St. Pete allows more red light cameras

City council failed to cancel the program

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - It was a victory for those who support red light cameras, and a bitter defeat for opponents who argued that the city of St. Petersburg intentionally withheld crash data to give the program a positive spin.

"You're turning your citizens into sheep you would lead to slaughter," said David McKalip, an outspoken community activist adamantly opposed to the cameras.

"There were 35 more crashes last year in the control group of red light cameras," McKalip said.  "The city is using its citizens as guinea pigs and that experiment has failed."

Matt Florell, who spent hours combing through the statistics, said the recent progress report about the number of crashes at red light camera intersections left out the most important information of all:  total crashes.

"I was angry because it was clearly a slanted written report," Florell said.  "It was written with an agenda in mind.  I had never read anything that bad."

That sparked outrage from the city official responsible for overseeing the red light camera program.  Joe Kubicki told the city council that he had 35 years of experience in transportation, and the notion he misled anyone was offensive.

"That I purposefully left information out, that I manipulated the data, that I've somehow been slight of hand related to this red light camera program, it's not true," Kubicki said.  "It's false."

Several city council members were opposed to expanding the program from 22 cameras to 31, but a resolution to that effect was voted down.

City Council member Wengay Newton proposed killing the red light camera contract altogether.  His motion failed to achieve a second from anyone on the council.

"I got constituents telling me I don't make right turns, if I see a yellow I slam on the brakes," Newton said.  "And when they do that you got what they call a chain reaction," he said, arguing that the program actually creates more crashes than it prevents.

One of the nation's most famous advocates for spinal cord research traveled to St. Petersburg from Miami to attend the council meeting.  Marc Buoniconti, a quadriplegic who was paralyzed playing college football in 1985, testified about the importance of keeping the red light cameras in place.

"I have brothers and sisters with brain injuries and spinal cord injuries because of people running red lights," Buoniconti said.  "I was here to share my personal story, and also confirm the data that red light cameras save lives and they prevent injury," he said.

Buoniconti is the son of Miami Dolphins Hall of Famer Nick Buoniconti, and he runs the Miami Project, a spinal injury research center.  Three dollars from every red light camera citation goes to programs to study crash related injuries.

Mayor Bill Foster ultimately stood by his program, and said opponents are missing the point of why the cameras are there.  

"It's not about money, it's about safety," Foster said.

"The council and the paper seemed to bite at a statistician hobbyist," Foster said, referring to Florell's informational handout to council members.  

"I'll put the credentials of my staff with 30-plus years of transportation training against somebody who makes red light cameras a hobby or passion," Foster said.

The mayor said he will meet with his staff before making any final decision when to expand the number of red light cameras.

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