Dade County Manipulated Yellow Lights to Get More Tickets, Retired Dean Contends

One night in late June, Gus Kalogeras, a retired St. Thomas University dean, was driving south on U.S. 1 back to his home in Sunny Isles Beach. Just past Aventura Mall, he turned left on a yellow that quickly switched to red.  

A couple of weeks later, Kalogeras received a $158 ticket in the mail — the same ticket thousands of county residents have received since Miami-Dade began implementing red-light cameras several years ago.

But the ticket didn’t sit right with Kalogeras. The yellow light had seemed unfairly short. So he drove back to Aventura and used his watch's secondhand to time the intersection where he had gotten the ticket, as well as other nearby lights.

The intersections with cameras, he measured, had shorter yellow lights — 3.5 seconds compared to 4.5 seconds at the other lights. Federal guidelines indicate the yellow should be five seconds, Kalogeras said. “I feel like they’re playing games to raise revenue,” he says.

Not true, says the county. Frank Aira, Miami-Dade’s chief of traffic signals, says every yellow is set at a minimum of four seconds. Indeed, on a recent afternoon, New Times measured the yellow lights in Aventura at several intersections, some with cameras and some without, and found them all above four seconds.

After new state guidelines were set in place in late 2013, Miami-Dade made the intersections with red-light cameras — as of May, there were 252 of them — its first priority for compliance; both Aira and Erik Soroka, the city manager of Aventura, denied there would be any light-time manipulation to gouge drivers. “We do not adjust the yellow lights to ensure that we raise more [revenue],” Soroka said.

Still, the computers that control the lights are not perfect, Aira concedes, and there are occasions when the systems aren't properly calibrated. But on the whole, he argues that red-light cameras are a good thing. In Aventura, the total number of crashes has decreased at the four intersections where the cameras were installed, from 1,961 in 2009 to 1,102 in 2012. (A number of national studies have found no safety increase from the cameras; critics claim they lead to more rear-end collisions.) “Our sole function is to improve the safety of drivers in the city,” Soroka said. “And it’s worked.” 

Kalogeras isn’t convinced. After receiving the ticket and measuring the lights, he contacted Aventura Police, who told him to contact the county, who told him to contact FDOT, who didn’t return his calls. So three months after inadvertently running the red, with the deadline for setting a hearing approaching, the persistent retiree wasn’t sure whether he’d fight the ticket or just pay it, begrudgingly.

“The whole thing smells in my opinion,” he said.