SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – The top spot for red-light tickets in San Diego is the intersection of North Harbor Drive and West Grape Street near Lindbergh Field — a tourist welcome spot with chronic traffic backups.
The city’s red-light cameras spotted 4,672 violations there last year, nearly a quarter of all camera tickets written in the city, according to a review of city data by The Watchdog. That’s 389 per month, or about a dozen a day.
The next closest intersection was Aero Drive at Murphy Canyon Road, with 3,170 tickets last year.
The stated purpose of the red-light camera program is to prevent violations and, by extension, accidents. Officials say the Harbor and Grape location’s mission is to keep motorists from blocking the intersection during gridlock through fear of a $480 ticket.
City transportation spokesman Bill Harris said the city plans to add a third left-turn lane from southbound Harbor to eastbound Grape to relieve congestion, which may be causing the red-light running.
“The camera at Grape and Harbor is a traffic control effort just as the installation of a third turn lane will be once completed,” Harris said. “The camera was not installed, nor has the city maintained it, for reasons based solely on accident statistics.”
Attorney Mitch Mehdy, whose firm brands itself as The Original Mr. Ticket, said he has represented several tourists who have received one of the Harbor and Grape camera’s tickets. He said the camera gives the city a bad name.
“I get calls from all over the United States and from Canada,” Mehdy said. “They basically say, ‘yeah I had a good trip, and then I got this thing in the mail.’”
The intersection was first outfitted with red-light cameras in 1999. Despite hundreds of violations per month, state accident data shows that there were only two injury crashes at the intersection from 2001 to 2011.
Harris said the traffic backing up around the intersection is nevertheless an area hazard. He said it poses a safety risk to pedestrians weaving around cars stopped in crosswalks and to drivers entering or exiting businesses into the log-jammed traffic on North Harbor Drive.
“Traffic planning is not about some small radius,” Harris said. “We have to look beyond an intersection to see what effects will occur.”
Related: Urination tickets saturate Pacific Beach
The city in 2002 commissioned a study to restore confidence in its red-light program, which was on hiatus from 2001 to 2003 because of bad publicity and unfavorable court decisions.
The audit found the program did not reduce red light violations at the intersection, which had a very low crash rate. The audit suggested traffic engineering improvements, rather than ongoing ticket issuing.
Harris said the city has extended North Harbor Drive’s left turn lanes, improved signal timing throughout the area and has made entrances and exits to businesses safer. He said the intersection’s camera encourages all kinds of drivers to keep the intersection clear.
“That’s a busy intersection for everyone. Certainly people who are renting cars are tourists, but there are also people picking up relatives from the airport,” Harris said. “We don’t build intersections just for tourists.”