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Editorial: Red light cameras mean stop

Editorial: Red light cameras mean stop

Schenectady should apply to Legislature for permission to install cameras at traffic lights

It appears the city of Albany will soon be getting red-light cameras, making it the first Capital Region community to have them. The electronic eyes can improve traffic safety without the need for more patrols by understaffed police departments, and raise some much-needed revenue for municipalities in the process.

That’s why in earlier editorials we urged Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy or the City Council to embrace the technology — unfortunately, to no avail.

Streets can’t be safe when drivers routinely run red lights, as they do in many places, including Schenectady. It’s obviously dangerous to other drivers and pedestrians. Sometimes fatal.

When Cassandra Boone, a Schenectady County Community College freshman, was killed while crossing Erie Boulevard at State Street in 2011, it was by someone running a red light.

Some people say red-light cameras are a violation of their privacy or remind them of Big Brother. But the devices aren’t following them around. They’re put at a particular place to address a particular problem. All they do is snap a picture of the license plate, not the driver, of any car that runs a red light. The infraction is then treated like a parking ticket, with the owner held responsible and fined $50.

Municipalities in New York state can’t just install the cameras on their own; they need permission from the state Legislature through a home-rule measure. New York City, Nassau and Suffolk counties, Yonkers, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo all have received such permission.

The Albany City Council last week approved a resolution asking the state to approve red-light cameras in the city, and home-rule legislation has been introduced in the state Senate and Assembly. If it passes, Albany would join those other cities with a “demonstration program” (cameras could be installed at up to 20 locations) that would expire in 2020. It’s a good way to find out just how well the devices work.

We urge Schenectady to now seek permission from the Legislature as well.

Mayor McCarthy has said previously that the city asked for home-rule legislation for red-light cameras in the late 1990s (when he was City Council president), but didn’t get it.

Time to ask again.

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