Council eyeing traffic cheats

Tuesday January 18, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- City Council President Gerald M. Lee is leading Pittsfield's candid camera campaign to crack down on drivers who run red lights and commit other traffic infractions at intersections.

Lee, a former city police chief, wants traffic-monitoring systems installed at to-be-determined intersections. The system would take digital photographs of vehicles caught running red lights.

"The camera only takes a picture of the rear of the car to get the license plate and doesn't violate the privacy of who is in the car," he said.

The Pittsfield Police Department will determine which intersections deserve the electronic eye, but Lee has a few suggestions.

"If you're on Crofut Street waiting to turn onto South Street, cars on South have been know to fly through the red light as it turns green for Crofut traffic," Lee said. "Fenn and First streets are also a trouble spot."

He added, "I also hear from people that they often see drivers go right on red without stopping first."

Lee claims the traffic cameras have proven to be effective in other states.

"History has shown the number of violations drop in communities after the first year of using the cameras," he said.

To ensure the traffic cameras lead to safer driving, "dummy" cameras can be installed at some intersections to give the impression they are being electronically monitored, according to Lee.

"It's a great idea," said Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols. "When I do drive around the city, I can't believe the number of people I see run red lights."

Lee recently lobbied his City Council colleagues for the traffic cameras, who unanimously supported what's called a "home-rule petition" to the state Legislature.

The city has to get permission from the Legislature to install the cameras, and state Rep. Christopher N. Speranzo said he'll file the bill on Pittsfield's behalf. When that would happen is unclear because the filing of bills is on hold until committee assignments are finalized.

Legislation that would have legalized the use of the cameras across Massachusetts died in committee last year.

Speranzo said he supports his hometown and several other municipalities seeking to do this if lawmakers fail to back a statewide bill. He expects the statewide bill will be re-filed in this session.

"If individual communities are looking to tackle this public safety issue, we should vote on it," he said.

If the Legislature backs Pittsfield's petition, the city would seek bids from companies that would install the equipment at no charge to the taxpayers.

In return, the company would keep one-third of the fines collected, according to Lee.

To reach Dick Lindsay:,
or (413) 496-6233.


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