Red Bank, Tenn., is doing fine without traffic cameras

Red Bank, Tenn., is doing fine without traffic cameras

May 21st, 2013 by Lindsay Burkholder in Local Regional News

Vehicles line up at the intersection of Dayton Boulevard and Signal Mountain Road.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

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Four months after Red Bank's traffic cameras were removed, city officials say they aren't missed.

Accident rates have remained steady, fewer tickets have been issued and, while no official numbers are in, preliminary reports indicate traffic counts are on the rise. That's something businesses were hoping would happen.

"We've seen a little bit of [traffic] increase on Dayton Boulevard," Red Bank Mayor John Roberts said.

People continue to tell him they're happy the cameras are gone, he added.

"Just the other day a woman came in and said to me, 'Thank God you got rid of those red-light cameras,'" he said.

The controversial cameras were installed in 2006 at three intersections along Dayton Boulevard: Morrison Springs Road, Signal Mountain Road and Ashland Terrace.

In the six years that cameras monitored the area, more than 69,000 traffic citations were issued, records show. The dread of discovering a ticket in the mail led some people to avoid the area entirely, which many residents and business owners said hurt the city.

Roberts said the cameras made Red Bank seem unwelcoming, which discouraged new businesses from taking root in a city that desperately needed revitalization. But all that began to change when the electronic vigil came to an end, he said.

"Since the first of the year, we've seen a lot of interest in Red Bank," he said.

Indeed, a new shopping center that will include a Family Dollar store is scheduled to open in July on Dayton Boulevard at West Ridge Avenue.

"Things are changing for the better," Roberts said.

Roberts doesn't attribute all the city's success to the cameras' demise. He said it's also due in part to a new attitude in Red Bank. He and city commissioners are working hard to market the city to prospective companies, he said.

"I think there has been a change of the way we talk to people, the way we open our door for the city of Red Bank to do business, for people to come into our city and do business," he said.

Late in 2012, the city engaged in a heated debate over the cameras. While the majority clamored for their removal, some said they were doing vital work in keeping citizens safe.

Popular opinion won. In September, Red Bank commissioners voted 4-1 to remove the cameras, and they came down in mid-January.

In the months since, there hasn't been any increase in hazardous driving or the number of accidents, Red Bank Police Chief Tim Christol said.

In fact, comparing data for this year to last year to date shows that the number of crashes at the disputed intersections is nearly identical. The stretch of Dayton Boulevard between Morrison Springs Road and Ashland Terrace saw seven vehicle crashes, one with injury, in both years, records show.

Christol said the Signal Mountain Road intersection actually has seen a reduction: one vehicle crash with injury last year, compared to no accidents so far this year.

He added that the number of traffic citations was also down compared to the same period last year. The first 4 1/2 months of 2012 saw 1,051 citations, compared to 884 for this year, he said.

"It is early enough that the thought of the cameras' former presence at these intersections may continue to have an impact on the data," Christol wrote in an email, "but over time, this may fade. ... Only time will tell."

Some in Red Bank say there's been a clear increase in business along Dayton Boulevard since the cameras were taken down.

Liz Wells, a shift manager at the Pizza Hut near the intersection with Ashland Terrace, said the store has seen a modest increase in customers.

"You can tell. It has picked up some." she said.

Wells said the cameras made driving to work stressful.

"You might not be paying attention and start going five miles faster than you're supposed to be," she said. "It [was] just a constant worry. I'm glad they're gone."

But for some, the threat of the cameras still casts a shadow over business.

Brian McPhee, manager at Red Bank Wine and Spirits, said he hasn't seen much improvement at his business.

"It's a lot easier to get the word out there that they're here than that they're gone," he said. "But we're hopeful."