Red Bank's city commissioners, in a 4-1 vote last week, decided to get rid of the four traffic cameras along Dayton Boulevard, the community's main thoroughfare. The decision allowed Mayor Monty Millard to honor a campaign promise and the commission to quiet a high profile campaign against the cameras, but public safety considerations, not political expediency, should govern such decisions. That does not seem to have been the case in Red Bank.
Politics and public opinion prevailed. Camera opponents said that their presence is harmful to business because their use made visitors -- and presumably shoppers -- "avoid Red Bank like the plague." Evidence to support that contention is mostly anecdotal.
The truth is that the current mix of businesses in Red Bank is not as attractive to would-be customers and clients as nearby alternatives. It's also true that many drivers prefer to use nearby roads, especially limited access Corridor J, to commute. Building a better business climate in Red Bank admittedly is a puzzle -- which comes first, more and better stores or increased traffic flow? -- but cameras probably play only a minor role in the conundrum.
Commissioner Ruth Jeno was the only official brave enough to say what needed to be said. She reasonably pointed out that the cameras' effect on safety was more important than their impact on business or city coffers. She was correct, too, to say removal of the cameras could mean a reduction in neighborhood policing and crime reduction programs. If cameras are removed, an ncreased police presence would be required to enforce speed limits and other traffic laws on Dayton Boulevard.
Traffic cameras, if used fairly and not employed solely to pump up a city's treasury, have a beneficial role. They slow speeders and help stop traffic violations. Their presence is generally known and drivers familiar with the area as well as transients who read well-placed signs warning of the cameras' use quickly understand that the presence of a policeman is not necessary to get a ticket for obvious infractions. Only scofflaws ignore such information.
Government has a duty to safeguard its citizens and traffic cameras can help fulfill that obligation. Red Bank officials seem to have forgotten that in their rush to get rid of the cameras. However, they must wait 90 days to fullfill contractual obligtions before the cameras are removed. That's plenty of time for commissioners to reconsider their vote.