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Posts from November 2011


1st Street NE may get cycle track

DDOT is considering a 3-block cycle track on 1st Street, NE from K to M Streets to help people biking between the Metropolitan Branch Trail or NoMa and Union Station and places farther south.

Drawings of the proposed cycle track.

The off-road segment along west side of the railroad tracks currently runs from L Street in the south to Franklin Street in the north. However, it has a set of stairs just north of L, so cyclists using this portion will generally get on and off at M Street.

From there, users continuing south toward Union Station can go west to 1st Street NE, which leads to the Metro station, the Bikestation, Columbus Circle and more. DDOT is reconstructing the segment from K Street north, and has designed this cycle track for the portion up to M.

According to Mike Goodno of DDOT, they aren't looking at extending the cycle track north of M because because of parking and hotel drop-off issues north of M Street. That means that someone riding southbound on 1st Street from NoMa will have to cross over somehow to get to the cycle track, either by queueing up in front of the traffic on M Street and then turning right into the track, or turning left onto M, or crossing as a pedestrian at the crosswalk.

A few streets cross the segment in question. Drivers can turn right from the northbound lanes or left from the southbound lanes across the track. Therefore, turning conflicts might be an issue. Goodno says they haven't yet decided how to handle these turns.

There are also a few curb cuts accessing the adjacent properties, like the Greyhound bus terminal. The diagrams show some of these potentially being closed. The project wouldn't immediately close them, but DDOT would want to work with property owners to locate any curb cuts on side streets instead as those properties are redeveloped.

The project is currently slated for 2013 or 2014. DDOT also hopes to continue the cycle track south of K eventually, though that is not part of this current project.

They're interested in hearing feedback. What do you think of the plan?

Public Spaces

Istanbul shows that the Mall can be a vibrant urban space

It's no secret that DC's National Mall is home to dozens of priceless monuments and museums. But why, when it comes to planning, do we seem to treat the Mall itself like it's an ancient artifact to be admired, but not used?

Photo by Ago 70 on Flickr.

This year, I spent my Turkey Day in Istanbul. I stayed a little over a week, but I don't think it took me more than a few hours of sightseeing to recognize how very different this metropolis is from Washington. One of the most notable differences I came across is how Turks conceive of and plan around their national monuments.

While DC fights to keep the National Mall a memorial unto itself, even Istanbul's oldest neighborhoods (2,000+ years of use) integrate historical treasures and modern establishments with great success.

In the world of cities, Istanbul is nothing short of a heavyweight. With an estimated population of over 14 million residents (as high as 17 million by some counts) and about 2,500 years worth of history under its belt, the metropolis is one the most impressive and diverse in the world.

Today, the megacity calls Turkey its home and it is, at least in legal terms, a secular community. Since its humble beginnings around 600 BC, however, Istanbul has played host to a number of empires, religions and cultures.

With so much history and so much civilization to account for, I expected to find a city that kept is cultural treasures under lock-and-key. But one walk through Old Town—the most ancient part of the metropolis, and the home to vast majority of Istanbul's sites, including the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace—proved my assumptions entirely wrong.

Photo by David Alpert.

Instead, what I found was a bustling neighborhood that played host to a myriad of restaurants, shops, park areas, bike share stations, street vendors, locals, and tourists. And, it just happened to include one of the Seven Wonders of the World and a slew of other notable historical sites. No big deal.

Photo by David Alpert.

As I snacked on a kebab at the edge of the 1,600 year old Hippodrome of Constantinople, I couldn't help but wonder how different the area would be if the US National Park Service were in charge.

Here's my best guess.

If we were to judge by the state of affairs on the Mall today, that would be it for the cafés and most of the street vendors. No more private art galleries and no more fruit stands. Few locals and fewer hotels. Bike share stations? Probably not. And, definitely no kebabs.

Last year, I volunteered regularly for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as a Visitor Services representative. It was a fantastic opportunity to interact with tourists visiting the museum, and often our capital, and sometimes a city of any kind, for the first time.

It was my job to answer their questions and point them in the right direction. Most of the time, I really enjoyed the work. There were only two questions I dreaded: 1) "Can you recommend a few good restaurants nearby?" and 2) "Where can I buy some sunscreen (or band aids or a calling card or a pair of socks or a pack of cigarettes)?"

These are reasonable questions with no reasonable answers. I hated being the bearer of bad news, especially when visitors with a laudable moral consciousness were concerned. Unfortunately, the reality is—and was—that aside from the USHMM café, there are no restaurants near the museum, and the closest convenience store is a hike, as well.

Instead of leaving the look-but-don't-touch policing to the multitude of museums that flank the Mall, the National Park Service enforces a set of policies that turn the entire space into an immaculately preserved dead zone.

Of course, to be fair, the locked-down, mile-long strip of federal buildings surrounding the area doesn't help matters any when it comes to creating a friendly, mixed-use space. But, at the very least, these structures are inaccessible to the public for reasons of security, and they are places of work. The Mall, on the other hand, is a place of recreation, and I pick on it, because there are no legitimate obstacles to opening it up for classy, organic, well-planned commercial development.

If the National Park Service ever considers the idea, Istanbul's Old Town is a perfect case study for how things may go right. While every monument, mosque, obelisk, and museum has its own space, the areas in between are filled with modern conveniences, such as restaurants, shops, and street vendors.

Istanbul has gone through many transformations, but the most beloved and impressive structures remain respected and intact, even after all these years. Indeed, perhaps it is because of its age, rather than in spite of it, that the city has done such a great job of integrating the old with the new. If nothing has undone the Hagia Sophia yet, it's unlikely that a hookah bar and a couple of carpet stores will suddenly get the job done.

Our Mall and the monuments on it are much, much younger, but we can learn from older cities and use their experience to our advantage. We ought to be confident in the fact that our national treasures are impressive, inspiring and important. And we shouldn't tiptoe around them just to make sure no one forgets it.

It's nice to think that we can preserve every last square inch of our capital for our grandchildren's grandchildren just as it exists today, but it's neither smart nor sustainable.

Plus, if my grandchildren's grandchildren are anything like me, I'm sure they'll be much more interested in enjoying a beer at a Mall-side café with a clear view of Mr. Lincoln than running back and forth across a pristine, treeless lawn in search of Advil and SPF 6,000 sunscreen. Maybe they'll dig kebabs, too.


Breakfast links: That will cost you more

Photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr.
Taxi rate increase uncertain: The proposed fare increases for DC cabs faced stiff opposition at a hearing yesterday. Many skeptics oppose fare increases until service quality improves. (DCist)

Is a Metro fare hike on the way?: Metro faces a $124 million budget shortfall next year mostly due to increases in costs. If regional jurisdictions can't pony up the different, the agency may have to hike fares or cut service. (Post)

Child poverty rates climb regionally: Child poverty increased all across the region over the past few years. DC has by far the highest number, with 20,872 (31%) of 5-to-17-year-olds living in poverty. (Examiner)

WMATA tries to lure federal tenants: WMATA may partner with GSA to bring development to 4 metro stations. The agency would lease land to GSA near the Anacostia, Naylor Road, Branch Avenue, and Huntington stations. (Post)

Metro suicides failing lately: Several recent suicide attempts on Metro have failed. Either the trains were far away or stopped quickly enough. In one case, a man jumped from a parking garage and survived. (Examiner)

Thanksgiving enforcement jumps: Over the Thanksgiving weekend, 6 people died on Maryland roadways while 9 died on Virginia's. Police arrested or cited more than 22,000 people in both states over the weekend. (Examiner)

Montgomery challenges ballot question: The county eliminated collective bargaining for police over management decisions. The union wants to take the ban to the ballot, hoping voters will overturn it. The council is suing to stop the measure. (Examiner)

And...: The Post remembers that it's a local paper, not just a national paper. (Post) ... DC upholds sex-segregated dorms at Catholic University. (Washington Times) ... Mt. Vernon Triangle, once a land of parking lots, is finally filling with a critical mass of development. (DCMud)

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What if gas powered everything?

The disadvantages of relying on a carbon economy for transportation are well known, yet pushes to move to an alternative energy economy often face significant opposition. Nissan has a great ad out wondering what would happen if everything ran on gas.

It's a new take on the argument, and it forces us to think somewhat differently about the debate.

Normally, we talk about reducing the number of things that pollute (or reducing the amount that each pollutes). And while most people agree that a cleaner Earth is a better Earth, not everyone agrees that the cost is worth it.

But if we were suddenly faced with a world where everything had a tailpipe, we might feel differently.

Of course, the point of this ad is actually to make us wonder what would happen if everything didn't run on gas. (And also to sell their new electric car.)


The DC Council should abolish Constituent Service Funds

The draft ethics bill under consideration by the DC Council takes steps to limit the use of Constituent Service Funds. The Government Operations Committee should take a bold step and abolish the funds altogether when they report a final bill.

Photo from the DC Council.

Analysis conducted by DC for Democracy makes this painfully clear. DC for Democracy found that very little money raised for CSFs went to needy constituents. More often, funds were spent on "other", a category that includes catering, local travel, and event tickets.

The draft ethics bill addresses this abuse of Constituent Service Funds by cutting the maximum amount Councilmembers may raise, from $80,000 to $40,000. This limit would bring the funds back in line with their size prior to 2009, when the council upped their limit to $80,000.

This new limit is simply window dressing to make what are essentially slush funds more palatable to the public. Either CSF's make sense or they don't. And the proposed cut to their size is a tacit admission that they don't.

Additionally, only 5 of the 13 Councilmembers raised more than $40,000 for their Constituent Service Funds last year, and 4 of them raised between $40,000 and $50,000. Only Jack Evans, who raised $85,000, would be really effected by the new limit.

The draft ethics bill further limits the use of Constituent Service Funds by defining more narrowly what they can be spent on. The loopholes, however, are obvious for all to see. They can't be spent on season tickets to sports events, but they can be spent on individual game tickets. They can't be spent to promote a Councilmember, but they can be spent on community events sponsored by the Councilmember.

In 2010 only three sitting Council members spent 25% or more of their CSF's on constituent needs (Vince Gray spent 28% on constituent needs before being elected mayor). Conversely, 6 Council members spent more than 60% of their funds on the "other" category. If these numbers were reversed, there still wouldn't be enough CSF money going to needy District residents.

At the end of the day, the amount spent by Councilmembers meeting the daily needs of constituents through these funds ($48,271) is a tiny drop in the bucket relative to the needs of a city in which 30% of children live in poverty. Instead of giving needy constituents crumbs from their table of wealthy donors, Councilmembers should address the root causes of poverty and unemployment that create these needs in the first place.


Wall Street isn't DC's first "occupation"

Public discourse has varied over the power, impact, and ultimately resolution of the encamped protests in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza as they have grabbed headlines over the past two months. "Occupy" is merely the latest in a long string of DC protests.

Destruction of Bonus Army camp. Courtesy HSW.

In their scope and length, McPherson's Occupy DC and Freedom Plaza's Stop The Machine groups share characteristics with protests of the past: links to related protests across the country, ties to liberal political groups, and relatively well-developed internal structures and governance.

Coxey's Army

In response to the Panic of 1893, several "armies" marched on Washington, DC demanding unemployment aid and relief. The best known, Coxey's Army, was led by wealthy populist and political figure Jacob Coxey.

Launched in Ohio with 100 unemployed men, the protest moved through Pennsylvania, gathering strength. In the spring of 1894, Coxey's Army arrived 500 strong in Washington. Public interest and attention quickly fizzled, however, after Coxey and his followers were arrested for trespassing on the Capitol grass while trying to storm Congress.

Two decades later, in 1914, Coxey regenerated his army of "tramps" and marched on DC again. This time, Coxey was able to address a crowd from the steps of the US Capitol without being arrested; but his march made little lasting impact on the city or on national policy.

Resurrection City

After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968, leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference continued plans already in motion to descend upon Washington. Members of the Poor People's Campaign, focusing on inequity in employment and housing, arrived in DC in mid-May. In the shadows of the Lincoln Memorial, the epicenter of 1963's March on Washington, "Resurrection City" quickly but haphazardly formed with a collection of self-constructed shacks. Deluged by rain and poor planning, the group quickly became a burden to the Johnson administration. By that summer, the protest had disintegrated.

According to the July 5th edition of Time Magazine,

Churning through the trash-strewn gumbo that had once been a manicured meadow, a federal bulldozer last week interred the last traces of Resurrection City. Its few remaining inhabitants scattered or imprisoned, the shantytown capital and symbol of the Poor People's Campaign had long since become an ugly, anarchic embarrassment to their cause.

Bonus Army

The Great Depression's Bonus Army is arguably the most well-known occupation-style protest that Washington has seen. According to The Bonus Army: An American Epic

In the summer of 1932, at the height of the Depression, some 45,000 World War 1 veterans - whites and blacks together - descended on Washington, DC from all over the country to demand the bonus promised them eight years earlier for their wartime service. earing violence after the Senate defeated the "bonus bill" Herbert Hoover's Army Chief of Staff, Douglass MacArthur led tanks through the streets on July 28 to evict the bonus marchers.
Set up on on the site of the old Anacostia flats, men, women, and children alike camped in structures built from materials scavenged from a nearby dump, but in a tightly-controlled environment in which veterans laid out streets, built sanitation facilities, and created an internal civil structure.

With martial law invoked, the Army set the shacks ablaze, and the veterans and their families left the city. Whether a result of the Bonus Army or not, that fall, President Hoover lost in a landslide to Franklin Roosevelt. Eventually, in 1936, Congress passed the "Bonus Act" that would pay out nearly $2 billion to WWI veterans.

If past is prologue and we can glean lessons from these past protests, Occupy DC and Stop the Machine might have ignominious conclusions. Time—and perhaps the onset of winter—will be the judge.


Breakfast links: Challenges

Photo by Craig Does Stuff on Flickr.
MoCo big box bill unconstitutional?: The Montgomery County Attorney thinks a bill to require CBAs from big box stores is unconstitutional. He was appointed by County Executive Leggett, who opposes the bill. (Post)

"Science City" really just JHU profit city?: Former owners of the so-called "Science City" land are suing Johns Hopkins. They say the deed required JHU to build a campus for itself; instead, JHU will just lease to biotech companies for profit. (WAMU)

Safeway could block Skyland Walmart: DC signed a covenant with Safeway when it located its store across the street from a proposed Walmart site. The covenent prevents a competitor from locating in Skyland and selling groceries. (Post)

Georgetown ok with Glover Park streetscape: A Georgetown ANC commissioner wanted to block the Glover Park streetscape plan, which features sidewalks and a median to slow traffic. He feared reducing car speeds would push traffic to side streets. The commission ultimately decided to support the plan. (Georgetown Metropolitan, Patch)

Can RFK parking lots become ball fields?: A new group proposes to replace the northern parking lots of RFK with athletic fields. NCPC has suggested the same thing before, and it got many votes in the Sustainable DC crowdsourcing site. (City Paper)

Preservationists should be "picky": Glen Echo Park is a great example of something worth preserving. But preservationists should carefully pick and choose what to preserve instead of indiscriminately designating everything. (Atlantic Cities)

Congress wants bike-ped shrunk in TIGER: Congress has ordered USDOT to give less money to bike and ped projects in the next TIGER grants. Those only got a tiny slice of previous grants, though many road projects included sidewalks. (Trans. Issues Daily.)

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Can Falls Church ban parties endorsing local candidates?

Virginia state law prohibits ballots from listing partisan affiliation for local elections. The Falls Church City Council wants to go a step further, banning political parties from endorsing candidates in city races altogether. Can they do this, and with extremely limited public input?

Photo by yakfur on Flickr.

In the wake of two major shakeups to Falls Church city politics, the City Council is set to vote tonight on amendments to the city charter that were just drawn up at the council work session a week ago.

Under the amendments, candidates for the city who are nominated by political party primary or convention will not be listed at all on the ballot. Candidates can only be nominated by petition, the way non-party candidates get on the ballot today.

The amendments warn against not just the evils of partisan elections, but of partisan candidates.

Why the rush to change the charter? Under Virginia's Dillon's Rule system, the changes need Virginia General Assembly approval, so the city council wants to get the amendments into its legislative package in time for the next General Assembly session in January.

Unfortunately, it seems the City Council is putting that deadline ahead of opportunity for public input. This is an especially unfortunate move after voters just dealt the council a harsh rebuke in this month's election.

Voters rejected City Council efforts to keep city elections in May, passing a referendum to move city elections to November by a stunningly large 2-to-1 margin. Referendum opponents warned voters a move to November could make city elections more partisan, but voters ignored those arguments.

Then, just days later, the civic organization Citizens for a Better City (CBC) announced it would no longer endorse local political candidates. As the Falls Church News-Press editorialized, the changes left a sudden void:

So now, there is a flattened and broadened political landscape: no direction and twice the voters. One could call that a more "purely democratic" environment, but it may advisable to revisit Plato's "The Republic" for a poignant critique of the shortcomings, or, better, short livelihood, of "pure democracies."

The CBC may have thought it could dictate by its action a newly-leveled political environment, but its withdrawal will likely encourage other groups, or the formation of other groups, to fill the vacuum. No wish to mandate that future elections be non-partisan, for example, can prevent the exercise of First Amendment rights to the contrary.

A new dictate seems precisely what the city council is proposing. Rather than regrouping, reassessing, and gathering public input, leaders are rushing ahead under deadline pressure on proposed amendments that may or may not reflect the desires of current voters, never mind future ones.

What's more, it's not clear if any of the proposed amendments are either constitutional or enforceable. Can the City Council decide which groups of voters can or cannot publicly endorse political candidates? What if a party doesn't formally endorse, but does a mailing without a candidate's approval or knowledge? Would that candidate be thrown off the ballot anyway?

What about donations? Many city council and school board members have donated to political candidates. For example, Council Member Lawrence Webb, whose name is on the amendments, donated $100 to Democratic Delegate Charniele Herring's campaign in 2009. Under the amendments, would it be enough for Webb to swear off Democratic references on campaign literature? Or would he have to swear off all Democratic affiliations and donations for the duration of his term?

Just weeks after voters settled Falls Church's biggest electoral controversy, will the City Council open a new one? We may find out tonight.


A "tourist zone" might simplify Metro fares for casual riders

Metro fares are complex. There's good reason for this, but it makes navigating the rail system tough for tourists. To make things simple, WMATA might consider a simple, flat fare on paper farecards for trips in a certain zone where tourists typically travel.

Hypothetical "tourist zone." All trips inside the zone could cost $3 with a paper farecard.

As WMATA staff explained in their presentation on fare proposals, there's a tradeoff between simplicity and fairness in all fare proposals, and generally the region has chosen fairness in the past.

Metro could have a single, flat fare, but it would have to be about $2.70 per trip. This would mean that everyone who rides very long distances every day would save a bundle, while all the commuters who live just a couple stops from work and ride off-peak could see their commute costs double.

A zone system is similarly a problem, since people riding one station across a zone boundary would end up paying as much as someone crossing almost 2 whole zones. We can reduce the unfairness by creating more zones, but then the fares get more complicated. Fewer zones are simpler, but much less fair.

That's bad for regular Metro riders, but what about doing something similar for tourists? While the regular commuter probably has a SmarTrip which handles computing fares, it's a lot of work for the tourist trying to buy a paper farecard for the first time.

Since tourists are already paying for hotels, meals and more, an extra dollar or two on the fare might be less important than making the system easy to understand.

We can't make every paper farecard fare $2.70, since then everyone with a $5 commute would just buy these tourist fares instead. We could sell a single farecard for $5.20 (the current maximum Metrorail fare including peak-of-the-peak), but it's a little much to charge each tourist that much per trip even if they're taking the train from Smithsonian to McPherson Square.

But few tourists ride to Franconia-Springfield, anyway. What about a single tourist farecard which goes all the places tourists typically go? Metro could make it really easy to buy, with big, simple signs listing the cost, and a straightforward process on the fare machines. This "tourist fare" would take a rider anywhere in a certain zone, which Metro could prominently show on the maps.

At the last Riders' Advisory Council meeting, Michael Eichler briefed the RAC on a number of fare proposals WMATA's planning and budget offices are evaluating. Assistant General Manager Nat Bottigheimer showed the WMATA Board the same information in October. One of the ideas listed on the presentation is a flat fare for paper farecards. I suggested this "tourist zone" as a tweak to that idea.

Here's one possible zone. A lot of tourists go to the airport, and a lot to Woodley Park (a major destination for convention-goers and animal-seekers). The fare between these 2 spots maxes out at $2.90 (peak of the peak) with SmarTrip, or $3.15 with a paper farecard.

Hypothetical "tourist zone."

Any trip inside this zone costs no more than $3 (with SmarTrip), anytime. Metro could sell a "tourist card" for $3 a ride and make things a lot easier for the very high proportion of tourists who never leave this zone.

There's no incentive for SmarTrip users to buy one of these instead, since no trip costs more with SmarTrip. A few of the longer trips currently cost more with paper farecards, but that extra cost is basically the "tourist tax" today. If Metro replaced that with this system, they'd probably make more money off the tourists riding short distances and make it worthwhile to keep the "tourist fare" at a flat and easy $3 instead of a more cumbersome $3.25.

Or, perhaps there could be more zones, or different zones. For example, the zone would also work a little farther east, encompassing Potomac Ave and Stadium-Armory and not Court House and Clarendon. If we had data on how many fares are paid with paper farecards versus SmarTrip at each station, it'd be easy to determine which is a more appropriate "tourist zone."

As the planning department evaluates many different fare proposals (including some we've brought here on Greater Greater Washington just to recommend against), perhaps Eichler and the team can consider something like this. Can you come up with a better "tourist zone" system for them to evaluate?


Breaking the law is not inevitable this holiday season

An article in the Washington Post last Wednesday should make everyone pause and ponder a strangely dismissive attitude toward theft we see from national advocacy groups and Post retail writers. It says:

Photo by cjelli on Flickr.
When cruising through the shelves of District stores after Thanksgiving, most shoppers give thanks for the plentiful holiday gift choices. They are less likely to be thankful later when they are arrested for shoplifting. ...

The American Mall-Goers Association cautions its members seeking information on shopping in Washington that the District is a "Strict Enforcement Area" for shoplifting. "That's a modern-day parlance for thief trap," said AMGA's Jane R. Citystart II. "By cruising the aisles this weekend, you're likely to shoplift and to get arrested."

This phrasing is very odd. It's as if the author of the article, and AMGA, assume that people can't help shoplifting, and that it's just not possible to find any gifts for the holidays without being a criminal. But it's entirely possible. Just don't break the law.

The above is not, you might guess, what the Post article said. But it said the exact same thing, substituting the act of speeding for shoplifting. Ashley Halsey III printed this article on Wednesday, writing:

When zipping through the near-vacant streets of the District on Thanksgiving, most drivers give thanks for the lack of traffic. They are less likely to be thankful later when they get a speeding ticket in the mail.

AAA cautions its members seeking information on traveling to Washington that the District is a "Strict Enforcement Area" for speeding. "That's a modern-day parlance for speed trap," said AAA's John B. Townsend II. "By zipping through town this weekend, you're likely to speed and to get a ticket."

Nowhere does the article note a simple, but extremely important fact: if you don't break the law, you won't get any tickets. MPD argues that they only place the cameras in areas where there's greater danger to drivers, pedestrians, or cyclists. AAA doesn't think that's true.

We need more traffic cameras, not fewer, and should place them in the real danger spots. DC is getting 9 new permanent cameras, but it's been over a year that MPD has been trying to bring in a more comprehensive system. There would be mobile cameras that they can deploy temporarily at high-danger spots, and cameras to catch box-blocking or failing to yield to pedestrians.

A year ago, MPD's Lisa Sutter told the Pedestrian Advisory Council the camera program was waiting to go through the procurement process. In February, she told John Hendel the same thing. What's the holdup?

Cameras meaningfully reduce fatal crashes, catch unsafe behavior, and even bring in less money than anticipated because people's behavior is changing.

I drove Connecticut Avenue to and from Montgomery County for Thanksgiving, and there's not much speeding, especially in Chevy Chase and Kensington where everyone knows there are cameras.

The only problem with Montgomery's cameras is that people know they only write tickets for driving more than 12 mph over the speed limit. Therefore, many people confidently set the cruise control for 40 in the 30 mph zone. What speed does Maryland want you to drive—30 or 40?

AAA's Lon Anderson told Halsey,

One would think that traffic safety in the city must be going south with this infusion of new camera sites or that the city's coffers desperately need replenishing. So if traffic safety isn't the issue, we must conclude that the city is more concerned that the $43 million netted last fiscal year in automated speeding enforcement was insufficient. If they are for safety, we applaud the city. But if, perchance, they are for revenue, then shame on them.
I can agree with AAA's Lon Anderson on one thing: cameras shouldn't be a revenue grab. In fact, criminal justice science suggests that cameras should carry much lower fines. When we increase the chance of catching lawbreakers, we don't need such high penalties. Just as a 5¢ fee for a plastic bag was enough to significantly change behavior, might a $20 or even $10 ticket stop speeding or red light running if drivers knew they're sure to get caught?

This would be especially fair for box blocking cameras. When we discuss them, many drivers worry that they'll inadvertently get caught blocking the box if they enter an intersection expecting room on the other side, but suddenly find traffic stopping. Many drivers abuse this by moving into intersections even when there's stopped traffic on the far side, but it's true that from time to time the unexpected happens and even a well-behaving driver can get stuck.

Instead of levying a high fine and expecting drivers to contest tickets they think are unfair, just set the fine low, like $10. If you get stuck blocking the box, you did screw up a bit, so pay the fee that's less than the cost of most parking garages anyway. It will only really start hitting people's pocketbooks when they drive in a way that frequently creates box-blocking. Those drivers need to reexamine their actions.

How about it, AAA? Would you join me in lobbying for a Council bill to speed up implementation of a number of box blocking cameras, provided that the fines are set low?

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