Software to help make roads safer 

click to enlarge Redwood City is halting its red-light camera tests and trying a software-based traffic-calming program. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Redwood City is halting its red-light camera tests and trying a software-based traffic-calming program.

Following the completion of a pilot program to test red-light cameras, Redwood City police are planning a new approach to traffic safety — one that supplements traditional enforcement with data-driven street design.

The department’s plan to curb collisions includes familiar strategies such as education and cooperation with nearby jurisdictions. But the major change involves the use of new computer software, Police Chief J.R. Gamez said at a recent City Council meeting.

The $28,000 software — most of which was paid for through an Office of Traffic Safety grant — aggregates information about citations, collision reports and DUI arrests, Gamez said. With that data, as well as historical information, the department can analyze collision patterns and efficiently deploy personnel and equipment at problem areas, he said.

The software does more than simply identify hot spots, said Jeff Cullen of Crossroads Software, the company that makes the package. It combines various data sources to help the city direct its limited resources to where they can be most effective, because experts say streetscape improvements are at least as important as increased enforcement — if not more so.

“In practice, the design of the street is more important than enforcement,” said Jason Henderson, professor of urban geography at San Francisco State University. What’s needed, Henderson said, are streetscape designs that encourage slower speeds. “It’s psychological.”

It’s unclear where the city’s now-halted red-light camera program will fit into the new strategy. While red-light collisions dropped during the 60-month camera trial at Whipple Avenue and Veterans Boulevard, Gamez has made it clear that red-light cameras are a tool, not a strategy.

At the May 20 City Council meeting, member Ian Bain acknowledged the dangers at the intersection.

“It’s a dangerous intersection. It’s big intersection, which I understand makes it difficult to patrol,” he said.

Good streetscape design is still preferable to red-light cameras, Henderson said.

“So someone runs a red light and hits a pedestrian. It’s great we got a picture of it, but there still might be a person injured or dead.”

The new software also can help city planners, Capt. Dan Mulholland said. In fact, the plan to purchase the software originated in the city’s community development department. The police are piggy-backing on their effort, Mulholland said.

With new streetscaping planned throughout the city, Redwood City Mayor Alicia Aguirre said it’s a good time for the city to have this data available for police officers and planners.

Henderson, the urban geography expert, said traffic calming, to be effective, needs to be systemwide.

“When you do it in one specific street, in one specific problem area, people just go around, and the problem shifts to elsewhere,” he said.

Nonetheless, police enforcement also remains a viable strategy.

“It may seem that enforcement doesn’t reduce traffic collisions, but it does,” Cullen said. “The police are doing yeoman’s work.”

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