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COMMUNITY NEWS: South

SOUTH : Drivers Will Be Crossing a Fine Line

March 13, 1994|SANDRA HERNANDEZ

A photograph may be worth more than a thousand words to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as it gears up to fine motorists who illegally cross the tracks in front of Blue Line trains.

"What we're trying to do is to keep people from making left-hand turns against a red left-hand arrow," said Linda Meadow, manager of systems safety for the MTA. "A lot of our accidents aren't real serious in terms of fatalities, but they hit the train."

The program, which uses cameras mounted atop poles to snap photographs of drivers making illegal turns, was started last year in Compton and Long Beach after the MTA board began looking at ways to reduce the number of accidents along the Blue Line's 22-mile route.

In February, a camera was installed at Los Angeles Street and Washington Boulevard, a high-level accident zone, at a cost of about $45,000.

"The reason we chose (photo enforcement) was we did a survey looking at what other places were using, such as in Europe," said Meadow. "We found out that when you actually take a picture of someone and send it in the mail, it's very effective in reducing the number of violators."

There have been 220 accidents involving trains, pedestrians and motorists along the Blue line since the light-rail trains began running in 1990. Twenty-three people have been killed, Meadow said.

MTA officials hope the 150-millimeter lens, protected in a bulletproof box, and signs warning motorists of fines will deter drivers from trying to beat the trains. The camera provides a close-up of the motorist and his or her license plate, plus the time and date of the violation.

The vendor, American Traffic Systems, has been contracted to install the cameras, issue citations and provide follow-up once fines are issued.

So far, motorists caught on film have been issued warning citations, but that is expected to change to a $104 fine as soon as the forms are finalized, Meadow said.

Though officials have touted the program's success in cities such as Compton, where the number of infractions has been reduced by as much as 80% over eight months, the number of violations has dropped only slightly at Los Angeles Street and Washington Boulevard. An MTA report found an average of 2.0 violations an hour on weekdays before the camera was installed at the intersection; the rate dropped to 1.5 violations an hour after the camera was in place.

Some merchants and residents near the intersection do not think the project will influence drivers.

"There will still be accidents. I don't think it'll change because of (the camera)," said Martin Gutierrez, manager at Washington Muffler and Radiator garage.

But Meadow insisted that many people welcome the cameras.

"We've been out and installing equipment and people come out and talk," she said, "We've gotten an excellent response."

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