The United Republican Club of Fort Lee (URCFL) hosted New Jersey State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-23) Tuesday at the Fort Lee VFW for an event the local GOP group called “Red Light Cameras—The Real Story.”
“We brought Sen. Doherty here because we thought that the public deserves to hear the other side of the red light camera debate throughout New Jersey,” said URCFL president David Cohen. “And this side is not a side that you’re going to hear across the street at Borough Hall.”
Cohen said the debate is centered on the question, “Do red light cameras save lives by reducing accidents or are they primarily a way for cities to raise money in an era of lagging tax revenues?”
Doherty said he introduced bipartisan legislation in the state Senate, S1952—in the state Assembly it’s A2996, which is co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), as Doherty noted—“to outright ban the red light camera program” in the state. He said he also started an online petition, which has garnered about 5,000 signatures to date.
“Right now we’re in a pilot program,” Doherty said. “The pilot program started in 2009 and … is to expire in December of 2014.”
He added that in order for the program to continue beyond that time, the state Legislature would have to take “affirmative action.”
“The reason I introduced the legislation is I think it’s important that the residents know where their elected officials stand on these important issues,” Doherty said. “And I felt that we put a stake in the ground that I think this program should be killed.”
Doherty said the best and most efficient way to improve safety is to increase the length of yellow lights, which is in part what legislation he plans to introduce would do.
He said that by his estimation, 80 percent of the tickets issued from red light camera programs are issued to motorists making legal right turns on red because they either don’t stop long enough or they stop with their wheels on the white line.
Estimating that the chances of someone getting into an accident while turning right on red are about one in 435,00, Doherty also said, “You may reduce one accident out of 435,000 turns, possibly, and for that, they’re terrorizing the residents of the state of New Jersey by issuing these $85 tickets.”
Therefore, he added, “Instead of being $85, we’re going to introduce legislation that it would be $20” for such a violation.
Doherty called the use of red light cameras a form of intimidation on the part of the government and said, “They’re using our citizens as cash cows,” and that “there is no due process.”
“Many times if a police officer stops you, you’re able to discuss with the officer and explain extenuating circumstances,” he said. “And the officer can use their judgment.”
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich has said the possibility of a red light camera enforcement program for the borough is something the Mayor and Council are on.
“I’m not going to deviate from the course,” Sokolich said, insisting that such an enforcement program isn’t designed “to ticket my own community.”
He said it’s intended to make dangerous intersections safer and to generate revenue for the borough, much of which he said would come from non-residents “who are just using [Fort Lee] as a cut-through.”
In June, Police Chief Thomas Ripoli also briefly addressed the issue when he was a guest speaker at a URCFL meeting, saying there are “negatives and positives” to red light camera enforcement programs, but that to the governing body on whether such a program makes sense for Fort Lee.
Martha Cohen, who made red light cameras one of the major issues of her unsuccessful campaign for Borough Council last year and has done a lot of research on the issue, said Tuesday that Fort Lee is “on the precipice of a vote on this issue.”
“As usual, the Mayor and Council keeps the exact details a secret, and all we hear is that it is a revenue grand slam, and that it will make our lives safer,” she said. “The facts are completely different.”
Several people brought tickets they had been issued for red light camera violations to the meeting, but URCLF vice president Keith Jensen said the group did not want to make the meeting “a venue to air their sadness,” calling it instead an opportunity “to learn and then take back to their respective communities to tell their friends and Mayor and Council.”
Among the Democrats and Republicans who turned up for the well-attended meeting Tuesday were Ridgefield Councilman Warren Vincentz, Ridgewood Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh and Englewood Cliffs resident Mary O’Shea, who said she was ticketed for a right turn on a red light near the Assembly Steak House at Sylvan Avenue and East Palisade Avenue.