The assumption that San Francisco has no red-light cameras might appear to undercut its traffic safety goals.
Red-light cameras in San Francisco technically exist—but in limited numbers. To date, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has 19 such cameras at 13 intersections. They are placed along major thoroughfares, like at Market Street and Octavia Boulevard in the Lower Haight, or at Fell Street and Masonic Avenue along the Panhandle.
The few red-light cameras San Francisco did have from 1996 only came back online in 2019 after it was found that the out-of-date film cameras hadn’t been working for months.
Since most of the cameras were completed in 2020, they have netted roughly 10,000 tickets a year, according to SFMTA data. (Many were still under construction in 2019, and the camera at Van Ness Avenue and Broadway didn’t go online until June 2022, according to the transit agency.)
The city set a goal in 2014 to eliminate traffic-related deaths one decade later by building safer streets, educating the public and enforcing traffic laws. So far this year, eight people have died during traffic collisions as traffic enforcement by police declined significantly since 2013.
But pedestrian safety organizations like Walk SF have eagerly anticipated a camera expansion to combat people running a light or, in the case of one intersection, disobeying the directions to make an illegal right turn.
“These things do make a difference,” Walk SF spokesperson Marta Lindsey said of automatic cameras. “You have to have enough … to shift behaviors. Red-light running is really dangerous.”
Another eight cameras are in the design process, but their completion date is not yet known, said SFMTA spokesperson Stephen Chun. Once the design of the cameras at the new locations is ready, the city will need to put out a construction contract.
The transit agency estimated that automated enforcement and education efforts led to a 66% drop in injury collisions from red-light running between 1997 to 2022.
While numbers fluctuate from month to month, some intersections have seen a notable difference overall. The southbound camera at Fourth and Harrison streets in SoMa issued 583 tickets in June 2019 but only 16 in April 2023.
Other intersections have held steady in the number of violations captured. The southbound camera at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard in the Outer Sunset began with 108 tickets issued in May 2020 and netted 126 tickets in April 2023.
A red-light violation can come at a steep cost to the driver. The SFMTA did not provide the revenue from a single red-light ticket by publication time, but it is known to be in the neighborhood of $500.
But it’s not intended to be a money-maker, Lindsey said.
“Cameras are just one of the tools we use to try to improve safety,” Chun said in an email. “And SFPD, our partners in this critical effort, are just as equally necessary to ensure safety on our streets.”
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