Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Welcome to Speed Camera City

March 27, 2012 - 02:27 PM
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(Photo: flickr/ellbrown)

How many speed cameras does D.C. plan for the long term?

“Eventually we hope to be able to cover the entire city," Mayor Vince Gray told the D.C. Council this afternoon.

Boom. You heard the man. The entire city, at least one day in the future. 

Gray expressed his desire when discussing his 2013 budget, which includes the acquisition of "new photo and laser radar equipment and expand the scope of automated enforcement activity to include 'speed on green' cameras that capture vehicles exceeding the speed limit through intersections and mobile red light and stop sign violations." Other pilots might focus on, say, fining people who violate pedestrian crossings. The new enforcement also means more money for the city — like $30 million more, according to Gray's budget estimates. Dozens of speed cameras and red light cameras already earn the city more than $50 million a year.

Unsurprisingly, AAA Mid-Atlantic has already raised concerns about the enhanced automated enforcement and cited the fact that half of the traffic cases so far this year have been dismissed. The justice these cameras deliver has not always been quite so accurate. One driver last year pointed to $150 ticket she received for not running a red light, as her ticket alleged, but for blocking the pedestrian crosswalk — a violation, yes, but not a $150 crime.

The mayor says the expansion is not to raise cash though. He told the councilmembers these measures will help drivers "slow down, obey the laws." The end goal is an admirable one but many drivers, as in the video above, question the means. Automated enforcement may be a sensible option as long as drivers are properly educated about the enforcement, the laws, and know what to expect. In time, if these cameras do expand, driver behavior may adjust accordingly, and people may grow less grumpy over the fines. If the D.C. government remains committed to the policy of more and more traffic cameras, then officials should kick off a campaign of education. They'll need to combat the rather strong impression that the initiatives are more about revenue than safety. The same battles concern parking tickets — the city earned more than ever from them last year at $92 million.

Yet Mayor Gray's remarks fail to appreciate how much money his government serves to gain. Just imagine the revenue he would get if the "entire city" were covered! We'd be talking about hundreds of millions of dollars.

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