A major gaffe from Ras Baraka: He told the truth about red-light cameras (Mulshine)

By Paul Mulshine | The Star Ledger
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on December 05, 2014

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka is joined by various political operatives doing the bidding of a couple corporations who want to share the swag from those red-light cameras that produce millions in revenue but no perceptible gains in safety.

 

The new mayor of Newark, Ras Baraka, has clearly never learned the first rule of politics:

Whatever else you do, don't get up there and blurt out the truth.

That's what Baraka did on the subject of those red-light cameras that will soon be outlawed.

"We need that money. I think it's a good program," Baraka said Thursday during a brief interview. "The city is bringing in about $4 million a year...that's why we (are) speaking out about it."

No, no, no, Mr. Mayor. That's not how you play the game.

You're supposed to pretend that all you care about is the safety of the citizenry. What about all of that swag those companies send your way? Why, that has nothing to do with your motivations! Who would even suggest that?

But I guess Baraka doesn't yet have the skill to say that with a straight face, perhaps because he knows those alleged safety gains are based on data torture of the very worst kind.

It would take a real pro to defend those money-making machines when even his own people can't explain a 1,100-percent increase in instances of cars hitting pedestrians at one of the city's most lucrative intersections.

And then there's the case in which a number of drivers were ticketed in Newark even though a cop had waved them through the light (same link).

A good politician could just get up there and ignore all those facts while making a lot of obviously false statements without cracking a smile.

At a press conference Friday, a bunch of the usual suspects peddled the party line without breaking a sweat. Take state Sen. Richard Codey. He's been around a long time so he had no trouble uttering a sentiment that was obviously complete nonsense.

"To me this is about safety," he said. "It's as simple as that."

Really? He's concerned about making sure drivers obey the letter of the law?

Whenever I hear one of these guys spouting on about how he's so concerned about safety, I ask to see his E-ZPass statements. Is Codey the one legislator who makes that drive down the Turnpike to Trenton without ever exceeding the limit? Let's check those statements and see.

I would love to help Codey and all his fellow legislators drive more safely by publishing how their average speeds relate to the speed limit. But somehow I suspect Codey's smart enough not to let me, just as Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Redflex) declined an offer to have a traffic-safety monitor installed in his car. (Read here how he broke the law by talking on a cell phone while driving.)

Now that's how a pro handles things. Total hypocrisy will do the trick every time.

Codey made his statement knowing full well that the two companies that run the programs are famed for spreading tens of thousands of dollars around to politicians to get them to mutter such inanities. One has even been charged with bribing public officials.

And then there was the representative of the state League of Municipalities. The league exists to promote the financial interests of cities and the politicians that run them. If you think league officials give a damn about driver safety, then you are a trusting soul indeed.

That press conference got to be fun when a guy who wasn't a member of the press got to ask a question. Rich Short of the Stop Robo Cops citizen advocacy group asked Baraka to support some of the obviously false statistics he was spouting.

Baraka had no answer. That was bad enough. Worse, he won't even let us reporters talk to his alleged traffic experts. You know, the guys who can't explain that shocking rise in pedestrian collisions? They're kept away from the press.

There's one politician representing the motorists in all this. Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon is on a crusade to end all of this enrichment at the expense of drivers just trying to make it around the state with the most miserable commutes in America.

Here's the release O'Scanlon issued after that press conference:

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon today responded to Newark’s Mayor & legislative delegation who spoke to continue operating red light cameras.

"Precisely as I predicted, municipalities all over the State have become addicted to these revenue generating machines. Newark’s safety and cost record from the cameras makes the case to end the program - not keep it. When weighed against the negatives that have come out of Newark’s administration of the program, such as ticketing drivers who were waved through intersections by police or intentionally setting their yellow lights too short – there leaves no question that red light cameras should be removed from the City of Newark - and the State of New Jersey - for good.” Said Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-13).

O’Scanlon pointed to the Newark’s own data filed with the Department of Transportation:
• Within the 3 years of reported data to the Department of Transportation, over 235,835 citations have been written just in the City of Newark. – which would be almost one ticket for every single man, woman and child in a legislative district in New Jersey.*
• Newark has raked in $20 million in fines since the program began.*
• The total supposed “cost-benefit” for the red light camera intersections has been only an improvement of $500,000, meaning we take 40 dollars from motorists for every 1 dollar we tell them we are “saving” in accident costs.*
• Of Newark’s fourteen intersections with data available to the Department of Transportation, seven intersections saw costs associated with accidents increase, while only six had costs related to accidents decrease, with one remaining flat – exactly what one would expect with random fluctuation.*

“The data does all the talking. How Newark feels justified taking 40 dollars out of motorists’ pockets for every 1 dollar in tortured "gain" is hard to wrap my head around. The cost is 40 times higher than any supposed savings! The fact of the matter is it isn’t about safety, or Newark would properly engineer its yellow light timing and intersections to make them safer – not install systems which are designed to entrap motorists and commuters who drive through Newark daily. It is government sanctioned theft - highway robbery - plain and simple” O’Scanlon said. "Newark elected officials today could save millions of dollars a year simply by cutting their outrageous salaries and perks. Instead, they insult the taxpayers of New Jersey - who already pay more than a hundred million dollars of Newark's bills - by suggesting Newark should be allowed to steal more money from the taxpayers that have already been more than generous.” O’Scanlon added.

Additionally, in the other towns participating in the press conference, their red light cameras show little to no improvements in the overall safety of the intersections. “Despite their half-hearted attempts to suggest otherwise, the mayors themselves have conceded that this is all about the money. These systems are designed - through the use of short yellow light times and other tactics - to ticket and fine thousands of reasonably behaving people whose actions pose no threat to anyone. I have news for these officials - theft is not sound economic policy.” O’Scanlon concluded.

Springfield Township, participating in the press conference, saw their right-angle accidents double, from 4 to 8, at their red light camera intersection after installation of cameras.*

Roselle Park, for their only year of reported data at their red light camera intersections, saw dangerous accidents with injuries skyrocket from 0 to 11 – with increases in nearly every category of crash.* Without question, officials there should be advocating for their removal, not continuation.

Linden’s Mayor and Council still have not been able to justify keeping the cameras at their intersections, with three years of data they have not seen any reduction in right angle accidents (ten pre-camera to ten currently). The severity of the accidents also increased after the cameras were installed.*

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