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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Suffolk needs more data to judge red-light cameras

A red light camera at Indian Head Rd.

A red light camera at Indian Head Rd. and Jericho Tpke. in Commack, April 11, 2016. Credit: Steve Pfost

Suffolk County last week acknowledged that after 2013 statistics on bicycle and pedestrian accidents were not included in safety data used to measure the effectiveness of its red-light camera program.

The program brings the deficit-plagued county $32 million in ticket fines each year. And the county has used traffic accident statistics, in part, to counter criticism that cameras are in place for revenue-generating rather than safety reasons.

On Thursday, the county went to the numbers again after Suffolk lawmakers Rob Trotta, Leslie Kennedy and Tom Muratore, along with four fellow Republicans running for legislative seats, said the missing information skewed safety data.

Jason Elan, a spokesman for Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone, said after the GOP’s news conference that the latest red-light camera report showed that accidents with injuries decreased overall by 5 percent in 2015. Those are the latest statistics available.

The report by county consultants also said, however, that the number of accidents increased at 46 of the 100 red-light camera intersections — and that rear-end collisions rose by 30 percent.

And that’s without bicycle and pedestrian accidents included in the data.

So, what happened to the data?

Trotta said he was told by an engineer working for a firm that — stay with me, now — works for Suffolk’s red-light camera contractor that he had been asked to drop bicycle and pedestrian accidents from the reports after 2013.

Who told the engineer to drop the data?

Don’t know — other than that Suffolk says it wasn’t the county.

Administration aides on Thursday told Newsday that they were trying to determine why the data were dropped, and who ordered that it be done.

Still, damage to the credibility of the safety aspect of the red-light camera program has been done.

The Republican news conference was held at the intersection of Route 25A and Miller Place Road in Miller Place — where a pedestrian and a bicyclist have been killed. Those deaths, Trotta said, were not included in the 2015 data.

How could that be?

And how could Suffolk, while acknowledging that accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists were dropped from reports after 2103, also insist that automobile accidents involving pedestrians and bikes would show up in total injury tallies?

That makes no sense.

Either the data are in the report — or they aren’t.

If they aren’t, how does Suffolk chart the effectiveness of the program if the most recently available safety report can’t accurately be compared with earlier reports that included bicycle and pedestrian accidents?

Eliminating the data in 2013 skewed every report thereafter, potentially — depending on the missing statistics — making the camera program appear more effective at boosting safety than it actually was. Such a result then could be used to justify keeping the red-light camera program going, or expanding it.

But county legislators — concerned about the increase in accidents at 46 camera locations — already are debating whether to suspend the use of red-light cameras or keep them while proposed reviews of the program are underway.

While they’re at it, the lawmakers might want to add a request for data on bicycle and pedestrian accidents.

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