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The cameras! They’re everywhere!

There are a lot of misconceptions about traffic cameras, their purpose, their use, and why they are in so many areas now. Many people understandably believe that traffic cameras are part of a sinister conspiracy to spy on Americans. With recent revelations of NSA spying and the sudden, exponential growth of the surveillance state and surveillance industry, this is a valid concern.  

When an intersection near my apartment was improved, my neighbors freaked out because of the traffic cameras being installed.  Since they knew I was in school majoring in Civil Engineering, they wanted me to fight this horrible travesty! Now!!! But before the improvements, I had witnessed no less than three pedestrians get hit by cars at that intersection. The sound of a car slamming into a person and the sight of someone lying on the pavement right outside my living room window, and then me having to call 911, not one but three times, is something I won't soon forget. Since the intersection was improved, the crosswalk carnage has stopped. No pedestrians have been hit there since the improvements, and a big part of that is better, smarter traffic flow because of traffic cameras.

In reality, traffic cameras and related systems are recommended and designed by well-meaning engineers who are simply using the best, cheapest, and newest technology available to monitor dangerous intersections and reduce fatalities, injuries, and damage, as well as increasing the capacity and flow of existing roads for much less than the cost of adding lanes or other physical infrastructure improvements.

In English, this means that traffic cameras are used for the primary purpose of making intersections safer and reducing traffic gridlock. While any technology can be abused, traffic cameras are not meant to be an extension of the all-seeing eye of Big Brother. Traffic cameras are a new technology that works better and is cheaper than existing technology. New, cheap, and better are not a combination one encounters often in civil engineering, hence the rapid expansion of traffic cameras.

Traffic cameras keep you safer on the way to work and help keep you from getting stuck in traffic jams, and make it safer for your kids to cross the street. And most of them aren't high res enough to see your license plate number. These cameras are built to count cars and trucks, not to catch you speeding and fine you big bucks.

Let me start below the orange cloverleaf interchange by debunking many of the myths and fears about traffic cameras.

Traffic Cameras

Myth #1: These traffic cameras are everywhere so they can send me tickets in the mail!

To debunk this myth, we have to talk about what traffic cameras are NOT used for.
Traffic cameras are NOT the same cameras that send you -surprise- tickets in the mail.
The vast majority of traffic cameras you see are NOT the ones that greedy municipalities use to snap pictures of license plates of people that run red lights and go 5 miles over the speed limit. I’ll refer to those as red-light cameras and speed cameras, or collectively as enforcement cameras. These types of cameras are often presented as being installed for public safety, but the primary driver is money. Usually, operation of speed and red-light cameras are outsourced to a private company who gets a kickback from the fines generated by these cameras.

Laws about enforcement cameras differ from state to state, but at least in Ohio, enforcement cameras have to be marked by signs that say “Photo Enforcement”. For example, in Cleveland, enforcement cameras are placed near the Cleveland Clinic, so drivers who are visiting sick loved ones and might not have red-light cameras as the first thing on their mind are zapped with costly fines. It’s a blatant cash grab falsely billed to be in the name of ‘safety’. In Akron they use mobile enforcement cameras, set up by plain white vans that weren’t there the day before to fleece unsuspecting motorists who drive by. They do this in school zones so they can say “it’s for the kids”. Really it’s for the Benjamins.

Know your city’s policy about enforcement cameras and you won’t get caught off guard by this moneymaking scheme. The locations of or policies regarding enforcement cameras are usually public info and can usually be found with a simple Internet search, since installation of enforcement cameras usually make the local news and is usually met with some public resistance. That normal, unmarked traffic camera you’re worried about is most likely NOT an enforcement camera. They are two completely different things.

Normal traffic cameras are NOT enforcement cameras. Most traffic camera footage I’ve seen is relatively low resolution, to the point where they are not even capable of reading license plates. That’s not how they’re designed. High-res cameras would be unnecessarily expensive, and civil engineers always go for low cost to avoid losing project bids and confrontations from angry taxpayers complaining about government "waste".

Myth #2: Traffic Cameras are part of a scheme to spy on Americans’ every move.
To debunk this myth, we have to talk about traffic cameras ARE used for.

Traffic Cameras are used to detect cars at traffic signals, to know when the best time is to change the signal from red to green.

Before traffic cameras, the prevailing technology to detect cars at intersections was detector loops embedded in the pavement at intersections. We’ve all seen the signs that said “stop here to actuate signal”, those are detector loops. They are like metal detectors that detect cars because the movement of big, metal cars induces a current in wire loops in the pavement. Detector loops are NOT “pressure plates” that sense weight as many believe. So if you see teenagers jumping up and down at a McDonald’s drive-thru to set it off, they’re doing it wrong. Unless they’re androids made of metal, it won’t work.

Detector loops come with an array of problems:
-They are expensive to install. Installing them requires tearing up the pavement, installing the loop, and repaving that rectangle of road.
-If a driver stops too far from the detector loop, it won’t detect the car at all, and the driver may never get a green light.
-Most loops can’t detect motorcycles at all because they are too small to induce a current.
-Usually, loops can’t tell how many cars are at an intersection, just that there is one there. They can’t tell a car from a tractor-trailer either.

Thanks to recent advances in technology, traffic cameras can do the job of detecting cars much better than loops, at a lower cost, and are installed without physically tearing up pavement. Cameras are “smarter” than “dumb” detector loops. They have a birds-eye view of the whole intersection, and can see every car waiting at the red light. It can tell how many cars are in the queue, how many are in the left turn lane, how long they’ve been waiting there, and it can tell a car from a tractor-trailer, and see motorcycles that were invisible to the dumb loops. It can count the number of cars that zip by at the green light too, and predict how long the queue will be on that street when the signal changes.

Though the cameras use images to detect cars, it sees them simply as data that is fed to a computer. Several intersections, and even whole road systems in whole cities can be linked together, and intersections synched up and optimized so that the whole system works together for the highest possible capacity.

We’ve all drove on roads where it seems that every light is red and getting anywhere takes forever. Traffic cameras can prevent this by helping intersections work smoothly together, reducing travel times. All this data can be tracked by engineers, and the system tweaked and optimized for maximum efficiency.

That’s what traffic cameras are for. Not for spying on people, but as a better way to detect cars. They are better than pavement loops in every way. The only problem is that traffic cameras are—cameras, and can be abused as such. So what happens to all that footage, all that video of random cars zooming through intersections?

It’s complicated in a country where we have a patchwork of laws in 50 states and thousands of cities, towns, and counties. But generally, there are laws restricting the use of traffic cameras for enforcement. Generally, they can’t and won’t use them just to give you a ticket for speeding or running a red light. They aren’t high enough resolution to tell whether that guy walking by is smoking a cigarette or a joint. Their primary purpose is not for catching criminals or entrapping or blackmailing innocent people or for keeping a huge file on your daily routine. Despite recent revelations on NSA spying on phone calls and emails, there is NO database of which cars go through what intersections on a day-to-day basis based on traffic camera images or data. Traffic data collected from cameras is general data not tied to specific cars or people.

When does law enforcement look through traffic camera footage to get evidence? That varies a lot from state to state and city to city, and ranges from never, to only for very serious crimes, to maybe some less serious crimes. But it’s in the best interest of the engineers that rely on traffic camera technology that the public not see them as a threat to their privacy and security, so there are always limits on the use of traffic cameras to give evidence to police.

Can traffic cameras be abused for this purpose? Sure! Any technology can be abused. Can they be used rightly by police? Maybe. Although I don’t have any direct evidence, it stands to reason that traffic camera footage was part of the barrage of images used to identify the Tsarnaev brothers in the Boston bombings. So the use of traffic cameras for enforcement and the pros and cons of that are up for debate, and should be debated.

But the purpose of traffic cameras is not to snoop in the lives of Americans. Traffic cameras reduce traffic crashes and save lives at dangerous intersections. They increase traffic flow and help you get to work easier. Traffic cameras can be abused, just like any technological advance. But overall, they improve the lives of people in this country that rely on cars and public roads to get from point A and point B. Fearing technology for its own sake without understanding its benefits is just as dangerous as allowing it to be abused with reckless abandon.

Originally posted to Failure in Shear on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 07:55 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Ummm (8+ / 0-)

    That song is not by Michael Jackson.

    It is by Rockwell.

    Great diary, otherwise.

  •  BS (7+ / 0-)

    traffic cameras are there for one reason only, to make money for the parties that install and maintain them.

    “Vote for the party closest to you, but work for the movement you love.” ~ Thom Hartmann 6/12/13

    by ozsea1 on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 08:11:00 AM PST

    •  WRONG (20+ / 0-)

      If you were to limit your statement to only red light or speed enforcement cameras, I would be inclined to agree with you.  However, the cameras that the diarist is discussing have many perfectly valid engineering applications, and are generally useless for law enforcement due to their low resolution

      For example: Using them as a component of an actuated signal system, like the diarist mentions. When combined with a vehicle sensor algorithm, it does the job better than the inductive loops, and is much easier to maintain.

      Another example: As part of a larger ITS system, which lets engineers in a traffic management center respond to incidents in near real time and adjust the system to compensate.

      And a third: Supplying vehicle counts to planners. Even though it's low-res video, you can use a system like Autoscope to process the video to provide counts of vehicles at the intersection. From an operations standpoint, that's very important information to have, and collecting it using other methods can get expensive.

      "He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

      by Hayate Yagami on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 08:41:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  clarification (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Justus

        Redlight and speed cameras are on the ----list.

        Traffic management; there, a case might be made.

        Your voficerous reply is so noted. Thank you for your concern.

        “Vote for the party closest to you, but work for the movement you love.” ~ Thom Hartmann 6/12/13

        by ozsea1 on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 09:18:15 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  And you think?. . . (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bluedust, Keith930, Roadbed Guy, Justus, ozsea1

        . . .those low resolution cameras are going to stay that way? And you think they won't, in a short time, be used for many other purposes?

        I wasn't born yesterday. In a scant few years, those cameras will be able to read the label on that can you're drinking from and maybe even the thread count of your shirt.

        •  Yeah, no. (7+ / 0-)

          The traffic/transportation engineers and planners don't care about HQ video, so I don't think we'll be blowing the money on the fancy new toys.

          "He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

          by Hayate Yagami on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 11:53:23 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  In my experience in the ITS field .. (6+ / 0-)

            ..I saw a lot of political, law enforcement and Homeland security interest in these systems. Even though they were intentionally designed to be low resolution to avoid the temptation for these agencies to commandeer the system when it suits them,  there are the beginnings of non-traffic related usage 'abuse' in some instances.

            In Tennessee, the engineers in charge of the system had to answer and report to the Governor's Public Relations group regarding non-emergency messages displayed on the freeway message boards. The politicians see it as a feel-good, warm and fuzzy political device that somehow promotes the feeling that Governor Bredesen/Haslem was on the job and keeping everyone safe and comfy. However, it can be argued that the constant messages regarding this years fatality statistics compared to last years, or "It's Boat Safety Week', etc. is a distraction and lessens the impact of an urgent advisory when critical information is actually needed to alert motorists to extreme safety issues on the roadway ahead.

            Let the Engineers run the system.

            Tennessee does not video tape its camera feed except in rare and unusual circumstances. If they did, the management would be in court on a permanent basis to testify in the weekly fender bender lawsuit. However, when the DC sniper was at large a few years ago, my friends in Maryland told me the FBI brought in a server to the Maryland Traffic Management HQ to hook up and record and save every second of every camera view. In this case, most people might feel this was a justifiable reason. They removed the server once arrests were made.

            We often dealt with agencies in charge of protecting the nations security. The infrastructure consisting of not only the cameras, but all of the thousands of structures and poles along the roadside connected by fiber optic cable, is seen as an opportunity by these agencies to co-opt and install their own devices for purposes other than traffic safety. Cable has been run to a Fusion Center for purposes yet unknown, and suggestions were made about installing 'sniffers' to detect the transport of radioactive materials being transported along the highways.

            I suspect this multi-billion infrastructure we are building to move traffic will be hijacked by other interests and modified to some extent to accomplish their particular set of goals. Let's not pretend otherwise.

            Isn't it discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit? (Noel Coward)

            by Mid10Dem on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 02:50:15 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  A historical footnote... (0+ / 0-)
              I suspect this multi-billion infrastructure we are building to move traffic will be hijacked by other interests and modified to some extent to accomplish their particular set of goals. Let's not pretend otherwise.
              You might find the origins of Sprint (the wireless carrier) interesting.

              Hint: It was originally SPRINT (an acronym), and "SPR" was Southern Pacific Railway.

              The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

              by wesmorgan1 on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 07:07:19 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  Having seen the output from the "low res" cameras (0+ / 0-)

          I can tell you that license plates are 100% readable.

          A friend made a movie in which he got permission to use camera footage from local "traffic" cameras as part of the plot. You can read the license plates perfectly clearly, so he had to get the road closed to regular traffic for a period of time, to ensure only cars involved in the film would appear in the footage.

          Town policy is the only thing preventing them from being used as "red light" cameras.

      •  Wrong again (10+ / 0-)

        The idea that red light and speed enforcement cameras are only about revenue is exactly incorrect. Of course, some cameras are used (or abused) in that way, just as traditional speed traps have been and continue to be used as a revenue source for years and years. But they make money because so many people violate the rules and drive in a way that is dangerous to those with whom they share the roads.

        Pedestrians and bikers are dying every single day because of uncontrolled speeding and red-light running. Here in NYC, the estimate is that more than a million drivers run red lights each day. Enforcement cameras are proven effective, in study after study, to reduce these violations, protect pedestrians' and cyclists' right-of-way, and save lives.

        If the only purpose of a road were to allow drivers to get where they're going with no impediments at all, then perhaps these tools wouldn't be important. But roads and streets are public spaces that belong to all of us, and speed limits and traffic lights are there to protect our safety. Drivers (of which I am one) may not like it when they're caught, but there's an easy way to avoid that -- drive at the speed limit, and stop at right lights.

        Transportation advocates like Transportation Alternatives in NY have been fighting for more cameras, and it has nothing to do with government revenue.

        •  Have to disagree. (7+ / 0-)

          I pass a speed enforcement camera every day on my commute.  There are two kinds of cars that pass that camera.  One, cars who don't know it's there and speed on unaffected.  These people get tickets later, but the camera has no effect on their speed at the time and do nothing to enhance the safety of the adjacent school.

          The other cars are those who know it's there and slow down in the enforcement spot, then speed up again as soon as they're past.  For these cars, there is minimal effect on school safety, but they don't get a ticket.

          In short, this camera does nothing to enhance pedestrian safety, but it does generate revenue.

          You can't spell CRAZY without R-AZ.

          by rb608 on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 02:38:33 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Accident rates increase with cameras (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            rb608

            http://www.caranddriver.com/...

            It's a 2 page article, worth reading in full, so you can understand how the "safety" data are being manipulated, but here are a few choice quotes:

            In Charlotte, North Carolina, station WBTV had this to say, "Three years, 125,000 tickets, and $6 million in fines later, the number of accidents at intersections in Charlotte has gone down less than one percent. And the number of rear-end accidents, which are much more common, has gone up 15 percent."

            In Greensboro, the News & Record reports, "There has not been a drop in the number of accidents caused by red-light violations citywide since the first cameras were installed in February 2001. There were 95 such accidents in Greensboro in 2001, the same number as in 2000. And at the 18 intersections with cameras, the number of wrecks caused by red-light running has doubled."

            The granddaddy of all studies, covering a 10-year period, was done for the Australian Road Research Board in 1995 (cameras went up in Melbourne in 1984). Photo enforcement "did not provide any reduction in accidents, rather there has been increases in rear end and [cross-street] accidents," wrote author David Andreassen in the page-one summary.

        •  Um, no. (8+ / 0-)

          I used to work for a speed/red light camera company. There was one and only one reason they existed: for the money. They didn't care about safety.

          The state law allowed red light tickets for people who had stopped, but their front tires crossed ever so slightly across the crosswalk line. Ticketing those people did exactly nothing to enhance safety, but those tickets got sent, and held up in court.

          The state law required tickets be sent within 14 days of the violation occurring. Many were sent out after that, on the fairly sound theory that most people either wouldn't know that or would have thrown out the envelope with the postmark on it that would prove it was mailed too late.

          A large batch of tickets had the wrong information on the location of the camera. The font with that info was miniscule. "Send the tickets anyway, most people probably won't check!" $$$

          And that's not even counting the more egregious issue of the (in)accuracy of the cameras. The company counted on people not taking the time to go to court to contest their ticket. And the judges in this particular county were guaranteed to require that the defendant prove they weren't speeding. One managed to do that with image overlay software that showed that, given timestamps and distances travelled, they COULDN'T be going the speed they were accused of. Didn't matter.

          The whole dirty business is just a scam.

          I’m tired of sacrificing lives on the altar of the Second Amendment. - Mark Damico

          by Hastur on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 03:39:22 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Impeding the crosswalk doesn't affect safety? WTF? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            duhban

            Let me guess - you drive everywhere and get annoyed when a pedestrian tries to cross.

            warning: snark probably above

            by NE2 on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 05:33:09 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  No, and no. (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Justus, ozsea1, kurt

              I don't drive everywhere and when I do, I yield willingly to pedestrians.

              We're not talking about impeding a crosswalk. We're talking about people who tried to stop for a red light, and couldn't quite do it without going slightly - I mean centimeters - over the line.

              If you're going to get a ticket anyway, you might as well barrel on through the red light as try to stop. I doubt this helps the cause of safety.

              I’m tired of sacrificing lives on the altar of the Second Amendment. - Mark Damico

              by Hastur on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 06:19:57 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  The diary is BS, but not because of that (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      whenwego, Bluefin, Justus, ozsea1

      there's two reasons

      Yours, and for recording every vehicle that passed by a certain point and automatically running backgrounds checks on them.  

      It's like they have massive NSA-envy!!  But luckily can fulfill it . . . (likely * with * NSA help!!!)

    •  Did you bother to read the diary... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chantedor

      ...before posting your ignorant and belligerent response?

      The diary made extremely clear that there are different types of cameras.  

      Political Compass: -6.75, -3.08

      by TexasTom on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 09:35:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  There is currently a case (9+ / 0-)

    in Kitsap County in which the Bremerton PD used the traffic camera in a major case contrary to state law.

    And numerous instances of where lights have been shortened to increase the chance of red light tickets.

    But soon cars will drive themselves so all control is placed in ?. But it will be all ok as we will be safe...  right?

    •  You're conflating "enforcement cameras" w/ (9+ / 0-)

      traffic cameras in general.
      From your article:

      State legislators are considering whether to allow images from red-light cameras to be used in investigations beyond red-light infractions (emphasis added)
      The ones the diarist is talking about are different. Those are very useful from an engineering standpoint, but would be useless for anything other than maybe identifying make/model/color. Picking out a single car by license plate is impossible.

      "He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

      by Hayate Yagami on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 08:23:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  "Numerous instances", ha! (10+ / 0-)

      One of the things I had to do in my last years with the City of Chicago was increase yellow and red times at many signalized intersections where red light cameras were installed.

      I will grant you that when one of the senior aldermen, Ed Burke, who is a former police officer, says that the enforcement cameras are a revenue stream, it's hard not to be cynical.

      •  Well, it's a revenue stream because drivers (10+ / 0-)

        keep running red lights.

        I think we can all agree that running a red light is not a good thing. Right?

        Getting one of those tickets in the mail can change driver behavior. Ask Mr. Elmo. He's very careful now to obey the traffic signal at the intersection right near our house.

        •  Well, a fine is a big motivator... (6+ / 0-)

          ...to change behavior.

          One other thing that I noticed was, when we installed countdown pedestrian signals at intersections equipped with red-light cameras, people tended to obey the signals more, and were less likely to try and blow the yellow intervals. This was even apparent on the un-cameraed legs of interesections, since the law requires that all legs have the "Photo Enforcement" signs.

          And Chicago could have had many, many more speed cameras, since the software for the red-light camras could have been modified to include that function. The cameras at signalized intersections would have been doing double duty. As it is, the installation of the cameras around schools and parks is a better use of the technology.

          My opinion is that one driver of the fines is the contractor, so if the City were to have sufficient staff to maintain and service the enforcement cameras without using a contractor, it would partially lessen the money angle. Unfortunately, the tendency has been to reduce City forces, including police, which is what was the original driver of installing enforcement cameras in the first place.

      •  I actually don't have a problem (4+ / 0-)

        with conflating traffic calming and revenue streams.  I think small towns are entitled to have outrageous speed traps.  I think it makes sense for cities to automate the more clear-cut and routine kinds of traffic enforcement.  I dislike red-light runners and speeders and tail-gaters and aggressive drivers generally.  They decrease MY safety and they run up public-health costs for no good reason.  Let them pay their share.  

        But, I realize that engaging in the enforcement-camera debate only distracts from the diarists point:  that there are engineering uses independent of enforcement.

        "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

        by lgmcp on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 09:40:11 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  "small towns are entitled to have speed traps"... (11+ / 0-)

          ... and I am entitled to avoid those towns.

          I had a professor that says "when you need traffic calming, it means the road was badly designed".

          I think there are better ways to slow traffic than hitting motorists with huge fines. Often, towns artificially lower the speed limit when the road could handle a much higher speed. Drivers tend to drive the speed they are comfortable-- even when it's above the legal speed limit.

          I tend to think that outlawing something and punishing people for doing it doesn't stop people from doing it. People will always speed, and towns will always make money from it. Just my 2 cents.

          Shear is a very brittle failure mode. Other modes of material failure include warning signs like bowing or cracking. But Failure in Shear often occurs catastrophically, without warning.

          by Failure in Shear on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 10:38:30 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I agree with your professor. :) (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            grover, JeffW, ladybug53, Justus

            Speed limits should be an engineering thing, and based on the actual roadway design, not something that politicians can tinker with.

            "He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

            by Hayate Yagami on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 11:12:16 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Yep. (9+ / 0-)

            Depends on the town.

            In western states,  we have a ton of small towns where Main Street is actually State Highway 123. The Highway has a 55 or even 60 mph speed limit, but Folksville has imposed a 20 mph speed limit on Main.

            Sometimes it's reasonable. There may be schools, a lot of shops, churches, and a clinic on Main. The town sprouted up off the main drag.

            But a lot of times, it's not a reasonable speed limit. The limit throughout the rest of town is 35 mph.

            They just know they can nail tourists traveling through: people who most likely won't return to contest those tickets.

            Speed limits should be set based upon engineering and safety standards, not set based on whim for economic purposes.

            © grover


            So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

            by grover on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 11:40:30 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Heard stories of small towns in Nevada (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Bluefin, ladybug53

              that use cameras and cops to hand out tickets to people "speedin" on the intererstate: these people did not see those signs reducing the speed limit from 65 to 55 or less, which is most people.

              Shall we go? Yes, let's go.

              by whenwego on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 01:18:25 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  "Badly designed"? (0+ / 0-)
            I had a professor that says "when you need traffic calming, it means the road was badly designed".
            Right...and the behavior of drivers has nothing to do with it.  **chuckle**

            The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

            by wesmorgan1 on Sun Nov 24, 2013 at 07:20:47 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  The town of Dover, MA *is* a speed trap (0+ / 0-)

            They have two sources of revenue: property taxes and speeding tickets. They have two main roads through the town, on which they have a 40 mph speed limit - except for two short stretches where they place 25 mph signs in hard to see spots just on the far side of a blind curve. It pretty much guarantees that if you don't drive there frequently, you won't notice the signs, and you will get a ticket. They are VERY aggressive about ticketing. They even ticketed a friend for riding his bicycle too fast. Luckily, he didn't have his license on him, and managed to get the officer to accept his library card as an ID, so it didn't affect his insurance rates (your rates go up for 7 years in MA if you get more than 2 tickets).

            Of course, these two roads are the main commuting routes for a number of Boston suburbs, leading to a significant revenue stream.

        •  Macks Creek, MO? n/t (0+ / 0-)

          ''The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic.'' - Justice Hugo L. Black of the Supreme Court

          by geekydee on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 10:56:31 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  i've heard that Chicago experimented with (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Hayate Yagami

        getting rid of all-red-time to increase traffic capacity slightly.  What I heard was that it increased the amount of crashes at first, but as drivers got used to it, the increase tapered off, and it did help traffic flow somewhat.

        I thought that was interesting since it goes against normal practice. From what you're saying with your red-light-camera experience, maybe it didn't work so well.

        Shear is a very brittle failure mode. Other modes of material failure include warning signs like bowing or cracking. But Failure in Shear often occurs catastrophically, without warning.

        by Failure in Shear on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 10:44:48 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I agree about the statements about enforcement (8+ / 0-)

    cameras - the motivation is money.

    But what is the purpose of traffic cameras placed near the top of tall poles at regular intervals along an interstate highway?

    There is a portion of a loop around the city where I live - I use it to get on the interstate. I noticed recently that there are surveillance cameras at the tops of poles at regular intervals and I thought that was odd.

    First, I tried to imagine a legitimate use for them and the only thing that I thought came close to legitimate was that they might be for police to use when there is an Amber alert or a Silver alert and they want to know where a specific car was heading.

    But the ACLU says that our license plates are being tracked. And worse, that the data is being kept for much longer than was initially stated.

    Personally, I'm going to take the ACLU's word for it over yours.

    But if they are going to collect that data, somebody needs to make sure it gets purged every month or every quarter... something.

    Women do 2/3 of the world's work, receive 10% of the world's income and own 1% of the means of production.

    by LibrErica on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 09:16:04 AM PST

    •  Those are to watch for traffic incidents... (8+ / 0-)

      ...like backups and accidents.

      •  Some freeways now have digital signage (4+ / 0-)

        projecting how many minutes travel time to various key exits, based on real-time feedback and current conditons.  Where slow-downs start to become the norm, people find those projections very useful.   The mother of them all is on the ring roads of London, England.

        "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

        by lgmcp on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 09:46:33 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  But, at the same time, (9+ / 0-)

        the possibility that they are ALSO hooked up to license plate readers cannot be discounted.  It varies, right?  Some municipalities are doing that (mine is) and others are not.  It is a hodge-podge and an evolving area.  Which is why the ACLU's proposed regulations NEED to be heeded by policymakers at every level.

        I think these ACLU recommendations for use of plate-reader technology are sound ones:

        License plate readers may be used by law enforcement agencies only to investigate hits and in other circumstances in which law enforcement agents reasonably believe that the plate data are relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.

        The government must not store data about innocent people for any lengthy period. Unless plate data has been flagged, retention periods should be measured in days or weeks, not months and certainly not years.

        People should be able to find out if plate data of vehicles registered to them are contained in a law enforcement agency’s database.

        Law enforcement agencies should not share license plate reader data with third parties that do not follow proper retention and access principles. They should also be transparent regarding with whom they share license plate reader data.

        Any entity that uses license plate readers should be required to report its usage publicly on at least an annual basis.

        https://www.aclu.org/...

        "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

        by lgmcp on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 09:52:26 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes it can. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JeffW, ladybug53, TexasTom, chantedor

          The traffic cameras are typically low-resolution, and designed for roadway condition monitoring (i.e. watching for congestion, accidents, or other roadway incidents), and simply can not do what you are suggesting.

          Here's a local (for me, at least) example: http://transview.org/...

          Go ahead. Try to figure out a way to pick out a license plate from that video. It's just not possible. Heck, getting anything other than  a vehicle type (car, truck, van, bus, heavy) and color would be a bit of a stretch.

          This does not, however, discount the possibility of police departments from ALSO setting up readers like you suggest (I suppose the enforcement cameras could be set up do do so, for example). They would, however, have to be a separate system. DoT budgets are thin enough, without dumping even more money into overdesigned cameras. We don't need the super-high res video, so we don't get systems that can provide it.

          "He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

          by Hayate Yagami on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 10:36:52 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Well, if we know the specs of the cameras (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            LibrErica, Simplify, jrooth

            on any given roadway, that would help us predict its probable uses.  

            But to most of us, they just look like an oversize webcam-on-a-stick.  As a non-expert, most of us can't tell if they are high-res or low-res just by looking.

            I was very surprised when our local ACLU got the police department to acknowledge their plate-reader program.  I had honestly assumed the cameras were for traffic automation or at most speeding enforcement.  The follow-up-for-potential-terrorism-investigation-six-months-later  angle was truly a shocker.  

            "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

            by lgmcp on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 10:44:52 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  highway cameras... (7+ / 0-)

      ... the ones you talk about on the top of tall poles, are used much the same way that cameras at traffic signals are. You could say that they both are different types of traffic cameras.

      I don't know as much about highway cameras, but I do know that they are used to count cars and collect data. they identify problem spots and are used by DoT's to come up with possible solutions.

      License plate readers would be similar to enforcement cameras in that their main purpose is to identify people for whatever purpose.

      I've read something somewhere about a police department using mobile license plate readers to identify people whoa attend protests and political events and put them on a list. I don't have a link or any specifics, so maybe you can look it up. Like I said, any technology can be abused.

      Cameras at the the top of tall poles are traffic cameras like the ones I mention in the diary used for engineering applications. License plate readers/enforcement cameras are a different beast.

      Hey, questioning authority is a good thing. I agree that the use of license plate readers should be closely monitored.

      Shear is a very brittle failure mode. Other modes of material failure include warning signs like bowing or cracking. But Failure in Shear often occurs catastrophically, without warning.

      by Failure in Shear on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 10:28:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Another thing is that, in order to read... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Tonga 23, kurt

        ...license plates, there would have to be some sort of connection to a central computer. The City of Chicago has maybe a quarter of its 2905 signalized intersections on interconnected systems, and some of those have a dialup connection for the last mile, using 2400 baud (yes, 2400 baud) dialup connections. Nobody has wanted to fund fiber for that last mile since these systems went in in the mid to late-1990's. and there sure isn't the additional fiber for video channels. Most intersections with actuation cameras aren't even on systems. And I learned that a new, probably politically-connected outfit has persuaded the City to go with magnetometer detectors from now on, rather than video detection, so any cameras at signalized intersections ma be either enforcement (speed/red light) or pod cameras (911 Center/CPD) for surveillance.

        27+ years of experience say you have little to worry about.

    •  I use those all the time. (7+ / 0-)

      On long trips, I consult that states' transportation division (like Caltrans, WSDOT  or ODOT) and we can see the roads conditions miles ahead. For mountains and bad weather, these can be time (and even life) savers.   Ever look at a traffic camera and see a wildfire burning right at the edge of the interstate? I have. (We took a long detour).

      My husband travels for work. He'll call me and I can pull up a regional system and see what traffic conditions look like. Often the traffic report says a highway is blocked by an accident, but looking at the camera feed, the accident and freeway are clear. So I can tell him which route to take before he leaves for home.

      It's safer than him trying to make decisions on the fly or based on reader boards that have been sitting on the freeway for hours.

      On interstate 5 in Portland, there is a drawbridge. Traffic stops. The reader board tells you the drawbridge is Up. It's a dead stop, but you have no idea how long you'll be there. Three minutes? Twenty? Your passengers glances at the camera feed. You can tell the others around you it's going to be a long wait, so turn off  your engines.  How great is that for the environment? Or, the bridge is already back down and you're going to move in a minute or two..  

      Traffic camera feed to the Internet is one of the best things to come along. If you check it out before your trip or have someone to look at it while you're driving, it can make a big difference in terms of time, fuel use and safety.

      © grover


      So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

      by grover on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 11:07:48 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Googlemaps has the real-time traffic view (0+ / 0-)

        which is fascinating to me.  Based on mobile-device users voluntarily agreeing to allow automated uploads of their geolocation, traffic flow rates can be estimated.  Of course a certain density of user adoption is necessary to render the sample size meaningful, but I think Googlemaps just omits to display it where a sample-size threshhold is not met.

        "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

        by lgmcp on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 01:17:27 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Appreciate your (7+ / 0-)

    well written diary which gives me information I didn't know before.

    Ceiling Cat rules....srsly.

    by side pocket on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 09:19:00 AM PST

  •  I am pleased to know that SOME usage is benign (6+ / 0-)

    and actually I am among those (probably a minority here) who believe that there is a valid place for enforcement cameras if appropriate checks and balances are maintained.  

    However just because traffic cameras, as opposed to surveillance camers, are sometimes used and can save laves without privacy instrustion ... does NOT mean that what Joe Citizen sees up on that pole is NOT for surveillance.

    Because, in my city, they are.   Our police department admits that they can and do capture and read license plates.  And, they don't JUST check in real-time for a hotlist of stolen vehicles or manhunts.  The data is RETAINED, for a period of many months, for potential analysis at a later date.  

    That's going way too far.  Even a fan of red-light cameras can't get down with unrestrained retention of that data on mass scale.  

    "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

    by lgmcp on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 09:27:49 AM PST

    •  Here's the local story (6+ / 0-)

      Our ACLU chapter is seeking the extremely reasonable limitation that the data be retained for no more than 1 week.  6 months retention is excessive and offers too much potential for abuse.  

      Is the data necessarily being mined and abused?  Probably not ... usually.  

      http://www.koat.com/...

      "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

      by lgmcp on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 09:31:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  To clarify (0+ / 0-)
      Because, in my city, they are.   Our police department admits that they can and do capture and read license plates
      Is the "they" the PD, or the traffic cameras?

      "He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

      by Hayate Yagami on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 10:38:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Both (0+ / 0-)

        The cameras they have are equipped with optical-character-reader processing, and translate the image into an alphanumeric string representing the license plate number.  That goes into a database and police have access to the data.  

        "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

        by lgmcp on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 10:46:59 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  And these are the regular cameras? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          lgmcp

          As opposed to additional ones that the PD set up?

          After some googling, while I did find a number of stories about license plate reader cameras being deployed, they were always being deployed by the PD's, not by the DoT's.

          "He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

          by Hayate Yagami on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 10:55:44 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Around here (SF bar area) (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            lgmcp, Hayate Yagami

            the police in some municipalities have started using License Plate Readers, but the usually seem to be mounted on patrol cars. The one exception is Tiburon, a wealthy community north of the Golden Gate, which mounted LPR's on poles at the entrances to town so that they can keep track of the riff-raff entering and leaving.

            I must say, though, that as a motorcyclist I appreciate the signal cameras replacing sensor loops. In this state, the loops are required to be able to detect motorcycles (and I believe bicycles), but in these tight budgetary times, keeping them adjusted is real low on cities' priority lists.

          •  Definitely deployed by our PD (0+ / 0-)

            probably with Homeland Security funding.   We do have the national labs here with all kinds of classified and nuclear programs, so probably considered more of a terrorism target than other mid-size inland cities.  

            Also, due to local geography with large blocks of land off-limits as part of Indian reservations, federal labs, air force, and national forest, there are only about 1/2 dozen roads that lead in and out of the metro area.   The cameras are clustered along these arterials, particularly near the limited number of river crossings.  

            "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

            by lgmcp on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 01:31:58 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Yikes. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lgmcp

    New Mexico was one of the place I was considering looking for jobs.

    I agree this is blatant misuse of traffic cameras. Like I said, any technology can be misused.

    The people that lose in this scenario are drivers and engineers. Misuse of traffic cameras leads to public opposition to them, making it harder for engineers to do their job of making the roads safer.

    While invading people's privacy in the supposed name of "safety" they are actually making the roads less safe. I would say, based on what I know that the scenario in Albuquerque is the exception and not the rule.

    Thanks for the link though. People should know what their traffic cameras are being used for.

    Shear is a very brittle failure mode. Other modes of material failure include warning signs like bowing or cracking. But Failure in Shear often occurs catastrophically, without warning.

    by Failure in Shear on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 10:33:16 AM PST

    •  This was supposed to be a reply to lgmcp. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lgmcp

      oops!

      Shear is a very brittle failure mode. Other modes of material failure include warning signs like bowing or cracking. But Failure in Shear often occurs catastrophically, without warning.

      by Failure in Shear on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 10:47:32 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I agree that the technology can and should (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Failure in Shear

      be of benefit as well as of harm.  As always, the devil is in the details, and sunshine and oversight are key.

      "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

      by lgmcp on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 10:48:12 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The main purpose of traffic cameras is monitoring (5+ / 0-)

    traffic conditions. Traffic reporters and drivers can learn about congestion in real time and make travel choices accordingly. The technology and uses for the cameras have evolved since DOTs first started installing them in the early 1990s. They are capable of doing a lot more than just providing traveler information these days. Some detect red-light runners. Some provide feedback to traffic signal systems. Some record license plate numbers. But most of them don't do any of those things. Their main purpose is still provision of real-time traffic conditions.

  •  Traffic cameras are being replaced by timers (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gecko, lgmcp

    in DC.  Yep, old fashioned timers, which give pedestrians and cyclists trying to cross the roads a predictable pattern.  We need more of this -- simple timers with relatively short cycles -- especially in residential or shopping areas.

    Traffic cameras can be used for good if they help maintain speeds at reasonable levels, and I am very much pro speed camera -- yep, drive the damn speed limit and quit complaining!

    But in Maryland, traffic cameras are being used perversely to increase speeds and have resulted in terrible pedestrian and bike fatalities.  They are used to increase speeds by making through greens far too long, synchonizing them at speeds far too fast, and preventing side traffic or non-car road users from crossing without unacceptable delays.  The cameras don't activate on bikes, and the beg buttons (if they exist) either don't work, are too delayed, or are inaccessibly placed.  Maryland highway engineers are obsessed with trying to turn every residential or commercial street into a freeway, and the fatalities and frustrations keep going up.

  •  Sometimes I check in on the Milwaukee traffic cams (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    grover, lgmcp

    and see what I'm not missing...

    If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter. -George Washington

    by Tank Mountaine on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 10:48:48 AM PST

  •  Detector loops (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lgmcp, JeffW

    On a bicycle, sometimes they pick it up, sometimes not. Does it help to lower the bike closer to the ground?

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 10:59:23 AM PST

    •  Inductive loops (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      peptabysmal, lgmcp, JeffW

      Wouldn't detect a bike or a moped, and might be able to pick up a motorcycle.  They just don't have enough metal to trigger a positive. One of my professors recommended sticking a strong magnet to the bottom of a moped/motorcycle, if you didn't want to just walk to the curb to hit the pedestrian button. :P

      "He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

      by Hayate Yagami on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 11:16:32 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  They can adjusted to register a bicycle (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lgmcp, Mid10Dem, Simplify

        if the bike is steel. Sometimes you have to make a request to the city to increase the sensitivity of the sensor. Also, if you have your bike positioned to one side instead of right in the middle it works better.

        •  It can be oversensitive... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JeffW, AoT

          ..however, when adjusted to detect bicycles, and receive 'false calls' which will unnecessarily switch the signal to provide green to an empty approach.

          Isn't it discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit? (Noel Coward)

          by Mid10Dem on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 02:59:06 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Vehicle detectors (0+ / 0-)

        The loop is part of a tuned circuit.  The loop is a coil.  When you put a piece of iron in the coil the inductance changes.  this causes a frequency change which triggers a count.

  •  Don't record (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jrooth
    That’s what traffic cameras are for. Not for spying on people, but as a better way to detect cars.
    Good, then none of the footage or data is logged, other than on a spot-checking basis for auditing. Right?

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 11:08:32 AM PST

    •  Absolutely record. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lgmcp

      I've used freeway recordings in a few projects to generate vehicle counts. I've known students who have used it in their own projects. Having that on hand is very useful from an engineering standpoint.

      IMO it should be discarded after a year (because then it's superceded by the same date of the current year) if no one uses it, though.

      "He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

      by Hayate Yagami on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 11:28:28 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  our traffic cameras do identify you. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jrooth, viral, lgmcp, Carol in San Antonio

    We here are living in freedom hating Netherlands and we have trajectcontrole. cameras do exactly that: they record the car to recognize the license plate, and compare it with another camera down the road, to measure your individual travel time (the distance is typically 20-30 miles) and if you have been on average too fast you get a ticket. Directly.

    as the dutch website says, the system,which was pioneered here in the Netherlands, is in process of being technically expanded to cover EU wide license plates.

    to take it further - political circles in the inner metropolitan countries are on/off debating whether to mandate black boxes in cars with automatically read satellite datalinks since traffic by now needs to be steered on interregional scales. For now, as far as I am aware, that has still been rejected for the abuse possibilities it offers, but I would not be surprised if it is eventually introduced one of these years.

  •  Some thoughts: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lgmcp, ozsea1

    One cannot simply assume that the uses to which systems are put are limited to the uses they were originally designed for.  You make a number of declarations of fact which seem to be entirely based on that assumption.

    Unless you are read into all compartmented surveillance programs, I don't see how you can confidently claim that "there is NO database of which cars go through what intersections on a day-to-day basis based on traffic camera images or data."  This may be true, but given that the NSA has demonstrated an interest in all sorts of bulk collection for retrospective searching and given that there's probably no law against retaining this data it might also be false.

    While it's true that most traffic cameras are too low-resolution to read licence plates, that doesn't mean they're useless for tracking individual movements, particularly if correlated with other location data such as cellphone "metadata."

    As time goes by, the cost of higher resolution cameras steadily declines, so even if most current cameras are low-res it doesn't follow that this situation won't change.

    I'm all for being reality-based and I appreciate that spirit in this diary, I still think we've got a really major problem with the disappearance of privacy and ubiquitous cameras are a big part of that.  I think it's really worthwhile to try and work out how to preserve some measure of privacy in the future.  (And don't get me started on Google Glass - that's maybe the final nail in the coffin ...)

    "That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything ... There would be no place to hide." - Senator Frank Church

    by jrooth on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 12:21:00 PM PST

  •  There's nothing wrong with enforcement either... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NE2, JeffW

    ...though I do think there should be a small gap between the posted speed limit and the speed at which cameras catch you.  Red light runners I have less sympathy for - that's dangerous.  I do wish, however, that localities did not budget the revenue gained from this enforcement; such revenue should be put in a rainy day fund, but not expected.  Finally, when you are out on public roads there is really no expectation of privacy in my mind.

  •  Wait till you get news of the next innovation, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt

    Drones.

    That's right, some states are looking into inexpensive drone technology to fly to trouble spots and determine immediately what resources are required to best address a congestion causing incident.

    Isn't it discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit? (Noel Coward)

    by Mid10Dem on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 03:04:53 PM PST

  •  The purpose of the NSA is also not to snoop on (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ozsea1, kurt

    innocent Americans, but they do anyway.

    "designed by well-meaning engineers who are simply using the best, cheapest, and newest technology available"

    Which describes every weapon, prison, and system of oppression ever created.

  •  Loop detectors can be adjusted to detect bikes (0+ / 0-)

    http://commuteorlando.com/...

    Bowling alley-style video detection requires more maintenance, according to a 2005 study: http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/...

    Each video detection system showed a moderate to high number of missed and false calls over the two test periods.
    The loop detector showed only one missed call and 1 false call over both 48 hour test periods. The missed call was due to a wild vehicle path, while the false call was due to an unexplained eight-second extension.
    None of the three systems appeared to provide superior performance over the other three. The most accurate and reliable technology was the traditional loop detectors.
    The accuracy of all three systems appears to degrade with time and it appeared that a re-calibration was necessary only four months after the initial installation by factory representatives.
    If I were in charge, I'd use loop detectors if a traffic light is installed when a road is built/widened, and cameras as a stopgap between when a signal is added and the next repaving.

    Anyway, if they really wanted to, they could probably compile a database of cars based on exactly how much current is generated by the loop. Spies gonna spy.

    warning: snark probably above

    by NE2 on Fri Nov 22, 2013 at 03:33:30 PM PST

  •  I am perfectly fine with camera's. The driving (0+ / 0-)

    behavior of many individuals has become so egregious that they should be fined on a regular and continous basis.  I count at least 2 to 3 people running every signal red light I sit at(a left turn).  People pulling into traffic without looking or caring.  People failing to use signals when they change lanes.  I could go on and on.  If we could fine all this behavior we would have the finest infrastructure in the world even if all we ever collected was 50% of the fine.

  •  Propaganda. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Roadbed Guy, Desolations Angel

    The cameras can read your license plate. The data is stored.  

    •  Yes, and there's huge effort going (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Desolations Angel, ozsea1

      into face recognition as well, essentially the evil cousin of the plate reading technology.

      Not sure why / how so many apologists for the surveillance state find their way to this.

      But whateever, I suppose they're just living their life in fear of the NSA and want to prove that they're good toadies.

      Some day I might be like that, but I doubt it, I really don't have much to lose . . .

  •  I lived in Plano, TX back in the 1990's (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nancat357, kurt

    and when I moved there I was struck by the reckless driving. The number of accidents in shopping mall parking lots was so high that it became a running joke. Lots of cars got damaged but almost no one died or received serious bodily harm. People seemed to disregard the most basic rules of the road. I drove to work by going down a couple of quiet city streets until I reached Plano Parkway. It was a roaring speedway. There was a traffic light just before the entrance to the southbound lanes of the Dallas North Tollway. Lots of people passed through that intersection on the way to work in downtown Dallas. And lots of people died. It was no longer funny. In fact, that intersection became known as one of the two or three most dangerous intersections in the country. I went to work early, I liked to get there at 6:00 am, so I missed the worst of it.

    Finally the city council installed traffic cameras there and all hell broke loose. Plano is a rich town with rich people who are mostly conservative Republicans and/or libertarians. They were enraged at this invasion of the privacy and curtailing of their freedom and liberty. Then the videos began to appear on local tv stations. It was amazing. It was crazy. You couldn't believe the way people drove through that intersection. They seemed to believe that they were invincible, and they seemed to believe that other drivers must yield the road to them. But changes happened. The intersection became much safer and dropped out of the top ten worst list in less than a year.

    Also, in the Dallas area in general there is an interstate hwy loop around the town, approximately on the county line. Road rage became a problem, and it had an amazing characteristic. It seemed that when a driver was exiting the hwy and heading to the frontage lanes, he assumed that no only did he have the right of way for his vehicle he assumed he had it for his look-ahead line of sight. I'm not kidding. People would become enraged if a car crossed their line of sight. Cameras helped identify this phenomenon. In fact some drivers would speed up as they left the hwy in order to force drivers on the frontage road to yield to them. It was bizarre.

    I don't live in Plano anymore. I retired in 1995 and now live in a little cabin on the edge of a forest. Squirrels can come from trees in my front yard, across my roof, through trees in my backyard until they reach the forest, and from there they can literally go for miles without ever touching the ground. It is quiet and I know of no accidents that have taken place between my house and the local shopping center. We don't need traffic cameras, and so we don't have them. But I know of places in Fort Worth and even in Durant Ok where I visit a lot where cameras would improve safety.

    Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

    by hestal on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 01:29:54 AM PST

  •  I learned a lot in this diary.... (0+ / 0-)

    in fact I am bookmarking it for later use.  I thought the private contractor info was particularly interesting.

    One aspect of database building is deciding what data to include and how to query that database.  That is the reason NSA building algorithms to pull patterns from data is important to know about.  But the algorithms are used to pull my surfing activity and populate my advertising.  I get a lot of ads for quilting classes and travel to exotic locations.  

    The question is, should I care?  I can imagine some people would find themselves identified by their pattern of activity innocently.  And some people could be stalked by an abuser working in the police system or a parent could monitor their child inappropriately.  One could monitor the monitors, I would assume.  I doubt the data is able to be faked easily and you can't make low res into to high res.  Weather interferes and there is a shit ton of data to look through.  

    I am struck by the conspiracy folks seeing the pattern of government control of safety as interfering with their personal rights to speed and drive as they like.  Red light cameras do result in less fatalities.  The data is clear.  And I do use those countdown clocks. As a pedestrian and a driver, I want to be safer.  

    You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad. Aldous Huxley

    by murrayewv on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 02:41:58 AM PST

  •  Thank You Rescue Rangers (0+ / 0-)

    “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

    by ban nock on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 05:22:02 AM PST

  •  My memory of the details is fogged (0+ / 0-)

    because it involves the election of a Republican as Mayor (replacing an even worse Democrat, as it happens) in the city where I live, but one of the things that was instrumental in the Republican's winning the election was his promise to eliminate red-light cameras.  There were many city council meetings, after he was elected, about keeping the cameras.  Democrats on the council were pretty vocal about keeping them--although they were clear and open about why they wanted them kept (as a source of revenue).  They were finally outvoted, and the cameras were removed.  There was much rejoicing in the land.

  •  Always check your state law... (0+ / 0-)

    Last I knew, in Michigan it is against the state Constitution for the police to issue anyone a ticket based on a photograph.  The officer has to physically see the person in the driver's seat right after they are pulled over.  The state (or local PD, don't remember which one) experimented with speed cameras in the back of unmarked station wagons about 20 years ago.  They could only send the speeding drivers warnings, not tickets.

    Our city started installing cameras at intersections specifically for traffic light control.  When some folks started noticing the cameras, they started calling the local PD, asking about the cameras; some folks even asked when they would be getting their ticket for running the light.  The PD eventually had to have the local newspaper run a story on the lights to explain them.

  •  technology is (in most cases) benign (0+ / 0-)

    the uses that humans put it to are not.  

    I just read an article this morning about a UN effort to make "killer robots" illegal.  Seems the technology already exists to create robotic military weapons.

    Really...go back and watch the first Terminator movie.  We are headed there.  Life immitates art.  We'll probably be there within 20 years.  

    How's that grab you?

    Through early morning fog I see visions of the things to be the pains that are withheld for me I realize and I can see...

    by Keith930 on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 04:34:15 PM PST

  •  In the Bay Area (0+ / 0-)

    we had a spate of these dreadful "big brother is watching you" cams installed at intersections in many municipalities, for the sole and express purpose of raising revenues. You'd run a red light, and a day or two later, you'd get a $600 traffic ticket in the mail. It interested me that these cams cropped up at a much greater rate in poorer neighborhoods than in affluent ones. They figured poorer people are easier to intimidate into just paying their fines, I guess, or at least in trying to pay them. That way, they can collect these nice interest payments and penalties from little church-going grandmas on fixed incomes.

    At any rate, the mania for these cameras has passed. Citizen activists, mercifully, are getting them taken down.

    But your diary raises an interesting discussion. Are all traffic cams bad?

    Thanks. Tipped and recommended.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 05:00:00 PM PST

  •  I have mixed emotions about this. (0+ / 0-)

    I don't see the point in fixed speed zone cameras unless the location has a history of accidents associated with speeding.

    I like the red light cameras.  In my city, the rate of accidents at the monitored intersections has decreased.  I also like the roving speed zone cameras since they are always posted at elementary and middle school zones.  Considering the driving behaviour I used to observe at these locations, they are making the city a safer place for school children.

    What, me worry? I read MAD Magazine.

    by Bill Roberts on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 09:29:33 PM PST

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