Tuesday, September 20, 2011

the problem with speed cameras . . .

Speed Cameras, Randolph at Wheaton High
Speed cameras along wide Randolph Road in Wheaton don't do much to slow drivers. This week, two people wrote the Post's Dr. Gridlock complaining that speed cameras actually encourage people to drive fast:
Please explain why it’s all right to go less than 12 mph over the speed limit at Montgomery County schools before getting a ticket? This has been driving me crazy for years. I doubt that it’s okay to go 12 miles over the speed limit anywhere else.
Longtime readers know that I don't like speed cameras, and not just because camera operators often cheat drivers and municipalities alike. That's not to say I agree with speeding, though. Many roads, even smaller arterials and neighborhood streets, are designed to get cars through as quickly as possible. They have two or more lanes in each direction to allow cars to pass each other, or the lanes are made wider so cars can travel at higher speeds. Of course, this comes directly in conflict with the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists, who are nine times more likely to be killed by a car going 40mph than by one going 20. Simply dropping a speed camera on a street that's designed for high speeds won't get drivers to slow down. Wide, suburban arterials like Randolph Road in Wheaton, New Hampshire Avenue in White Oak, or Route 1 in College Park all have cameras and posted speed limits of 30-35 miles per hour, but can feel safe at much higher speeds. As a result, drivers see that the sign says 35, remember that Maryland law allows you to go 47, and continue on their way. If we really want motorists to drive slower, cameras are just part of the solution. We have to design roads for slower speeds. That means narrower lanes or even fewer lanes when possible. Take the space gained from those lanes and use it to add landscaping and street trees, which create visual interest and can discourage speeding, or add wider sidewalks and bike lanes, making it easier and safer for walkers and bikers to use those streets. That's the recipe for a safer street. Requiring drivers to slow down on a road that tells them to speed is just a bad joke, even if it's a good way to collect fines for speeding violations.


Terry in Silver Spring said...

The speed camera on Connecticut Ave in Chevy Chase is much the same. During rush hour, you'll easily stay within the wiggle room for the posted 35mph limit. During less busy times, though, the size of the road and the timing of the lights makes it too darn easy to get up in the 40's. If they wanted to slow people down, they'd modify the road as you suggested. Otherwise, the cameras are simply a money maker.

Michael said...

I drive that stretch on Randolph a lot, and people slow to 35, not 47. Even if it's technically true that the cameras only catch the most egregious speeders, everyone else slows down. Human nature.

That doesn't change the speeds a block away, of course.

perrik said...

I drive that stretch of Randolph fairly often. Other stretches with cameras, like Connecticut Ave in Chevy Chase and Bel Pre Rd in Aspen Hill, feel safe at higher speeds. That part of Randolph, on the other hand, does not! The lanes feel pretty narrow there, and during non-rush times you have to beware of cars parked in the right lane.

People frequently slow down to 30, maybe because they don't realize the limit is 35. With that slowdown plus the parking on the right and the lack of turn lanes on the left... well, I'm grateful to the ICC where I can set the cruise control to 55 and relax.

BenK said...

Have you ever driven in Europe? I was just being driven around Shrewsbury in England and some other nearly medieval towns. Those streets aren't designed for big horses, let alone fast cars.

Let me tell you, the cars fly. Everything, every turn and move, is a disaster waiting to happen. I can't believe they haven't depopulated the cities. I saw small crowds of people almost mowed down and people swearing under their breath as they basically sucked in their guts to avoid a mirror (ok; backed up against a wall. so, a small exaggeration).

Make 'slower roads' and people don't really slow down, at least not at the extremes. Not unless you provide them a broad, safe, quick route to the same destination. Then you can keep them off the small streets altogether (or at least most of the time... but it only takes one accident to kill a pedestrian).