Committee gives tentative green light to extend city’s photo red light program


AURORA | Members of the city’s public safety, courts and civil service policy committee agreed Thursday to extend Aurora’s contract with the company that manages the roughly dozen photo red light traffic cameras across the city, a decision that will maintain the status quo in Aurora pending any changes to laws that pertain to the contentious cameras in the state legislature.

The three city council members who sit on the public safety committee, Francoise Bergan of Ward VI, Bob Roth of Ward V and At-Large Councilman Bob LeGare, unanimously agreed to continue the contract with the photo red light vendor, Conduent, for one additional year.

Conduent, formerly known as Xerox Solutions, has acted as the city’s of photo red light vendor since the company won a contract with the city in 2009. City council has already exercised a pair of optional, 12-month contract extensions with Conduent, one last year and another in 2015. If the committees’ recommendation is approved at an upcoming council study session, the new contract will extend through June 2018.

The three council members declined an additional proposal to conduct a study on existing camera-enabled intersections in the city. They also decided against looking into which intersections in the city deserve the cameras and which areas could possibly use more.

There are currently 14 photo red light camera systems at 10 intersections across the city.

Council members cited a lack of concrete evidence that the cameras work on a consistent basis, as well as uncertainty in the legislature, as reasons for rejecting an expansion of the program.

“I can’t see spending taxpayer dollars to put in new red light systems or even do a study when we really don’t know where we’re at with it,” said Bergan, who chairs the committee. “My feeling is to just keep this status quo and see where we are next year.”

Crashes at photo red light intersections in Aurora rose 40 percent between 2015 and 2016, from 82 crashes two years ago to 115 crashes last year, according to city documents.  Since 2011, total crashes at the camera-enabled intersections have risen 83 percent.

Deputy Police Chief Paul O’Keefe and Police Chief Nick Metz confirmed vehicle crashes are up across the country. They said more distracted drivers and a low unemployment rate could be contributing factors.

Citywide crashes were down slightly in 2016, dropping to 13,314 total crashes last year from 13,416 in 2015.

Citing a 2010 study from the Texas Transportation Institute, O’Keefe said the cameras are increasingly being proven to reduce the cataclysmic “T-bone” front to side crashes, but increase minor front to rear “fender benders.

“We’re reducing the number of T-bone crashes,” O’Keefe said. “Yes, we are seeing an increase in lower-level rear end crashes, but the increase in rear end crashes isn’t as dramatic in the decrease in T-bone crashes.”

Front to side crashes have increased 9 percent in Aurora in the past five years, while front to rear crashes have shot up by 122 percent, according to the city’s 2016 photo red light systems study. Front to side crashes and front to rear crashes increased by 33 percent and 42 percent, respectively, in the city between 2015 and 2016.

Last year also marked the third consecutive year in which Aurora’s photo red light revenues decreased, down from $3.2 million in 2014 and $2.9 million in 2015. The program netted about $2.8 million last year. Nearly a third of last year’s photo red light revenues went toward funding the city’s NEXUS programs, which provide a bevy of social services across Aurora.

Despite some lingering uncertainty regarding the efficacy of the cameras, LeGare was adamant about maintaining what he called a “valuable program.”

“There’s so much uncertainty on the city council and in the legislature … I think we should extend this and go through whatever we have to negotiate with the vendor to extend it for a year as a single, sole source (contract) and put the clause in there that if the legislature shuts us down that we can shut it down, and if we have to do that for the next five years I think we should do it,” he said. “I’m convinced that these (cameras) are valuable and I’m convinced that they do potentially save lives.

Last year, the eastbound side of the intersection at East Mississippi Avenue and South Abilene Street resulted in the highest number of photo red light violations in the city. There were 9,301 violations issued at that intersection last year. The nexus of Mississippi and Abilene has consistently produced the highest number of violations in Aurora for the past five years. The intersection that dispensed the second-highest number of violations was the eastbound portion of Iliff Avenue and Chambers Road, which produced 7,240 violations in 2016. There were a total of 58,328 possible photo red light violations in the city last year.

More than half of those violations were given to non-Aurora residents, according to Roth, who cited data assembled by the Denver Regional Council of Governments.