Traffic cameras in Kent to help ease congestion


A traffic monitor camera at the intersection of East Main and North Lincoln streets. Many citizens and students still aren’t sure how the cameras will be used. Photo by Brian Smith.

Brittany Hill

Smile! You may be on camera, but luckily that camera’s not taking a picture of you running a red light. Not in Kent, anyway.

Sophomore chemistry major Andrew Martin said he’s noticed the traffic cameras located above various stoplights along Water Street and state Route 59.

“If there’s a camera, I’m more likely to stop on a yellow,” Martin said. “But if there wasn’t a camera and there wasn’t too busy of an intersection, I’d probably just floor it and try to make it before it turned red.”

However, Martin said, if he knew the camera wouldn’t take his picture for running the red light, that would probably change.

Jim Bowling, Kent Superintendent of Engineering, said those cameras are not to catch traffic violations, but actually to monitor and relieve traffic congestion in Kent.

“The purpose of the cameras is that,” Bowling said, then paused. “Well, let me show you.”

He moved one door down to another office where a normal-looking PC showed a full-screen live feed of the intersection at Midway Drive and Main Street, with fuzzy-looking cars and trucks zooming down the screen.

“What the cameras allow us to do is actually draw in different loops that detect where a car is present. If a car is present, that will tell the program what needs to be done, whether that’s to stay green because cars are still going through or detect on a side street that someone’s coming soon, so they need a green for their direction.”

Bowling said the goal was to solve Kent’s congestion problem by staying green and using smart technology rather than laying more asphalt for additional roads and lanes, so the city applied for a grant from the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study in roughly 2006. Kent received the grant, began planning and the cameras were installed at the beginning of 2012. Bowling said although they’re still in the process of tweaking the system, they’ve started seeing the desired results in some areas, but are still working on others.

Mayor Jerry Fiala said since the cameras have been installed, he’s received a number of calls from citizens inquiring as to whether the cameras were for enforcement purposes. Some even complained about their rights to privacy, but Fiala assured them that was not the cameras’ purpose. Bowling verified that those cameras don’t have the potential to ever be repurposed for traffic enforcement.

Bill Lillich, director of public safety, said the possibility of enforcement cameras have been considered in the past.

“We had a panel that did a review of a lot of city issues having to do with finance and that sort of thing, and [enforcement cameras] was one of the items put on the list of things to consider, but they didn’t bite on it at all,” Lillich said.

Additionally, Lillich said the issue of enforcement cameras is a political one.

“Nobody in our organization has wanted to take that on because it’s perceived so much as being a money grabber, and we really don’t want that kind of reputation,” Lillich said. “Some people might tell you that we already do [have that reputation] because our cops are enforcement-oriented, for safety purposes … but we don’t go out of the way to try to generate revenue that way.”

Lillich said he doesn’t believe there to be a safety need at this time that enforcement cameras could fix.

James Prusha, Kent Administrative Lieutenant, said if seeing the current cameras makes those traveling through Kent more cautious about running red lights, then that would just be a nice side benefit.

However, the statistics show there’s been no seemingly significant decline in traffic signal violations since last year before the cameras were installed. Between January and September 2011, there were 96 traffic control signal violations in Kent. Between January and September 2012, there has been 87.

Brittany Hill is a city reporter for the Daily Kent Stater.

Contact Brittany Hill at [email protected].