City committee OKs buying new traffic cameras, as privacy concerns are raised | St. Louis Public Radio

City committee OKs buying new traffic cameras, as privacy concerns are raised

Feb 18, 2016

The streets committee of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Thursday approved legislation that would extend St. Louis' fiber optic network and fund the installation of as many as 68 new traffic cameras.

The bill authorizes the city to spend the $3.4 million in federal money and commits $500,000 in matching funds. Laclede Gas and Downtown STL Inc. are contributing private dollars as well.

"This is about reducing the carbon footprint," said Todd Waelterman, the director of operations for the city of St. Louis. "We can't do enough to improve our air quality here. That's what this is about."

The grant would allow the city to integrate the traffic cameras it already has installed, and put new ones at the intersections of major cross streets. These cameras would allow the city to see traffic flow in real time, allowing them to change the timing of lights or improve synchronization as needed. The grant would also cover the cost of an additional staff member to provide for extended monitoring.

"Right now we have one person who comes in in the morning and watches traffic and tries to fix the signals," Waelterman said. "In an ideal world, this thing would be staffed around the clock, to handle big events, to get the Cardinal games out."

Real-time adjustments would allow the city to get lights synced more quickly, or change the timing to accommodate additional traffic if needed.

The completed fiber optic network would link the cameras to the real-time crime center at St. Louis Metropolitan Police headquarters - a detail that caught the attention of civil liberties activists like Ivan Martin.

"I’m sure it can improve some of our traffic problems," Martin said. "But it’s also going to watch everybody.”

Police chief Sam Dotson called those fears overblown.

'The expectation that you have is that your actions are caught on video," he said.

The legislation still needs approval by the full Board of Aldermen. Waelterman, the operations director, said he is committed to finding the required matching dollars in the budget of the streets department, which he ran before becoming operations director a year ago.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann