Safelight Dude and the Red Light Enforcement Commission Get Plugged In to Traffic Safety

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City Hall's all parked up, and when I told the garage guard where I was headed, he assured me "everyone's going to the red light camera meeting." It's hard to tell who "everyone," might have been, because I'm joined in the public seating area by one KTVT reporter in the corner and an 8-year-old with a notepad sitting in the front row.

Not sure what the rest of the City Hall press corps could think is more important, because just as I walked in, Mark Duebner with the Dallas Police Department was briefing the nine members of the Red Light Enforcement Commission on their new mascot, Safelight Dude.

"We're gonna be working on our branding," Duebner said, showing the drawing you see above. It's the work of an ACS graphic designer, Duebner says, "certainly an improvement over" whatever we used to have, which Duebner concedes was a "rather crude marketing attempt." I can't wait to get a look at the old mascot.

The only comment from the commission comes from Thomas Goyne -- the commission's newest member, appointed by Ron Natinsky: "My only comment would be the term 'dude,'" which he guessed was outdated by about five years. "Maybe 'Safelight Sam,' something that doesn't go away with trends."

Elizabeth Ramirez, assistant director of Public Works and Transportation, is facing the commission alongside Duebner, and took the PowerPoint reins to walk the commission through a little early morning differential calculus, explaining how the city calculates the "change period" as lights go from green to red. The equation's like this, if you want to try playing along at home:

(t + v/(2a + 2Gg)) + (W + L)/v

This, Ramirez assures the commission, is a "kinetic formula recommended by the Institute of Transportation Engineers" For a yellow light, six seconds is the longest possible time, but she says in Dallas no yellow light's longer than five seconds -- only "in the rural parts with really high speeds like 55 miles per hour," like Northwest Highway and Abrams.

Ramirez says, based on statistics from the last three years, there's no question the red light camera program's working. There's been a "61% reduction in right-angle accidents," she says, and fewer wrecks at 48 intersections. "Here's what it's all about," she says, "a 63% reduction in personal injuries -- we've gone from 385 to 142 people getting hurt over three years." Serious injuries, she says.

The commission wonders about challenges to the red light camera law in the Texas Legislature. "We're used to that," Ramirez tells the commission. "Pretty much every session that comes about." "They're not the cash cows, and they do improve public safety," Duebner adds.

Turns out, the kid in front is Duebner's son, writing a story for class.

He doesn't have details ready on how much the program is costing the city, and the commission chair Raul Magdaleno suggests to Duebner that they might get a budget together in time for the next meeting. Duebner agrees that timing should work out fine -- the next meeting is in October.

"Most people in the public don't understand the volume of traffic that goes through Dallas every day, Ramirez says."

"We're hoping the majority of them go through green," Duebner says.

Goyne wonders if anyone's taken up the marketing cause, to help get the word out about red light cameras around the city, and fellow rookie commissioner Yolanda Williams volunteers to come up with exciting ways to get the word out. Magdaleno suggests she tackle the "dude" question with a little boots-on-the-ground market research, "going to a school and findning out from the kids what they would be more receptive to."

Commissioner Chick Cowan wonders aloud about Facebook: "I'm an old guy, I struggle with the communication of the young people, and Facebook is still a mystery to me," he says, but Facebook seems like a good way to "communicate the existence of a red light camera to the young people," and at little to no cost.

Duebner helpfully adds that he's just made a Facebook page, in fact, though "there's nothing on it, 'cause I don't know how to do it. I know you 'friend.' I think 'friending' is something involved there somehow." Maybe Williams over in marketing can help crack hte code by October, but Duebner agrees it seems like a fine way to "push out messages," which sounds exhausting. "We'll continue to work through that new media marketing strategy," he says.

"I don't mean to rain on the parade," grumbles Edwin Bright, a few seats to Cowan's right, rightly wondering, in his thick drawl, just what in the hell a "Red Light Cameras" Facebook page is likely to accomplish. "There's no better advertisement than a fine...There's nobody in the world who doesn't know you're not supposed to stop at a red light," he says, running a very real risk that neither Williams nor Cowan will be 'friending' him anytime soon, whatever that even means.

Magdaleno wants make sure everything's in order for the National Stop On Red Week proclamation that'll help welcome the City Council back from recess in style before the August 4 briefing, and satisfied that it is -- and that Safelight Dude, Safelight Sam, or whatever the first-grade "young driver" test market dreams up, will be ready to unveil by then -- he calls the meeting, and the commissioners say so long for another three months.

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