cities. In Redwood City, where cameras were installed last month, officials are forecasting the city will earn $187,000 from camera tickets, which will pad the city’s $368,900 traffic-safety fund, Finance Director Brian Ponty said. The cameras cost just $36,000 to install, he said.

That money is spent on traffic-safety programs such as traffic controllers, streetlights, street signs and repainting street markings, Ponty said.

Still, the process of installing the cameras has been far from smooth. Burlingame and South San Francisco have been stalled in their applications for Caltrans permits for more than a year, as has Millbrae in its attempt to add two more cameras.

The cameras are not guaranteed to improve safety. Near the Hillsborough-Burlingame border, police planned on installing a red-light camera at the El Camino Real-Floribunda Avenue intersection. But nearly all of the 160 accidents during the last decade there occurred on left-hand right-of-way violations, which the cameras would not help with, said Hillsborough police Capt. Mark O’Connor.

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

By the numbers

5 Cities in San Mateo County that have red-light cameras installed

3 Cities in San Mateo County that plan on adding cameras this year

$358.50 Cost of a red-light camera violation in Millbrae

2004 The year San Mateo installed the county’s first red-light camera

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