Watchdog: Family worries red-light camera will keep them up nights

Daniel and Jessica McCarthy of West Babylon approve

Daniel and Jessica McCarthy of West Babylon approve of red-light cameras, but not the one placed across the street from their home. They fear the white flash from the camera will keep them and their young children up nights. (Credit: Newsday / Judy Cartwright)

Judy Cartwright

Judy Cartwright Judy Cartwright

Judy Cartwright writes the Community Watchdog column

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If there's one thing Daniel McCarthy would like to make clear, it's this: He doesn't have an issue with the use of red-light cameras. He hopes they can save lives.

But he never expected one to show up in his front yard.

"I was awakened one morning to jack hammering in the street," he wrote in an email to Watchdog. "When I went outside, the workers said they are installing a red light camera. I told them this is my house and I don't want the bright flashes going through my bedroom window . . . Those bulbs will flash all night long.

"Please help — I have a one-month-old and a 14-month-old and we all need our sleep."

Red-light cameras have prompted many concerns, but this is the first we've received about the potential impact on a neighborhood's quality of life.

The McCarthys' house-lined street, Great East Neck Road in West Babylon, is busy, with four travel lanes plus a turn lane down the middle. Clearly, Dan and his wife, Jessica, knew when they moved in they wouldn't have the quiet of a cul-de-sac.

But they didn't anticipate the arrival of a red-light camera and the accompanying flashes of white light. A pole for one camera now stands near the curb in their yard; a camera atop it will face toward the intersection, away from their house. Another camera diagonally across the intersection will face their home, though at a considerable distance — an estimated 300 feet. Still, the couple is concerned that flashes of light will punctuate their nights.

We asked Suffolk County how locations for cameras are chosen and if proximity to homes enters the calculation. The latter consideration, it became clear, takes a backseat. The county provided a list of steps the Department of Public Works uses, starting with accident report data to determine which traffic-signal intersections have had the most right-angle accidents.

The department then takes steps including:

Assessing which sites are suitable for construction of the necessary infrastructure

Determining whether other construction projects may pose a conflict

Setting up video cameras to record how often traffic goes through an intersection when the signal is red

One such video camera was set up at the intersection near the McCarthys: It recorded more than 70 drivers on Great East Neck Road running red lights in a 16-hour stretch, the county told us. Those numbers underscore the program's role as a public safety initiative, county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said.

Suffolk County police provided a list of 22 accidents at the location for the past four years: 14 accidents were listed at the intersection, five of which involved injury. Another eight accidents were reported within a block of the intersection, on either Great East Neck Road or Arnold Avenue.

Dan McCarthy, a volunteer firefighter, wasn't shy about buttonholing his elected officials about the matter at the Memorial Day parade. A few days later, Public Works Commissioner Gil Anderson and Legis. Wayne R. Horsley (D-Babylon) paid him a visit; McCarthy said Anderson told him the county will proceed with the camera installation and expects to re-examine the location after one year.

Until then? McCarthy said he was told the county would consider planting shrubs tall enough to help shield his home from the flashing lights.