Monday, August 27, 2007

speed cameras a slow-witted fix for pedestrians

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: The Purple Line competes for limited federal funds; Charles County's Delusional Duck is profiled in the Post.

My car, flying down Calverton Boulevard at forty-three miles an hour.

On Friday, County Executive Ike Leggett unveiled the first of several permanent speed cameras that will be rolling out at various MoCo intersections this fall. According to a County press release, a roving, van-mounted camera at the site - behind Wheaton High School on Randolph Road - was cranking out an average of fifty speeding citations an hour.

At $40 a citation, these speed cameras are filling the County coffers at a rate of $2,000 an hour. That certainly seems like a more palatable option to our cash-strapped municipality - which tore up Calverton Boulevard (another camera location) in the name of "scarifying" drivers into slowing down and has left the road in an unfinished state for over a year - than "to promote pedestrian safety," the goal they claim to have.

I admit that I'm guilty of speeding: in the past month, I've gotten two citations, including one behind Wheaton High. While I'm angry at having to fork over eighty dollars, I'm even more upset that I'm doing so for a cause Montgomery County's paying lip service to. If pedestrian safety were the real issue, we wouldn't be taking measures that only affect motorists. I learned my lesson, but what about the people in the crosswalk? Will the cameras be catching jaywalkers, too?

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Montgomery County recently installed these speed cameras behind Wheaton High School on Randolph Road.

"Drivers were resistant to behavior change," says 5th District police commander Tom Didone in a Post article on the new cameras. "They needed more focused enforcement. . . . When the vans went away, the speeds went back up."

Statements like that show little faith MoCo has in its own citizens to make rational decisions for themselves. Think about how you drive. If you don't perceive any danger - if the lanes allow enough room between you and other cars; if the road is straight; if there aren't any trees, parked cars or pedestrians nearby - you'll hit the gas. That's how most County roads (even Randolph, which does have a pretty, tree-studded median where the new speed cameras have been installed) are designed: moving motorists as quickly as possible.

When you actually have to pay attention, you'll slow down: when the road is narrow and curvy; when it's apparent that pedestrians and bicyclists are in your midst; when roundabouts prevent you from going straight ahead at full speed. Roads designed to slow you down. It's how neighborhoods like Kentlands in Gaithersburg keep cars at bay - and why streets like Ellsworth Drive in Downtown Silver Spring work - and yet the County felt the need to install speed bumps there as well.

Sidewalks alone won't make people walk and cameras won't make it any safer for them, but Calverton Boulevard in Calverton will soon see permanent speed cameras.

Ask any driver what they do at when they see a speed camera: they'll slow down, and once they're far enough past it, they'll speed up again because the perceived "danger" (a ticket) is gone. Sure, a couple of kids crossing Randolph directly in front of Wheaton High School might have a better chance of making it to the other side alive, but what about at the next intersection?

It would be ideal if Randolph Road could be redesigned to make pedestrians safer: on-street parking, wider sidewalks and crosswalks, continuous medians allowing a mid-crossing refuge. But Randolph can't do that so long as it has to accomodate drivers traveling across the County and across the region, though most wouldn't have a choice about using Randolph even if doing so was inconvenient. That's why we have to continue improving east-west transportation - building the InterCounty Connector and implementing a Randolph Road bus line that actually goes somewhere (as we discussed in June).

In the meantime, I'm moving back to College Park for school - in Prince George's County, where speed cameras don't exist. Noting a Post story about Virginia lawmakers who've exempted themselves from their own "bad-driver fees," I personally hope that the speed cameras will nab the elected officials who have pushed for them.

Car mug shot courtesy of the Montgomery County Police. All other photos by Dan Reed.


Sligo said...

The county MIGHT get half of that money - the rest goes to whatever company installed the cameras.

Anonymous said...

The County's money will be earmarked for pedestrian safety projects, which could include improved crosswalks, count-down timers, lighting at intersections, etc. This is a good move by the county and it will spread statewide.

You have to slow down in places that you know there are speed cameras, such as Calverton Blvd. If you can't see the marked vans, you must be blind.

MoCo said...

To paraphrase Leona Helmsley: Only the little people pay automated speeding tickets. The rich put their cars in revokable living trusts which are immune to automated speeding tickets (and automated red light tickets).

Anonymous said...

I go down in 6000 connecticut d.c. for work every day, and got 6 tickets in as many days until I realize that they have a new camera in there, the limit is 30 mph but in rush hour you can't go at that speed, anyway I paid them and as soon I pass there I got a little faster, it is at 8.00 am

Anonymous said...

What's really funny is that the contract between ACS Inc. (Fortune 1000 company from Texas implementing the system) and Montgomery county is in violation of Transportation Article 21-809(j) of the Maryland Code, "If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of Montgomery County, the contractor's fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid."

Yet ACS receives $16.25 per citation for $2999.00 a month whichever is greater. That's why the county would let citizens see the contract. Yet it's in the meeting minutes if you read them.

Not to mention they are questionable as regards to Article 21, the right to face your accuser. But it's a civil charge so its not a biggie.