Archive for February 2007

Traffic Light Cameras

February 28, 2007

[I updated this post here

Saw this story via The World Around You:

State Rep. David Grimes, R-Montgomery, says that accident is an example of why he has prefiled a bill that would allow law enforcement agencies to set up cameras at traffic lights and then write tickets that will be sent to the owners of vehicles caught on film running under the red signals. Grimes says the fear of getting a ticket would slow drivers down as they approach traffic lights and discourage them from running red lights.

Whatever the theoretical merits of these things, Radley Balko reports on how they actually worked in Lubbock, Texas, where in order to increase revenue from camera tickets, local officials shortened the times for the yellow lights. Less yellow time, of course, means cars are more likely to get caught running a red light, but that also means more traffic accidents. So the traffic cameras created an incentive for the Lubbock officials to disregard public safety.

Lubbock is not the only place where cameras made intersections less safe:

As red light cameras in Modesto, California are sending more people to the hospital, city officials have decided to double the number of intersections with the devices to increase revenue. Last year, each of the four intersections currently photo enforced experienced an increase in the number of collisions.

Happened in Ohio, too:

Accidents are increasing at the seven intersections monitored by red light cameras in Cleveland, Ohio. According to statistics obtained by WEWS-TV, the photo enforced intersections experienced 28 collisions before the devices were installed compared to 39 afterward. Akron attorney Warner Mendenhall, who is arguing against traffic cameras before the Ohio Supreme Court, told WEWS that the results reflect the program’s true motivation.

“It’s very clear that safety is not the issue,” Mendenhall said. “There are studies throughout the country that show accidents actually increase.” (View studies).

Now I know no-one in Alabama would ever let revenue concerns trump public safety. Our politicians are much more honorable than that. But there’s other problems with these cameras.

Some you could label as basic due process problems:

Ticket recipients are not adequately notified.
Most governments using ticket cameras send out tickets via first class mail. There is no guarantee that the accused motorists will even receive the ticket, let alone understands it and know how to respond. However, the government makes the assumption that the ticket was received. If motorists fail to pay, it is assumed that they did so on purpose, and a warrant may be issued for their arrest.

The driver of the vehicle is not positively identified.
Typically, the photos taken by these cameras do not identify the driver of the offending vehicle. The owner of the vehicle is mailed the ticket, even if the owner was not driving the vehicle and may not know who was driving at the time. The owner of the vehicle is then forced to prove his or her innocence, often by identifying the actual diver who may be a family member, friend or employee.

Ticket recipients are not notified quickly.
People may not receive citations until days or sometimes weeks after the alleged violation. This makes it very difficult to defend oneself because it would be hard to remember the circumstances surrounding the supposed violation. There may have been a reason that someone would be speeding or in an intersection after the light turned red. Even if the photo was taken in error, it may be very hard to recall the day in question.

There is no certifiable witness to the alleged violation.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it may also take a thousand words to explain what the picture really means. Even in those rare instances where a law enforcement officer is overseeing a ticket camera, it is highly unlikely that the officer would recall the supposed violation. For all practical purposes, there is no “accuser” for motorists to confront, which is a constitutional right. There is no one that can personally testify to the circumstances of the alleged violation, and just because a camera unit was operating properly when it was set up does not mean it was operating properly when the picture was taken of any given vehicle.

There’s questions about whether they even work:

Ticket cameras do not improve safety.
Despite the claims of companies that sell ticket cameras and provide related services, there is no independent verification that photo enforcement devices improve highway safety, reduce overall accidents, or improve traffic flow. Believing the claims of companies that sell photo enforcement equipment or municipalities that use this equipment is like believing any commercial produced by a company that is trying to sell you something.

Taking dangerous drivers’ pictures doesn’t stop them.
Photo enforcement devices do not apprehend seriously impaired, reckless or otherwise dangerous drivers. A fugitive could fly through an intersection at 100 mph and not even get his picture taken, as long as the light was green! . . . .

Cameras do not prevent most intersection accidents.
Intersection accidents are just that, accidents. Motorists do not casually drive through red lights. More likely, they do not see a given traffic light because they are distracted, impaired, or unfamiliar with their surroundings. Even the most flagrant of red-light violators will not drive blithely into a crowded intersection, against the light. Putting cameras on poles and taking pictures will not stop these kinds of accidents.

And the unintended consequences:

These devices discourage the synchronization of traffic lights.
When red-light cameras are used to make money for local governments, these governments are unlikely to jeopardize this income source. This includes traffic-light synchronization, which is the elimination of unneeded lights and partial deactivation of other traffic lights during periods of low traffic. When properly done, traffic-light synchronization decreases congestion, pollution, and fuel consumption.

All in all, these things are a bad idea. Which means they’ll probably be coming to your town very soon.



A.I. on A.I.

February 27, 2007

Jeff from Politics in Alabama blogs on Alabama Improper about the latest American Idol story:

First stop, American Idol. Next stop, Miss Nevada USA?

The first scandal to infiltrate the upper echelon of singers on this year’s installment of the Fox ratings behemoth has touched ground.

Racy pictures allegedly depicting top-20 finalist Antonella Barba engaged in a variety of risqué acts, some more risqué than others, surfaced on several Websites late last week, prompting speculation as to whether the producers of the most-watched TV show in America will be putting an abrupt end to Barba’s Idol journey.

Neither Barba nor her family, who live in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, have commented yet on the photos, one of which features four females posing topless at the beach, hands over their breasts; another shows a young woman—whoever posted the pics says it’s Barba—performing oral sex on a man.

Jeff has a link to the pics. All I’ll say is none 0f Alabama’s AI contestants would ever have been involved in this type of scandal. And thank God for that.

File This In The “Duh” Department

February 27, 2007

Shocking results from a new study:

Today’s college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study by five psychologists who worry that the trend could be harmful to personal relationships and American society.

Wow. Up next: According to a new study bloggers are more narcissistic and self-centered than non-bloggers.  

Anyway, it looks like t.v. can teach kids valuable lessons. Or the movies can anyway.

The solution offered by the study’s authors:

“We need to stop endlessly repeating ‘You’re special’ and having children repeat that back,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. “Kids are self-centered enough already.”

My favorite line in The Incredibles:

Helen: Everyone’s special, Dash.

Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is. 

The Latest On The BirmingDome

February 27, 2007

Except it’s now an arena. Not a dome. An arena.

Anyway, the latest plan is for a 40,000 seat dome, er, arena. The BJCC board and the local chieftans – JeffCo County Commission chair Bettye Fine Collins and B’ham Mayor Bernard Kincaid – settled on that number at some retreat last weekend.

But the rest of the local powers aren’t so enthusiastic. In fact, it sounds like the compromise has only made things worse for the dome, as folks who are generally dome proponents oppose this new mini-Dome:

Commissioner Larry Langford, who said last week he was “for anything that would move this community forward,” said Monday he opposes the plan after learning the details.

“When I realized that this stadium would not accommodate the Magic City Classic and they are not even planning on building the building in such a way that it can be expanded in the future, I won’t support it,” he said.

I think the whole dome idea is a delusional waste of money. The Tide is gone, they ain’t coming back. The Iron Bowl is gone, it ain’t coming back. The SEC championship is gone, it ain’t coming back. The NBA is not coming. Neither is the NFL. UAB football will never outdraw Hoover High School. There is just no need for a Dome.

But if we’re gonna throw away funds on hopeless dreams, let’s at least dream big. That seems to be the opinion of the Tuscaloosa News:

In cutting down the size of the project, planners have sheared off millions of dollars in costs. But they’ve also sheared off a lot of the project’s potential.

The domed stadium’s cost last year was projected at more than $500 million. By comparison, the indoor arena’s cost is estimated at $380 million.

A 40,000-seat arena might be fine in some respects. It could host high school football games, and the city’s new Bowl would be a comfortable fit. The University of Alabama at Birmingham could play its football games there and still be swallowed up by the size of the arena.

However, a 40,000-seat arena isn’t big enough to accommodate the Southeastern Conference football championship contest.

It is too small to host Birmingham’s annual Magic City Classic football game. And no NFL franchise would even think about locating in a city with such a pint-sized arena.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the proposed arena cannot be expanded once it’s constructed.

I also wholeheartedly agree with the News’ conclusion about the financing for the project:

Right now, the debate over the project is mostly local. So is talk about finances.

Advocates say there is enough city and county tax revenue to finance the project, barring a climb in interest rates.

However, state Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, says he expects support from the state for the expansion.

Again, Birmingham and Jefferson County can do as they please. But we’d rather not see state tax dollars spent on this questionable project. We don’t see much of a future in the new small-minded approach.


February 26, 2007

These are from our camping trip to the Talladega National Forrest. The last one is the new contest. As for the last contest, no-one got it, but it’s the dam on Lake Tranquility at Oak Mt. St. Park.

Happy trails, specifically, heading south on the Cave Creek trail though a tunnel of Mountain Laurel (or Rhododendrons, not sure which):

Pretty views, looking North from the Pinhoti trail towards Cheaha State Park :

This is on McDill Point. I try not to think about how it got there; I just acknowledge it and keep walking:

“Uhh, Dad, you’re not gonna eat that whole sandwich by yourself, are you?”

Our accommodations on Saturday night, the Blue Mountain Shelter, along the Pinhoti, a couple of miles north of the state park:

Towards the end of the trip, my dogs were tired:

Finally, the new contest picture. It’s not in B’ham, or even JeffCo, but the rest of these pics ought to give you an idea where it is. E-mail your guesses to

Playin’ Hookey

February 23, 2007

That’s what I’m doing today. Not really. When I got up yesterday and felt how nice it was outside, and when I saw that my neighbor’s tulip tree was almost in bloom, I was overcome with spring fever and the first thing I did when I got to work was tell them I was not gonna be there today. So I’m not at work, but I’m not AWOL, either.

What will I be doing with my day off? First, I’m going to do the Turkey Creek ride(pics here). Then I’ll come home, fix myself some brunch, eat, and go sit on my porch to read my book and drink my coffee. Later this afternoon I’ll take the dog for a walk. Then we’ll pack for an overnight backpacking trip to Talladega tomorrow. I’ll cap the day by having pizza for dinner and watching the t.v. shows I taped last night (Earl, The Office, Scrubs, and Thirty Rock).

“Significant Shrinkage!”

February 22, 2007

I don’t know if they were in the pool or not, but the City of Youngstown, Ohio, has some nifty ideas about dealing with population decline:

In Youngstown these days, an ambitious planning process has come to a haltingly honest conclusion: The city is shrinking. If that point seems obvious enough — population is now down to about 82,000 — it’s one that leaders of other declining cities stubbornly refuse to admit to themselves. Cincinnati, Detroit and St. Louis all have focused on reversing population losses in an attempt to reclaim bygone glory. By contrast, Youngstown’s “2010 Plan” begins by acknowledging that Youngstown is a small city now, burdened by the overly ambitious infrastructure of its past. The plan likens Youngstown to “a size-40 man wearing a size-60 suit.”

If Youngstown has made peace with its smaller self, however, its policy makers are still grappling with the key question: What does it mean to manage shrinkage in an intelligent way? Volumes have been written about how to implement “smart growth.” But what about smart decline? Youngstown may emerge as something of a national laboratory for ideas on how to cope with urban contraction. It’s not that the town’s civic leaders want to be in that position — they simply see little choice. “We’re on our way to accepting some obvious things about what the city is and isn’t going to be,” says Jay Williams, Youngstown’s 35-year-old mayor. “It was unrealistic to think we’ll be a 100,000 person city. But why not be an attractive city of 80,000 or 85,000 that offers a quality of life that competes with other cities across the state and across the country?”

Or, as Hunter Morrison puts it, “saying you’re a shrinking city is not saying you’re a dying city.”

“[A] size-40 man wearing a size-60 suit.” Bill Simmons, in a completely unrelated article, offers another analogy:

Remember when Britney and Christina Aguilera ushered in the Let’s Dress Like Hookers Era, and attractive women across America stopped wearing bras — and eventually, underwear — followed by every married guy over 30 kicking themselves that they sowed their oats in the Let’s Wear Baggy Sweaters, Eat & Be Scared of AIDS Era? Well, like with all great eras, there’s been a massive backlash. Now women of all shapes and sizes wear clothes they shouldn’t be wearing, which means you’re about 100,000 times more likely to see saggy butt cheeks, exposed pot bellies, flabby arms and love handles than you were in 2001. It’s legitimately, unequivocally horrifying — a full-fledged onslaught against every man’s libido.

Now, the results aren’t the same – shrinking cities aren’t bursting out of their limits. But the problem is – shrinking cities are making themselves unattractive by trying to be something they are not.

If none of this sounds familiar yet, or if that line about other cities “stubbornly refusing to admit to themselves” that they are no longer big cities doesn’t bring B’ham to mind, how about this:

Instead of accepting decline and trying to manage it in a deliberate way, mayors tend to gravitate toward revitalization plans that involve building convention centers and sports arenas and subsidizing hotels and shopping malls. They also get into desperate fights with the Census Bureau over population estimates and counting methodology.

Read our local papers lately? I’ve argued in a prior post that B’ham ought to give up on becoming Atlanta and instead become good at what it is: A mid-sized minor league town. Here’s some of what Youngstown has done:

One example is the city’s program for helping low-income people fix up their homes. Until recently, that aid has been distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, going right down a waiting list, regardless of the condition of the neighborhood. Now, the Community Development Agency skips homes in far-gone areas. It’s also looking at dangling rehab dollars as a carrot for people to move into more stable neighborhoods. “Does it make sense to invest $40,000 or $50,000 in a home that is on a street where more than half of the other homes have to be demolished?” Williams says. “Can we afford to keep investing that money on a randomly chosen basis and think that we’re affecting sustainable positive change?” . . .

If there is a guiding principle in all this, it is that Youngstown can afford to be generous with its land. That notion implies that stewardship is more important than the plat lines on Youngstown’s maps. Looking at a row of empty lots tangled with vegetation, you don’t have to squint too hard to see wild prairie or woodlands — or even a wetland. There’s environmental value here, but there’s also economic value — developers are under obligation to create a new wetland when they destroy one somewhere else. Youngstown has commissioned a survey of potential wetlands-in-waiting. Developers may come to value Youngstown land not because they want to build on it but because they don’t want to build on it.

My suggestions for B’ham? Start by using all the money that would have gone to the Dome/BJCC expansion for Red Mountain Park.