cameras monitor traffic and can zoom in on objects a half a mile a way. but dont worry, a spokesman from big brother says your privacy won't be invaded - yea sure, maybe for now.

Cameras monitor traffic flow Scottsdale's system fights jams, not speed

Michael Ferraresi The Arizona Republic Mar. 6, 2006 12:00 AM

If drivers in Scottsdale feel as if they are watched constantly, they are right. Electronic eyes are everywhere.

The birthplace of speed-enforcement cameras on a freeway is also home to one of the most sophisticated traffic-management systems in Arizona, with more high-powered cameras than anywhere in the Valley. And the eyes are all designed to keep motorists moving.Phoenix, Glendale and Chandler all use traffic cameras. However Scottsdale, which has the second-highest number of commuters per capita in the Valley behind Tempe, recently installed 31 new "pan, tilt, zoom" cameras at major intersections in January. This gives officials 48 cameras to help thin traffic from a central location, rather than rely on time-consuming studies.

"We used to re-time traffic signals once a year," said Bruce Dressel, Scottsdale's intelligent transportation systems analyst. "With these cameras, we're constantly doing that on a daily basis. . . . We can do it in real time rather than going out there time after time." advertisement

However, by 2008, Scottsdale could have access to as many as 95 traffic-related cameras. Those cameras include photo enforcement used on city streets, on mobile police vans and on the 101, if the test program is extended.

Monitoring Valley traffic "(Scottsdale's) definitely the lead in the Valley," said Joel Harvis, signal systems specialist for Phoenix.

A priority for Phoenix is to oversee more than 970 traffic signals from its Traffic Control Center.

Phoenix has more than 30 traffic-management cameras, many of which are mounted near the downtown events district. Others are set on major thoroughfares like Indian School and Thunderbird roads.

An operation like Scottsdale's would be out of the question for some cities.

"To have (cameras) at every major intersection, I'm not sure that's something we can achieve in the near future," Harvis said.

"You have to make quite an investment to make that work, and you need people to monitor them," he said.

After installation and communication connections, traffic-management cameras can cost $15,000 to $20,000 per intersection.

Chandler's system

Chandler uses more than 110 traffic-management cameras, though only several are the expensive pan, tilt, zoom types.

The city typically uses four cameras per intersection, one aimed in each direction, which pick up about 75 percent of the scene.

Scottsdale's cameras can zoom up to a half-mile in every direction.

Chandler, however, operates its own communications system. Scottsdale receives some free hook-ups through an agreement with Qwest, while it pays for other connections.

"They're doing it differently than we are," said Brian Scifers, signal systems engineer for Chandler.

"We're more progressive in that we operate our own communications system," Scifers said, "and that's what's saving the taxpayers money."

Glendale currently operates as many as 15 pan, tilt, zoom cameras around town, mostly on 59th Avenue and near intersections with Loop 101.

Five more will be installed on Bell Road, and as many as 11 more near Glendale Arena and the Arizona Cardinals' new football stadium, said Debbie Burdette, Glendale's principal traffic engineer.

Saving seconds

A 2003 study of cameras in Scottsdale showed that they reduced travel time along a 3-mile stretch of Indian School Road, through downtown by as much as 64 seconds per vehicle.

The study also determined the technology saves the equivalent of putting 30 police officers on the streets to direct traffic during events like the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction and FBR Open.

Traffic cameras could be installed along almost every mile of Scottsdale and Hayden roads by 2008.

Communication links between the cameras to the Traffic Management Center, near Scottsdale City Hall, are being updated annually.

Soon, the city could have high-speed connections from most traffic camera sites.

Real-time images sent to the Traffic Management Center are monitored on six 54-inch screens. Analysts can monitor as many as 12 intersections at a time.

Big Brother?

Those who fear the gaze of Big Brother, fret not.

Traffic cameras are not recording or copying personal data, so the city receives few complaints.

Residents of a neighborhood near Hayden and Redfield roads complained that the half-mile scope of the cameras might intrude on their pri- vacy.

Scottsdale responded by blocking the camera's view in that direction, so it can zoom only toward traffic.

However, some organizations caution local governments against installing too many cameras.

"It's popping up everywhere," said Alessandra Soler Meetze, director of the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"We have to ask ourselves: Does this make sense, to turn ourselves into this surveillance state?"

Other than the occasional lawyer calling Scottsdale with questions about what traffic accident footage was recovered, few issues have been raised, Dressel said.

"It's not our job to watch people," he said. "It's our job to monitor traffic."

Reach the reporter at michael or (602) 444-6843.

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