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Buffalo Grove stops red-light cameras before they start
By Steve Zalusky | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/25/2010 12:01 AM

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Buffalo Grove is putting the brakes on red-light cameras.

Despite data from Police Chief Steve Balinski that cameras in other communities have led to a reduction in crashes, Buffalo Grove trustees took a pass, saying they weren't convinced the cameras would make the village materially safer.

Balinski, however, said red-light violations are among the three leading causes of accidents at the village's major intersections.

Police Sgt. Mike Szos had data from Elk Grove Village and Wheeling, among other areas, that showed a drop in crashes following the installation of red-light cameras.

"We believe red-light technology can help us enforce the law," Balinski added.

Paul Bazzano, vice president of sales for Gatso USA - the proposed vendor - ran the board through a demonstration of the technology, which combines video and still photography.

He said Buffalo Grove could decide for itself which traffic violations it wants to pursue - or not pursue - like the controversial right turns on red that caused Schaumburg so much grief they pulled the camera out.

Bazzano said Gatso, which operates cameras in Steamwood, Hanover Park and Libertyville, uses technology that encrypts the date and time of the violation and attaches it to the photograph inside the camera. As a result, "We have never lost a court case dealing with the encryption and the security of our evidence."

But without taking a formal vote, the board said no. Studying the traffic counts provided by police, Trustee Jeffrey Braiman said he was surprised by the small number of crashes in Buffalo Grove, especially when compared to the high volume of violations - more than 1,600 during an eight-hour period, with 114 at Arlington Heights Road and Lake-Cook Road alone.

From 2006 to 2008, there were 16 crashes believed to be caused by red-light violations.

"I don't know if you have proved to me at this point that the need for it is there," Braiman argued.

He said he was also disappointed that video was not a part of the study, so the village could review the video to verify the figures.

Balinski said the data from surrounding communities shows that red-light cameras help reduce crashes.

But Braiman said that Buffalo Grove's crash numbers also went down from 2006 to 2008, without the cameras.

One Buffalo Grove resident was pleased by the decision. Barnet Fagel said Buffalo Grove cannot afford to duplicate Schaumburg's experience with red-light cameras near Woodfield, which he believes caused a loss of business.

"Woodfield's experience was if you put cameras in, you are going to drive whatever business we have now to another community that doesn't have cameras," Fagel said. "How many people would pay $102 for a cup of coffee?"

In the end, what drove the board's decision was disappointment with the data. Trustee Jeffrey Berman was critical of the data about crashes resulting from red-light violations, saying it wasn't broken down into what kind of red-light violations caused the crashes.

"We would love to see (every crash) go away, but the question is a balancing between the benefit and the detriment to the community and to the environment and to the use and enjoyment of our community and our streets and the peace of mind of our residents," Berman said.

"I don't know that the data that we have been provided. supports the conclusion that going forward makes sense."

Trustee Beverly Sussman, who does not support installing cameras, noted that both the Illinois house and the senate are working on bills that might outlaw the cameras.

Rich Kosina, Gatso's chief technical officer, said Gatso was never looking "to drop cameras everywhere."

Individual cameras cost about $100,000. Extensive study is done to determine the proper location, he said.

"It's not a 'gotcha' program," Kosina insisted. "If you're in the intersection, waiting to make a left turn, and the light turns yellow and then turns red, you don't get a ticket. You have to be before the white line, the light has to be red, and if you enter the intersection you are going to get a ticket."