Seeing Red: Medford man plans lawsuit over city’s red light cameras
Chiropractor Glenn Gumaer is waging an all-out battle against red light cameras — one intersection, in particular — operated by the city of Medford, claiming engineers and law enforcement officials timed the signals inconsistently and incorrectly, creating an unsafe situation and targeting drivers.
Speed up on yellow to avoid the red light at East Barnett/Stewart Avenue, get a ticket for speeding. Drive the speed limit and be cited for not making it through before the yellow turns red.
Standing at the intersection where it all began on a recent morning, Gumaer said his befuddlement with red light cameras began Jan. 17.
“I was driving my Porsche up Center Drive. That light turned yellow, and I’m zipping along. I thought, ‘Whoops, can’t make that,’ so I went around the corner, which the law says you can do if you can’t safely make the stop,” Gumaer said.
“Then I came to this intersection. I thought, ‘I’m in a Porsche. I’m not gonna touch the brakes going 20 miles an hour.’ I thought, ‘Yeah, no problem.’ And then I got the ticket in the mail.”
Initially planning to “just pay the ticket,” Gumaer was unsure what he’d done wrong and took the city up on its offer to show offenders the video used to issue their red light citations.
“For me the revelation was, ‘Wow, there really is a red light speed trap happening here!’” he said.
“You hear about these things and then nothing ever happens or nobody does anything. This began with me just admiring my Porsche zipping around the corner in the video. But the more I looked into it, the more I realized their equipment is set up all wrong.”
Gumaer said he plans to file a class-action lawsuit against the city — with so far over 150 people who are interested in joining. At the heart of his argument, Gumaer said, the red light camera creates what engineers call a “dilemma zone” by not allowing enough time during the yellow light for motorists to safely and legally make it through.
The signal in question, he said, remained yellow for only 3.5 seconds at the time of his ticket. Based on the Oregon Department of Transportation traffic signal policy (April 2022) the required minimum amount of time to clear an intersection, posted at 35 miles per hour, is 4 seconds.
The higher the posted speed, the more time given to stop on yellow.
After receiving his ticket, Gumaer was found guilty and immediately appealed the ruling.
Since then, using a dash camera to record and time the intersection, he discovered the yellow light interval had been increased from 3.5 to 4.9 seconds.
“Even at 20 miles per hour, it takes 64 feet to stop; I couldn’t stop at 35 miles per hour, and I couldn’t have made it through that intersection in only 3.5 seconds,” he noted.
According to its 2021 report to the state Legislature, a document required from cities who operate a red light camera system, the city issued 1,467 citations for red light violations during 2020 at the Barnett and Stewart traffic signal, where Gumaer received his ticket. Another 2,318 citations were issued for speed violations.
By some counts, the city netted over $1.6 million from just the East Barnett/Stewart Avenue intersection, from 2017 and 2020. The city has utilized red light photo enforcement since fall 2002 and added “fixed speed enforcement” (radar) in 2018.
Heading down an endless trail of research and procedural roadblocks, Gumaer has dug deep into state and federal highway and traffic standards in regard to signal timing and crash statistics for intersections with red light cameras. Spending months on research since his ticket, Gumaer reached out to engineer Mats Jarlstrom.
Jarlstrom made headlines in 2013 when his wife was cited by the city of Beaverton. After a six-year battle, Jarlstrom not only emerged victorious in proving the signal at which his wife was ticketed had been incorrectly timed, but his findings, including his “extended kinematic equation,” were incorporated by the Institute of Traffic Engineers into the agency’s newest yellow light timing formula.
Jarlstrom applauded Gumaer’s efforts to challenge the city of Medford’s signal timing and cameras, noting that signals for timing lights at intersections are incorrectly based on decades-old methods for timing lights at straightaways.
“Anyone reading a scientific paper from 1959 will see pretty quickly that traffic engineers have misunderstood and misused and misapplied something for so long it's hard now for them to simply make a change,” he said.
“(Medford) was allowing 3.5 seconds to get through a yellow, even when ODOT recommended — as recently as April — 4 seconds for going straight through. Ideally, you need at least 5 seconds (to stop) at 35 miles per hour ... They’re catching pretty much everybody going through on a yellow.”
Jarlstrom said the city’s signal made the intersection seem more like “a cash cow, and that’s not what traffic signals are for.” If Gumaer is successful, Jarlstrom said, the city would be guilty of unfairly impacting driving records, insurance premiums, credit scores and other aspects of driver’s lives.
“Obviously we want them to catch the people who really are having a problem and not driving safely and properly, but they’ve gotten away from the safety side of things,” said Jarlstrom.
Medford City Attorney Eric Mitton, unable to comment on specific details of Gumaer’s case pending policies pertaining to current or potential litigation, said the city had previously had only six appeals of guilty verdicts for red light cameras, with two resulting in reversal.
John Vial, Medford public works director, confirmed the city utilized ODOT traffic signal timing standards, which he said come from a federal manual on uniform traffic control devices and other standards. Asked why the timing of the signal at Barnett and Stewart had been increased from 3.5 seconds to 4.9 in recent weeks, Vial responded in an email to the Mail Tribune: “This is directly related to potential litigation and is something I couldn’t answer at this time.”
Medford resident Daniel Smith said he would be part of Gumaer’s class action suit and was encouraged that the red light cameras would be challenged. Smith received eight moving violations from red light cameras in the city of Medford over a two-year period.
“Not just from the traffic control device on Stewart and Barnett, but also the other two, I’ve had eight violations and lost my license for two months. I’m from New York, and I’ve got a lead foot for sure, I’m not trying to sugarcoat it, but I’ve had some for running the red when there wasn’t time to get through, if you go through and it turns yellow,” Smith said.
“For at least one of my tickets, I approached the red light to take a right from Stewart onto Barnett, going a reasonable speed. Did I come to a complete rollback stop? No. I looked to the left, and nobody was coming, so I went. Then I got hit for $250. The issue: The yellow only lasted a little over 3 seconds, not the 6.5 it’s supposed to under the federal standards.”
Smith added, “I don’t know what states like Colorado did to make them illegal, and they’re not the only state, but I hate them and I want them gone. I don’t care what it takes. It’s creating an unsafe situation.”
In addition to Smith, Gumaer said he had dozens of stories of people who had been cited at the intersection, including some who had been “so anxious about the red light cameras” they’d caused crashes.
Observing traffic at the intersection, Gumaer shook his head as a white van sped up to get through a yellow. Stuck behind a blue sedan, the van driver frantically honked as the light turned to red and the flash unit went off.
“It makes people really anxious to drive through. You just get a sense it’s going to get you no matter what you do,” he said.
Gumaer’s next step is a hearing for his appeal of the guilty verdict — set for 2:30 p.m. Oct. 5, after four continuances. He plans to file a class--action suit regardless of the outcome.
“My guess is that it could go one of two ways. If they’re smart, they’re going to dismiss it, but when they do that, then that means I’ve proven the signal is illegal. So, if they dismiss my case, I win. And if they say, ‘You’re still guilty,’ then I go forward as a damaged party to the class-action,” Gumaer said.
“On facts alone, it’s cut and dry. On courtroom procedure, it’s anyone’s guess.”
For information about Gumaer’s class-action suit, or to sign up, send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach reporter Buffy Pollock at 541-776-8784 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @orwritergal.