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Lower camera fines? Sure, once we have more cameras

Are DC speed camera fines too high? One resident who created a petition, some reporters, and AAA all seem to think so. Lowering fines actually might be the right policy, but only once DC installs more cameras, as promised for over a year, to catch unsafe driving behavior.


Photo by takomabibelot on Flickr.

Even now, most instances of speeding, running red lights, blocking crosswalks, turning right on red without stopping, not yielding to pedestrians, and other unsafe behaviors go unpunished. If a substantially larger number of cameras started enforcing these violations at important intersections, we might gain the same safety benefit even with much smaller fines.

Fox 5 and DCist recently reported on a petition asking DC to lower the fines on its speed cameras. I've created another petition also suggesting lower fines, but only once DC installs the cameras we've waited so long for.

The stories, like many press accounts about traffic cameras, are fairly one-sided, assuming that all readers drives, not walk or bike, and all of the drivers care more about having to pay a ticket than about being safe on the roads. Fox reporter Brian Ackland starts out with the leading question, "Is it about safety or is it really about making money?" Then, he talks only about the money and not at all about the safety.

Like too many reporters, he also quotes AAA and nobody else. There's one paraphrase of something Mayor Gray said in "a recent interview" on the opposing side. There are actually many groups in DC, like the Pedestrian Advisory Council, which have advocated and testified around cameras, and could provide a meaningful perspective from those who like the safety effect of cameras.

Still, the original petition has a point. A $40 fine in Maryland seems to get people to drive slower. Does DC need higher fines?

It would make sense to lower fines, if DC adds more cameras to catch more unsafe behavior. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) issued an RFP in June to buy more cameras, including ones that can detect drivers blocking crosswalks, not stopping before turning right on red, and not stopping when another vehicle stops to let a pedestrian cross. Some of the cameras will be mobile, so MPD can periodically move them to hot spots where residents have complained about dangerous driving.

Unfortunately, the RFP is still stuck in procurement, and it's been well over a year since MPD publicly talked about getting these cameras. Whichever agency or official currently needs to sign off, for whatever step it's at, should move it forward swiftly, and start the process to get even more cameras. Then, it may make sense to lower the fines.

How does the level of fines relate to the number of cameras? To achieve the goal of deterring unsafe driving, we can either hit drivers with huge charges when they're caught, or just catch them more often.

Criminologist Mark Kleiman has done substantial research on the tradeoff between the severity of punishment and the certainty of getting caught. A long prison term might deter someone from a crime more than a short prison term, but a far better deterrent is simply arresting people more quickly and more frequently when they commit a crime.

Kleiman studied fairly complex policing strategies to achieve this in criminal law, such as focusing intense police attention on a certain area for a period of time. For traffic, it's simple. With cameras, it's possible to enforce more of the laws against unsafe driving behavior, more of the time.

At a recent policy forum, I met Kleiman and asked him what he thought of cameras. He said the ideal enforcement system would be one where running a red light, or speeding, triggered a fine every time, but the fine was fairly low.

We'd need to make sure it's high enough that wealthier people don't just decide to constantly run red lights (which is dangerous) and then pay the extra cost, but it doesn't need to be very high. Experimentation could determine the lowest level of fine that actually deters the dangerous behavior.

And what of the argument that this is all about money? Lower fines but more cameras would prove it's not really about money. So would a policy of keeping the camera revenue out of general spending. Camera revenue used to go into a special fund to pay for traffic safety programs. Mayor Gray ended almost all such funds when he took office, but keeping the fund would ensure that nobody is trying to soak speeders just to pay for other priorities.

Regardless, DC needs to break the infuriating logjam in procurement. These cameras pay for themselves through tickets. In a for-profit company, a division that brought in revenue that covered costs would get to keep growing. Government budgeting doesn't work that way, and MPD can't simply take the money from camera tickets and buy more cameras. They need the Mayor and Council to allocate budget to buy and maintain the cameras, even when the effect is to return all the money to the budget for the next year.

Mayor Gray and the DC Council: Please put more cameras on the streets. Then, let's seriously look at whether we can still deter unsafe driving with lower fines.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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On a related high enforcement, low penalty speed camera note apparently Chicago will ticket speeders $50 fine for going 26 in a 20 zone. Combine that harder speed limit with more cameras and you could probably effectively eliminate speeding. Though I suppose at that point the cameras become costs and not revenues and it becomes harder to maintain the network of cameras.

by Steven Yates on Feb 22, 2012 10:44 am • linkreport

Of course the guy who started the petition is griping about the Porter Street speed camera. Which was looong over due and is probably a top performer now. People weren't just mildly speeding there they were doing double the speed limit and often times even faster. I have to walk the stretch often and it was like walking along a freeway. Is the road conducive to speeding? Of course. That doesn't make it right. Twice jogging down Porter to enter the park I was nearly hit by hubcaps flying off speeding cars. Buses and trucks sped too and leave in their wake all kinds of road debris. If you want to make it a freeway and speed on it fine but put up some freeway walls to protect those walking and jogging. Otherwise lets treat it like an city street

by Johnny on Feb 22, 2012 10:45 am • linkreport

Some of these camera locations are just ridiculous. And DDOT is complicit in setting unreasonably low speed limits. Case in point - the 1900 block of Independence Ave, where the speed limit is 25 mph. Note that this is three lanes in one direction, with no pedestrian crossings, no signals, no stop signs, and acts as a limited-access highway until you're east of the river. The 25 mph limit is unwarranted and MPD is cashing in on it. I fully support putting a speed camera on Independence Avenue literally anywhere west of the signal at 19th St SE, but the location they've picked makes it obvious that they are interested in revenue over safety.

by Dave on Feb 22, 2012 10:55 am • linkreport

"We'd need to make sure it's high enough that wealthier people don't just decide to constantly run red lights (which is dangerous) and then pay the extra cost, but it doesn't need to be very high. Experimentation could determine the lowest level of fine that actually deters the dangerous behavior."

Or we could graduate the fine based on the violators income, like they do in Sweden, for exactly this reason. I have no problem levying multi-thousand dollar fines against multi-millionaires.

by Distantantennas on Feb 22, 2012 11:07 am • linkreport

To some extent, it should be about money. As a whole, violating traffic laws hurts society. The government should collect enough money to offset that harm.

The problem may be where the money goes. Instead of funding the general operations of government, it should fund the cost of the enforcement itself (including traffic cops) and compensation to victims of uninsured and underinsured motorists.

by Jim Titus on Feb 22, 2012 11:07 am • linkreport

Red light cameras are more important than speeding cameras - stand at any corner on 14th between I and R and you'll see someone running a red on almost every cycle - seriously, no hyperbole, I walk to and fro work every day on that route.

Who seems to do most of the red light running? Surprise, surprise, Marylanders.

Speed cameras are fine too, but like Dave said, maybe we need to tweak the speed limits - higher in some places, lower in others - and then set very very strict enforcement standards (I'll take $500 for 15mph over), to give a sense of equity/fairness between the public and the regulatory body. That way people would see it as a compromise and not more of the dreaded government "overreach".

by Matthew B on Feb 22, 2012 11:11 am • linkreport

This is an argument for traffic-calming measures (e.g. removing traffic lanes), not for eliminating enforcement. You might not live on (or have to walk across or along) that stretch of road, but someone else does. You hear the same kind of complaints about C Street & Constitution westbound coming into the city. It's a wide street! It's a highway!

Frankly I'm not too concerned about the "revenue over safety" issue. The speed limit is posted. Drive at or below it (or up to, what 11 mph over it) and save the money. Or speed and don't.

Having said that, there's no reason MPD shouldn't have figured out whatever technical issues that have prevented them from putting speed cameras up throughout the city. We still see people driving like madmen through Lincoln Park, on H Street, arterials east of the river, etc, etc...

The tolerance for this culture of reckless driving has got to stop.

by oboe on Feb 22, 2012 11:14 am • linkreport

I just got on the Alpert petition.

I've had two speed camera tickets in DC. One was a situation like Dave described, on a low-traffic residential road that lended itself to higher speeds. One was on a stretch of the SE freeway. In neither case was I much faster than surrounding traffic, so of course those tickets were really annoying.

But as a pedestrian/cyclist, I see cars blowing through red lights at Dupont Circle all the time (and yes, I see cyclists doing that too). Sooner or later, someone's going to get hit. Maybe the stakes are lower at Dupont, but drivers in DC can be really reckless. I'm willing to put up with more speed cameras to combat that. It would be very nice if they lowered the fines for first-time offenses.

by Weiwen on Feb 22, 2012 11:18 am • linkreport

How much do the cameras cost and how much goes to the contractors off of each ticket?

by selxic on Feb 22, 2012 11:25 am • linkreport

I'm a non car-owner and I still think the cameras are a waste of money and flawed from civil liberties and data collection perspectives. They are there to generate money and often absurd places. The only bonus is that they probably generate disproportionate funds from tourists who don't know where they are.

by Rich on Feb 22, 2012 11:33 am • linkreport

I think $125 is too much; $40 is enough to get people to slow down. At the current level, this is all about revenue and those of us driving cars are just paying a tax. Annoying, but taxation is always a goofy issue with DC government. Of course, the contractor(s) and whichever DC official is getting the kickbacks are the real winners.

by josey23 on Feb 22, 2012 11:33 am • linkreport

Does anyone here actually have first-hand knowledge of the technical limitations to speed-camera technology? I spoke with someone about this several years ago, and they said that, at the time, it was technically not feasible to put these devices on most DC streets. (e.g. You'd have to remove 5-6 parking spaces, etc...)

by oboe on Feb 22, 2012 11:50 am • linkreport

But as a pedestrian/cyclist, I see cars blowing through red lights at Dupont Circle all the time

I honestly don't get the signals at DuPont Circle.

There are a few spots where the signal only alternates between red...where you don't have the right-of-way, and a flashing yellow arrow...where you also don't have the right-of-way.

Why bother with a signal at all?

I'd be strongly in favor of ripping most of the traffic signals out of our circles.

And, while we're on this subject, can we have a discussion about turning most of our signals to flashing red (with a few flashing yellow where appropriate) late at night? This won't solve any deep-seated safety or quality-of-life issues, but will make driving across certain parts of the city far less aggravating during those hours.

by andrew on Feb 22, 2012 12:11 pm • linkreport

I do agree that more frequent but lower fines will be more effective.
But what about points on license if there are enough infractions (at least for DC drivers since I'm not sure how it's enforced across state lines)? Also, it would be nice if DC (and MD & VA) had a way of notifying drivers that they got a ticket as soon as they speed (or whatever the violation is), via text or email. That way you can give one "warning" right away. Getting something in the mail 2 weeks later isn't a deterent until, well, 2 weeks later. Lastly, I think policing via cameras the running of red lights, blocking crosswalks and sidewalks is just as important if not more important since that's where the greatest danger to peds is.

by dc denizen on Feb 22, 2012 12:24 pm • linkreport

I was recently caught by a camera going 11 miles over the limit on 295 North and I was surprised by the $125 fine.

However, as a DC resident I am happy that Marylanders (who are indeed the worst drivers) will now essentially be paying a commuter tax.

In the end, this is clearly a regressive "tax", but since DC cannot seem to levy additional taxes to pay for needed services (don't get me started on lily-livered Democrats chanting "no new taxes") - I am perfectly happy with this new revenue source.

Ironically, though, a progressive policy of traffic enforcement will indirectly create more social-inequity within the District by pushing away traditional DC residents, i.e., African Americans, who have lived here generations and disparage the traffic cameras. This new enforcement is a change primarily supported by progressive newcomers (not that this is a bad thing).

The wheel of progress continues to turn . . . literally!

by To Hill and Back on Feb 22, 2012 12:26 pm • linkreport

I doubt ATS would be very happy with you killing their revenue streams.

by charlie on Feb 22, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

"The stories...(assume)...that all of the drivers care more about having to pay a ticket than about being safe on the roads."

EXCUSE ME? As a signer of the petition, I can assure you that this assumption is utterly false. Can one object to exploitively high fines *and* care about being safe on the road? Yes We Can!

by Kevin McGilly on Feb 22, 2012 12:34 pm • linkreport

Re: dc denizen
"more frequent but lower fines will be more effective...what about points on license if there are enough infractions... notifying drivers that they got a ticket...I think policing via cameras the running of red lights, blocking crosswalks and sidewalks"

These are all fine points to make if the $125 speeding tickets were about public safety. They pretty much aren't. Camera-issued tickets are quite different than a speeding ticket handed over by a police officer. There is no witness, there may not have been any actual hazard created by that car at that time, and the ticket is issued to the owner of the car. DC does not care one bit about who is behind the wheel. As for telling you in less than a couple weeks? Ha, that would cut into revenues.

by josey23 on Feb 22, 2012 12:35 pm • linkreport

Like Dave says, the locations of many of these cameras seem to prove that they are not about safety. As a Maryland driver, I've been ticketed three times, all on highways where I was traveling at the speed of traffic, there are no pedestrians or cyclists allowed, let alone present, and where the speed limit was set well below the road design. The first two were when the fine was $50, so I paid it, but the latest one is $125 and since there is no way to enforce it for out of District drivers I'm just not paying, and I'm sure that plenty of other non-District drivers and tourists do the same.

Being that DC has such a small percentage of the drivers in the city, I wouldn't be surprised if raising the rates actually lowers the amount of total revenue that the city receives as it encourages non-payment by any drivers whose cars aren't registered in the city. So not only are the cameras a failure from a safety perspective, but from a revenue generating one too.

by Ted on Feb 22, 2012 12:35 pm • linkreport

After a certain number of tickets, you have to go pay in person.

That might get "rich people" to not just constantly speed and run red lights.

by Michael Perkins on Feb 22, 2012 12:37 pm • linkreport

Did you ask your crminologist how effective it is to issue fines to the WRONG PEOPLE? Fines are sent to owner, not the driver. Stats show that the owner is NOT the driver 28% of the time. How effective is it to send fines to the wrong person? And that doesn't include all of the malfunctions and errors in reading plates and processing.

Cameras are a joke for law enforcement, it is ONLY about money.

by PhotoRadarScam on Feb 22, 2012 12:37 pm • linkreport

Put the cameras on more residential streets. Keep them off the highways. DC for some odd reason refuses to acknowledge that it has a highway system. 295 and the Suitland Parkway (DC section) are not residential streets, they are highways. They should be set at 65. It is a joke to have a 45, and then 35 limit on the Suitland Parkway, at night, when the road is empty. Well empty except for the ever-present camera car.

What about commercial vehicle enforcement? DC supposedly has a commercial vehicle enforcement division. I have seen the trucks (always parked somewhere), but I never see big trucks or buses getting pulled over. So the dump truck filled with gravel that sped by me this morning, with its load uncovered spilling rock all over 395, apparently gets a pass, but you do 50 on and empty freeway you get a ticket?

by dcdriver on Feb 22, 2012 12:44 pm • linkreport

@josey23

Yeah, I hear that all the time but I disagree. I think cameras are better than the police stopping you because then you get cherry-picked and all the rest of the speeders get away scot-free. (They drive by looking at you getting your ticket written with a big smile on their face - "haha, you got caught!") With cameras EVERYONE who breaks the law is caught. This is fair. Furthermore, you are only "taxed" (as all the anti-camera commentariat love to say) if you break the law. If you don't speed, you don't get fined.

And we need enforcement. Drivers are breaking the laws left and right in this city: They run red lights, block the box, the sidewalk, the crosswalks, speed down residential streets and in alleys, talk on their cell phones and text while driving. Let's not get into all the drunk driving that goes on in the evenings either. Somehow there has to be enforcement and as of yet cameras are the best and solution.

With all that being said, there can be improvements and I think David Alpert has hit on one of them: reducing the fine but increase the amount of cameras. I was just making suggestions that would also make the quality of enforcement better. One of them would be instant notification via text and email, and sending out a first warning. Since it would be instantaneous then a driver could know once they've parked that they broke the law during their drive. I think it would really improve a driver's awareness that he was, in fact, speeding and to slow down next time. I think too often drivers are only concerned by themselves and are not aware of their surroundings. With all the gadgetry in cars these days people are literally cacooning themselves into a 2-ton steel box.

by dc denizen on Feb 22, 2012 12:50 pm • linkreport

I'm a Maryland driver, and I think I'm pretty good at it. I've gotten a few speed camera tickets in Montgomery County, and eventually I learned where the cameras are and I know to slow down at the camera. But on some streets, like Randolph Road in Wheaton, I'll speed up right after I pass the camera.

Why?

Because the streets are designed for higher speeds. It's easy to set a speed limit below the street's designed speed, place cameras and watch the fines add up while drivers go at whatever speed they feel comfortable. It may be reckless, and it certainly endangers pedestrians who have to walk along or cross these streets. So you should redesign the street for slower speeds.

This actually costs money, so I understand why local governments are averse to doing it. But it's an actual solution that creates the behavior you want: slower driving, along with more comfortable/safer conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists.

by dan reed! on Feb 22, 2012 12:54 pm • linkreport

Ironically, since moving to DC, the consensus I've always heard is that VA (not MD) drivers are the region's worst.

by HogWash on Feb 22, 2012 1:16 pm • linkreport

I think $125 is too much for 11 over the limit but I don't get to vote on DC tax rates. Come on, who on the Council needs to get paid to push the RFP on more cameras?

by josey23 on Feb 22, 2012 1:18 pm • linkreport

Ask a Marylander and they'll say Virginia has worst drivers and vice versa. I think Maryland and Virginia drivers can agree DC drivers are the worst in the region.

by selxic on Feb 22, 2012 1:21 pm • linkreport

@radar scam and dc denizen

Points would be problematic because we do not know who drove the car. As with parking tickets, it's perfectly reasonable to require the owner of the car to pay since we know that the car is in violation, regardless of which person made the mistake. If the owner is not driving, she probably knows who was driving and can either get the money from the driver or stop lending her car to someone who gets speeding tickets and then refuses to pay.

by Jim Titus on Feb 22, 2012 1:21 pm • linkreport

the speed cameras serve as the unofficial commuter tax.

by jkc on Feb 22, 2012 1:21 pm • linkreport

You're over the speed LIMIT -- it is not guidance, a suggestion, or a whim. AND you get a ticket when you are 10 OVER the limit. The fine needs to be a deterent - $125 is good, enough to feel the pain. $40 is a slap -- (a dinner out somewhere).

For a pedestrian and urbanism focused web site -- making this a slap on the wrist seems a little odd. 10 MPH can make difference between life and death for a pedestrian or bicyclist.

Does DC need to set speed limits better, maybe... and that is a different question that definitely needs to be taken up with DDOT. [There was a study conducted in 2006 for DDOT on arterial speed limits, trying FOIA'ing that one]

by Some Ideas on Feb 22, 2012 1:28 pm • linkreport

"and not stopping when another vehicle stops to let a pedestrian cross."

This is dangerous, and this is how people get killed crossing the GWMP.

If a car has to stop for someone to cross, then the person is not *in* the crosswalk, and those signs you see which say either "STOP for Pedestrian in Crosswalk" or "YIELD" do not apply.

by ArlCoRes on Feb 22, 2012 1:45 pm • linkreport

Did you ask your crminologist how effective it is to issue fines to the WRONG PEOPLE? Fines are sent to owner, not the driver. Stats show that the owner is NOT the driver 28% of the time. How effective is it to send fines to the wrong person?

Presumably you made the decision to lend your car to someone. Ask them to give you money to cover it. They won't? Don't let them borrow your car any more. Problem solved.

by oboe on Feb 22, 2012 1:46 pm • linkreport

The fine needs to be a deterent - $125 is good, enough to feel the pain. $40 is a slap

David's idea was that a strictly-enforced $40 fine would send the message, and be a bit less unfair to people who either don't have a lot of money, or are unfamiliar with our roads.

If you have enough cameras to guarantee that habitual speeders will get caught, those $40 fines would quickly add up to an amount that would serve as a deterrent.

by andrew on Feb 22, 2012 2:22 pm • linkreport

This is dangerous, and this is how people get killed crossing the GWMP.

If a car has to stop for someone to cross, then the person is not *in* the crosswalk, and those signs you see which say either "STOP for Pedestrian in Crosswalk" or "YIELD" do not apply.

Yes, remember, don't stop for pedestrians unless they're *in* the crosswalk. Also, pedestrians must never ever enter the crosswalk unless oncoming cars have enough time to stop. And of course, drivers have no obligation to obey the speed limit.

So you have, as in the case of the GWMP, a stream of cars all doing 60 mph in a 35 mph zone, tailgating one another, and it's the pedestrian's fault for not waiting for a break in traffic (which will presumably come, what, at around 2:45pm?)

Here's an idea: see that big yellow sign that has a crosswalk symbol on it? When you see it, exercise "caution", slow down, look to see if there's a pedestrian crossing. If you're following another car, give yourself sufficient stopping time to actually stop in the case that a pedestrian is crossing at this well-marked crosswalk.

Came across this comment elsewhere, and it's spot-on:

Motorists should have the responsibility to travel behind another vehicle at a safe speed and distance. The very definition of safety means taking into account unexpected situations. We’ve spent the last 50 years diverting the responsibility of motorists onto pedestrians and other forms of transportation. What doesn’t work is turning our community streets into raceways with highway rules – that is, we’ve been training motorists to expect that the road will be cleared out ahead of them, or that any danger will be well marked, so that they can travel at as high of a speed as they desire. Over this decades long time period the burden of safety has been gradually lifted from the responsibility of motorists so that they have become accustomed to driving dangerously and now believe that the way they drive is safe. This law is in the right direction because it is restoring the balance that has been lost. Its aim is to protect the most vulnerable (pedestrians) rather than protecting the most protected (motorists).

by oboe on Feb 22, 2012 2:25 pm • linkreport

The camera the Fox News reported about, on Branch Ave, is located across the street from my house. And I love it.

It is not a trap. A 2' tall speed limit sign is a half block away. You can't miss it. Nor can you miss the crosswalk. Or the houses. Or pedestrians. Or the bikes. All the signs of a residential neighborhood.

I know this camera upsets a lot of Maryland residents but all of my neighbors are quite ecstatic about its presence. This one is located right at a crosswalk, bus stops and a hiker/biker trail intersection.

Since the camera has been put in place traffic goes much slower. I only wish they would install the uphill camera (which I have read they have plans to do.)

There is another camera located on ~295 by Benning Road and that I can see getting a few feathers ruffled. But in residential communities I am a huge supporter of camera for safety means.

@oboe
This camera actually gave more spaces on the road. Before cars sped too fast for residents to feel comfortable parking on the street, now I often see cars parked up the hill.

by overandup on Feb 22, 2012 2:46 pm • linkreport

@overandup:

I'm familiar with this location. The only thing that makes it possible to cross Branch Ave here along the trail is the speed camera. The first time I tried to cross, I couldn't figure out what was going on. Car after car was driving in a safe and legal manner, and I could actually get across at the unsignaled crosswalk without running for my life.

Of course, I'm sure detractors would characterize this stretch as "a revenue generator" with no safety function. After all, it's four-lanes of traffic, and the road is engineered for speeds up to 50 mph. Heck, if you want to cross the road, buy a car!

:)

by oboe on Feb 22, 2012 2:53 pm • linkreport

Are fines for speeding and running red lights expensive? I hadn't really noticed. I think I heard something else about gas being expensive, but I don't really know much about that either...

by rg on Feb 22, 2012 3:14 pm • linkreport

The traffic problem in this city is primarily caused by cab drivers. All you need to do is drive in metro dc once to know that cab drivers believe they are above traffic laws and common decency, yet I never see police effort to bring them to task. Ever. I find myself driving increasingly more aggressive merely to counter and avoid the cab drivers recklessness. Stop in the middle of a crowded street: ok in DC; never use signals/cut people off/ride the ass of anyone going speed limit: ok in DC. And I'm sick of the pedestrian complaints. If you jaywalk and clog traffic: shut up. Bikes are worse: red light means stop, just because you don't have an engine doesn't mean you get to invent your own rules. The traffic cameras make speeding/running red lights/being stopped in a cross-walk strict liability crimes. There is a reason police use discretion when giving tickets. Should I really be forced to choose (Often!) between getting killed and getting a ticket?

by Jason on Feb 22, 2012 3:20 pm • linkreport

I admit it. I drive.

And, based on what I see all the time, the more speed cameras, speed bumps and any other deterrents to the stupidity and recklessness I see every day, the better.

by William on Feb 22, 2012 3:35 pm • linkreport

Two words: radar detector.

One website: photoblocker.com.

by ceefer66 on Feb 22, 2012 4:27 pm • linkreport

I was under the impression that radar detectors didn't work with speed and red light cameras. There are certianlly ways to notify you, and if you look the EU they have pretty strict regulations on warning drivers a camera is nearby.

by charlie on Feb 22, 2012 4:55 pm • linkreport

@charlie,

Radar detectors work quite fine against speed cameras - speed cameras use radar to measure speed. Granted, some are better than others so one shouldn't waste money on a cheap detector.

Red light cameras are another sory - they work by motion sensors. move through the red light, geta ticket -as it should be.

I'm all for red light cameras. There should be more of them. Speed cameras are another story. They're predatory. "Safety" has little or nothing to do with the way they're deployed and managed in DC.

And the suggestions in this article - install more of them and make the fines cheaper, thereby increasing the number of camera tickets issued - supports the opinion of many of us - speed cameras in DC are all about the money.

by ceefer66 on Feb 22, 2012 5:04 pm • linkreport

If DC's "leaders" and "officials" are really concerned about "safety", they would station a patrol car with lights flashing at a site where speeding is a problem so that traffic would be at a crawl once it reaches the trouble spot.

If DC's speed enforcement program was about safety, they wouldn't have a contractor-owned camera mounted on a pole or "operated" by a dozing police officer in a department-owned vehicle snapping pictures serupticiously then mailing out $50 tickets 3 weeks later.

But we all know - or should know that the DC speed cameras are not at all about safety and are all about money. That's why the fines are fairly low and don't add points to one's driver's license. If the fines were significant or could damage someone's driving record (and consequently result in a suspended license or much higher insurance rates), people would flock to the courts in droves to fight the tickets every time. But who would waste a day off from work to fight over a $50 ticket? Or even a $100 ticket? Many contractors and consultants make more than than per hour. What idiot is going to give up a day's pay to fight a $100 camera ticket unless there are other consequences besides a fine?

Not to mention fighting a ticket for something they don't remember. Issuing a ticket weeks later is calculated to ensure the average person has forgotten where they were or what they were doing and therefore can't defend themself well anyway.

Really, safety? Yeah, right.

It's all about the money. And commuters from Maryland are the prime prey. That's why most of the cameras are deployed on routes to/from Maryland. Am I the only one who notices that the DC routes to/from Virginia aren't littered with speed cameras? Where are the speed cameras on the 14th Street, Roosevelt, Key, or Arlington bridges?

I would love to see some push back from Maryland officials and members of Congress against this discriminatory ripoff.

As it is, the only things being "promoted" by DC's speed camera program are cynicism and contempt.

As for me, I'll believe DC's speed camera program are about "safety" when I see a speed camera in the area of East Capitol Street where Eastern High School, several churches, an elementary achool, and homes are located. Instead of the section of East Capitol where it is now - under the 295 overpass.

by ceefer66 on Feb 22, 2012 5:19 pm • linkreport

Happy to see a fairly level headed article and a lot of logical comments. People should be informed to make educated judgments on the benefits, or lack of benefits, of high camera fines. I'm not an anti-camera Nazi and not hell-bent on raising the speed on Porter (I bicycle a lot & hate aggressive drivers). I admire & respect Chief Lanier. I support smart use of cameras and love getting "bad guys". I just think the fine is outstandingly high and wonder why so many people go along like sheep blindly handing over large sums without asking questions. Just want an authoritative person to give a believable, trustworthy, statistically-backed argument for the fine amounts. Is it really so hard for the tax payers to get this info? The more discussions I hear & lack of trustworthy data I see, the more I wonder if income from fines is used in a way we the people agree of--oh, and I do not buy easily into conspiracy theories:) I'm not out to get cameras--just info. If the info cannot be produced to support outstandingly high fines, then lower them to a fine that achieves respectable objectives such as safety without kicking struggling families in the head.

by Mark Mueller on Feb 22, 2012 5:20 pm • linkreport

@ceefer66; your technological distinction makes sense, although I still think most detectors would not be useful against speed cameras as well -- different radio propogations. And they are illegal in va..

In terms of your utility distinctions, not sure I entirely agree. Most red light cameras start to drop significally in revenue if you extend the yellow light signals. timing it better (give one or two second before the intersection turns green) would do much the same But generanlly, yes, I think you approach is correct.

DC seems pretty egregious about speed cameras -- I've been hit the Penn. Ave exit near RFK on what is clearly a limited access highway.

You can't have a serious discussion like Dave would want without bringing up that these cameras have a corporate angle.

by charlie on Feb 22, 2012 5:31 pm • linkreport

"Keeping up with traffic" on an interstate is one matter, but doing ten over the limit on a city street puts other people's lives at risk. A $125 fine is a good figure. The fines should hurt. I wouldn't mind a $250 fine either, for 10 mph over.

The main problem with the current fines is that they don't affect high-income people enough. A fine keyed to income would be more equitable, but that's unlikely to happen, not given the amount of whining we get from the most minimal levels of enforcement.

I would support more pervasive cameras with lower ticket prices - better to spread the benefits of speed reduction around, and if lower fines will mollify some critics, that's a reasonable compromise.

In the city, I treat the speed limit as a hard cap. It's very easy. I'm tired of hearing people moaning about how hard it is to stick to the speed limit. That little whoozit down there next to the gas pedal? Not the clutch, the other one? Yeah, if you push down on it, it kinda makes your car goes slower.

by David R. on Feb 22, 2012 5:31 pm • linkreport

The entire basis of the arguments in favor of speed cameras is the same as the district's: you presume that speeding is, in fact, a crime that merits the very severe level of scrutiny and punishment that's being meted out. That's arbitrary from the get-go.

But beyond that, you are operating on two very big assumptions to reach your arbitrary justification: 1) that speeding is directly related to some significant public ill (presumably, pedestrian accidents) and 2) that speed cameras will reduce speeding in any substantive way, and consequently (since you believe #1) reduce accidents.

Fine. Prove it.

Sadly, there is absolutely no evidence that either of these are true. Please take a look at the pedestrian fatality numbers for 2000-2009.

http://mpdc.dc.gov/mpdc/cwp/view,a,1240,q,557665,mpdcNav_GID,1552,mpdcNav,%7C.asp

If speed and traffic cameras have any effect on public safety, wouldn't you expect that the pedestrian fatality numbers would show some kind of trend?

They don't. They are across the board. The range in ten years is three hundred percent from lowest to highest. Traffic cams first came to town in 2001, and more popped up over this time. Yet 2003 recorded higher ped fatalities than 2000, when there were no cameras, and 2007 was the highest of the bunch. There is absolutely no relationship.

Now, let's get anecdotal. Of all the pedestrian accidents that have been discussed in recent times, how many are due to

1) non-drunk driver
2) not pedestrian's fault
3) not running a red light or turning or related to some other incident
4) driver was speeding

That is - speed was the only factor.

Any at all?

You need to prove that there is *any relationship whatsoever* between automated speed enforcement and pedestrian safety. It is not enough to say that the risk of death is higher if a car is driving faster. Speed cameras don't slow traffic down except right around the speed camera. Pedestrian fatalities occur, generally, in areas where speed cameras are not installed. (Not surprisingly, they occur in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic, where speeding is rarely pervasive enough to warrant installing a camera.). Speed cameras are installed in places where there is heavy car traffic - commuting routes. Areas where there is little pedestrian traffic.

So, now let's fall back on the "so what, it's illegal and should be punished" argument.

That's fine. I just hope you think it should be applied equally to all such crimes that have no demonstrable relationship to a safety problem, e.g. bicycling through a stop sign, or leaving out your trash can too long, and especially those that do, e.g. not shoveling your walk.

If that is the kind of society in which you want to live - where every crime is monitored and punished (but, of course, you get the bill a month later, when you've had the chance to violate it a dozen times) - then we have little to discuss. Welcome to your Orwellian future. I don't want to live that way. Why would that be OK for some kinds of crimes and not others? Why are you the arbiter of that?

FWIW, there have been 2 pedestrians killed by bikes in the last few years. When you remember that cyclists are only about 3% of traffic, that's actually a rate only about half of that for cars killing peds. If you think that speeding cars are such a problem, I hope you would vote to apply the same level of enforcement to the laws other vehicles violate.

by Jamie on Feb 22, 2012 5:48 pm • linkreport

It's one thing to complain that the cameras are faulty and ticket the wrong people (and by that I don't mean the owner versus the driver...see @oboe's comment at 1:46pm for why) or that the speed limit should be higher. But when someone complains that the camera enforcement is about money and not safety and that it targets non-District residents all I hear is: "I'm pissed I got caught."

If you're upset because you believe the enforcement is not about safety but revenue then you should be arguing for more cameras or to change the speed limit, not about the cameras themselves.

by 7r3y3r on Feb 22, 2012 5:56 pm • linkreport

"If you're upset because you believe the enforcement is not about safety but revenue then you should be arguing for more cameras or to change the speed limit, not about the cameras themselves."

So by extension, in the case of any law, one should either favor draconian, 100% enforcement of that law, or that the law be changed?

Do you think that most of the people who argue for the speed cameras would also argue for the same enforcement of many other civil infractions such as:

Failure to take trash can in by 6 PM
Failure to shovel your walk within 8 hours of snowfall
Failure to maintain the grass in the treeboxes in front of your house
Coming to a complete stop at a stop sign (or red light) on a bicycle
Crossing street when no crosswalk is present
Failure to recycle newspapers

I think those laws are all fine. I have no interest in seeing them changed.

I would sure be mad as hell if I got a ticket every single time I got home after 6 on trash day. Wouldn't you?

Most laws are not on the books so that we have ways to constantly bust people. They are there so that when someone is *really causing a problem* you have a legal recourse to deal with them.

At least that's the sort of society I would prefer to live in. Seems like a lot of folks around here can't get to 1984 fast enough.

by Jamie on Feb 22, 2012 6:03 pm • linkreport

Good post, Dave A.

One thing about bad drivers in the US: they think they’re good drivers.

The self-incriminating recidivists here are simply looking for something to blame, and groping for failed arguments and failed gimmicks like Photoblocker ("As seen on TV": does that tell you anything?)

Fine ’em.

by Sydney on Feb 22, 2012 6:10 pm • linkreport

I am in favor of more cameras, but we should absolutelty not lower the financial fine.

by H Street Landlord on Feb 22, 2012 6:13 pm • linkreport

Red light cameras give a false sense of safety because even with a $500 fine (Calif.) the presence of a camera doesn't stop the real late runs - because the runners don't know (a lost tourist) or don't remember (a distracted or impaired local), that there's a camera up ahead. They're not doing it on purpose!

The real late runs cause the accidents. To stop them, improve the visual cues that say "signal ahead." Florida's DOT found that pavement paint cut runs by up to 74%. Make the signals bigger, add backboards, and put the poles on the NEAR side of the intersection. Put brighter bulbs in the street lights at signals. Add lighted name signs for the cross streets.

Even if you have cameras, do the cues. They're cheap to do citywide, unlike cameras which are expensive, can't stop real late runs, increase rearenders, drive shoppers away, and send local money to Oz, AZ or NYC, never to return.

by Henry on Feb 22, 2012 6:59 pm • linkreport

@Jamie: "So by extension, in the case of any law, one should either favor draconian, 100% enforcement of that law, or that the law be changed?"

Exactly. If you want a law enacted so that you have legal recourse against someone who is *really causing a problem*, then I think the law should be written so that it encompasses such persons but no more. Otherwise you're proscribing behavior that you don't believe is wrong.

So yes, if I got a ticket every single time I got home after 6 on trash day, I'd argue to change the law.

And, actually, my concept of a society is less totalitarian than yours which involves the government making laws about all sorts of behavior in case of that one extreme actor.

by 7r3y3r on Feb 22, 2012 7:16 pm • linkreport

@Jamie,

DC is an urban environment where there's a lot of pedestrian traffic. If you're operating your vehicle at 20 mph and hit a person, you have an five percent chance of killing them. If you're operating your vehicle at 40 mph, you have a 85% chance of killing them.

That's all the justification that's needed for speed limits.

But wait, there's more. Drivers who speed are less likely to be able to avoid hitting vulnerable non-drivers.

If the car has an average stopping distance from 25 to 0 of 30 feet that means that the car will have moved a total of 85 feet down the roadway before it comes to a stop. That’s the length of 8 Toyota Camrys parked end-to-end, and that’s under perfect road conditions.

Because of this human factor, as speeds increase, the stopping distance increases dramatically. At 30mph the stopping distance is much greater—109 feet. At 35 mph it goes up to 136 feet

by oboe on Feb 22, 2012 8:55 pm • linkreport

I'm surprised that in all this discussion about the level of the fines that no one has mentioned the grocery bag tax. One little nickel has reduced bag consumption in this city by 80%--perhaps more by now. Taxes, fines, other financial incentives and disincentives are effective in changing human behavior. Period. The trick is getting the numbers right. Too low and people just figure it into the cost (which is why I think the success of the bag tax is astonishing). Too high and you risk a political backlash that may just be too hard to ignore. And I don't want that to happen. I'm all in favor of the cameras and want lots more of them. I want drivers who ignore the law and endanger others to be punished. I agree with the criminologist that David quotes above--some experimentation should be done to find the lowest fine that still changes behavior and we should strive to have more even enforcement so that more offenders are caught more often. I must also add, however, that I do wish that priority were given to red light cameras at intersections where the pedestrian safety hazards are greatest, rather than putting speed camera on the many roads mentioned in earlier posts.

by Jane on Feb 22, 2012 10:43 pm • linkreport

@oboe

Sure, we all agree that there should be speed limits. Unanimous sentiment.

What you conveniently failed to acknowledge was a fair point of Jamie's: that pedestrian fatality has been unaffected by speed cameras. This is a dagger in the heart of your argument -- I can't see why you wouldn't want to address it.

Let's play the devil's advocate for a moment. Let's put aside our respective positions on the issue of whether successively larger fines substantially increase safety (as opposed to fine vs. no fine at all, about which I think there's unanimity as well). I think we can assume that speeding is absolutely affected by enforcement, whether through cameras or cops. But does this translate into significantly fewer deaths? Why or why not?

I'd argue that one reason that speed cameras may not affect pedestrian deaths is that 25 - 30 mph -- our minimum speed limit -- is too high a speed limit. To avoid significant numbers of pedestrian fatalities, we need to lower the speed limit to 15. Most deaths are the result of cars going beyond 15 mph to begin with -- few deaths (relatively speaking) could have been avoided if a speeding driver were going, say, 25 rather than 35.

Can we assume that almost no deaths would occur if every car obeyed a 15 mph limit? I think that's a reasonable assumption. Human beings can run close to that fast. Accidents could be avoided simply by virtue of the pedestrian's ability to react before collision.

When we increase the speed above 15 -- to 20, to 25, to 30 -- we go beyond the point where either pedestrian or driver can react in time. What we could do (if increasing safety is indeed our goal) is adjust the speed limit to accommodate pedestrian and/or driver reaction time. As it is, we're doing pedestrians a ghastly disservice by having a speed limit that doesn't allow them to literally, run for their lives.

by tresluxe on Feb 22, 2012 11:11 pm • linkreport

@ Jane

I agree with all of that. People do respond to incentives. The bag tax is a pittance -- yet people have drastically altered their behavior as a result. What a crazy world, right?

Maybe the answer is small fines. Death by a thousand paper cuts. It really doesn't make sense, logically speaking, to dole out the same punishment to both:

"The Well Meaning yet Imperfect Driver" -- someone who sped for 5 seconds while they happened to be near a camera

"The Habitual Speed Demon" -- someone who sped the entire trip, but encountered only one camera

Yes, you could argue that Speed Demons are more likely to be ticketed heavily over time, and in that sense their ultimate accumulation of fines acts as a greater punishment fit for their greater crimes. To that, I'd say that Speed Demons are likely to know where the cameras are, and are likely to game the system (dishonest people that they be). They'll speed all the time -- except where cameras are. In fact, an experienced Demon may have a lower incidence of tickets than the average Well Meaning Driver -- and that's just wrong.

Multitudes of cameras with very small fines address this issue of unfairness, which I feel is driving a lot of sentiment on the pro- lower fine side. Most of the people receiving fines are in fact Well Meaning Drivers, who don't speed often, but sometimes do -- after a long day, let's say, when they're thinking about how this person at the office must be their greatest nemesis to date (or whatever).

Point is, we -- the Well Meaning Drivers -- are human beings and we make mistakes. We don't want to be vilified as rabid maniacs careening around town in metal widowmakers. We're not like the Speed Demons.

Frankly, I think the size of the fines goes a long way to stigmatize simple human error. It's humiliating to have to pay large amounts of money in fines. To no end -- the Well Meaning Driver is going to want to speed less regardless of whether they get a ticket for $40 or $140. Their nature is to try and do the right thing, even if they occasionally stumble and do wrong. I think that the majority of drivers are Well Meaning Drivers. I don't think we have to punch people in their pocketbooks to make them want to do the right thing. Hell, look at that 5 cent bag tax -- a little nudge that is all most people need.

by tresluxe on Feb 22, 2012 11:46 pm • linkreport

@tresluxe
You are basically making the exact same argument David did. If you want to make speeding fines like the bag tax, you need lots of enforcement (more cameras) and lower fines.

But this:
"Well-meaning drivers who occasionally speed" - everyone speeds everywhere they can. It doesn't matter if you're driving a truck, a car, a bus, a moped, anything. If the conditions and your vehicle allow it people are speeding. Everyone knows the 10MPH over the limit "rule" and drives 10MPH over the speed limit. Hence the excuses like "I was just keeping up with traffic!" - you have to speed to keep up with everyone else because everyone on the road is speeding if they can.

by MLD on Feb 23, 2012 8:47 am • linkreport

There's a widespread assumption that speed limits are set rationally, by some traffic engineering process. They're not. Politicians set the speed limits, commonly across-the-board, one-size-fits-all, without consideration of the actual properties of any actual street. When a speed camera leads to issuing hundreds of speeding tickets every day, there's something seriously wrong with the speed limit.

by Jack on Feb 23, 2012 10:57 am • linkreport

I'd actually argue against more cameras. Cameras that survey public behavior in one realm can be easily applied to another realm. The comfort that we surrender in surveillance is not easily reclaimed, as policy-makers find other uses for cameras.

by Jack Love on Feb 23, 2012 11:10 am • linkreport

@Jack:

Or our culture.

Setting aside the issue of speed limits on limited-access highways, I don't doubt if you put a speed camera in any neighborhood street in DC you'd catch many, many speeders. So that's an argument for increasing the speed limit on that stretch.

The only problem is that drivers of motor vehicles are not the only people using the public space. As @tresluxe pointed out upthread, speed cameras may not have curtailed pedestrian fatalities in DC. But that's because they haven't been installed in places where pedestrians are likely to be in the most danger.

In any case, simply tallying up the dead is a poor way of evaluating the success of speed cameras. If a pedestrian can cross the street in a reasonable amount of time (and without running for their lives), or a bicyclist feels safe to use the newly calmed street as a thoroughfare, we can count it as a success.

by oboe on Feb 23, 2012 11:33 am • linkreport

@MLD

Yes, I took David's argument (really, an argument that's been made before as a reasonable approach to traffic enforcement), and expanded on it. That's what people do here -- debate and explore ideas. One thing he didn't really go into is how the current system doesn't levy fines fairly. If you just happen to get popped once but are normally a good driver, you're going to pay the same as someone who speeds all the time, but is crafty at avoiding cameras. Unfair fining (a good driver who's surrounded by speeders, but seems to be the only one getting fined) creates righteous indignation that leads to opposition to fines among people who could be swayed otherwise.

My larger point was that it's important to look into the emotional lives of drivers. We fine people because, like the 5 cent bag tax, even a small incentive has a completely outsized impact on us emotionally -- and emotions are what drive our behavior. Why do you think people reuse bags to save 5 cents? It's not about the money. I think the tax creates a moment at the register where people are forced to consider what they're doing, and allows for conscience to prevail. Instead of just being given a bag, they are given agency -- they have to ask themselves, would I like to help the environment? When it becomes about right vs. wrong instead of just "I'd like a bag", people react differently.

Personally, I'd love for traffic tickets to be as "in the moment" as the bag tax is. Maybe a text, like I think someone mentioned above. It's giving someone agency and a fine, as opposed to just a fine. Even if the first fine of a given day were very small -- say, $3 -- I'd argue it'd be effective so long as it was instantaneous. (Obviously, you'd follow that fine up with much higher fines, if the driver didn't adjust their behavior.)

Everyone speeds, sure. 9 mph over is rarely fined -- although some cameras now send out tickets for 6 - 10 over. All this means is that the de facto speed limit in DC is actually 34, rather than 25. We have to make an distinction between posted limits and limits in practice. I'd argue that posted limits are designed knowing that most people edge over the speed limit a little. Exceeding posted limits isn't considered wrong in our culture. If 30 mph creates the right kind of traffic flow for a residential street, then you make a law that limits speed to 25.

You also have to allow for the streets being given inappropriate speed limits. Some people have mentions a stretch on 295 that is 35 mph. Crazy, right? This is clearly either bad planning or an attempt to generate revenue. There's more than one posted speed limit in DC that's wildly inappropriate for the road it's on. People sense that, and they "speed" -- although in fact, they are just behaving the same way they always have on similar roads. Their experience as drivers informs their judgement that 45 mph -- not 35 -- on New York or 295 is proper, so a broader sense, people are still doing the right thing. In those cases, it's the regulators who have committed the error.

by tresluxe on Feb 23, 2012 11:42 am • linkreport

@oboe, that's some great information you've provided on stopping distances and all that. I guess you missed the entire point, which I repeated over and over again.

Prove that speed cameras have any relationship at all to lowering pedestrian fatalities.

Is speed a factor in most pedestrian deaths in DC? Unknown.

Do any pedestrian deaths happen where speed cameras are located? Unknown.

Do speed cameras have any effect on driver speed except for 100 feet before the camera? Unkwown.

Here's what is known, though.

After DC installed speed cameras in 2001, pedestrian deaths varied from 9 to 27, with the highest being in 2007, and the 2nd highest being in 2003, a mere 2 years after the program started.

There is absolutely no evidence, or even any reasonable inkkling, that the 50+ traffic cameras in any way affected the car-ped accident rate. Everything you have said is interesting, in a vacuum, but unless you can demonstrate a causal relationship between traffic cameras, and the number of people getting killed by cars, it's comletely useless information.

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 1:07 pm • linkreport

@Jamie:

In any case, simply tallying up the dead is a poor way of evaluating the success of speed cameras. If a pedestrian can cross the street in a reasonable amount of time (and without running for their lives), or a bicyclist feels safe to use the newly calmed street as a thoroughfare, we can count it as a success.

...and...

As @tresluxe pointed out upthread, speed cameras may not have curtailed pedestrian fatalities in DC. But that's because they haven't been installed in places where pedestrians are likely to be in the most danger.

by oboe on Feb 23, 2012 1:29 pm • linkreport

"In any case, simply tallying up the dead is a poor way of evaluating the success of speed cameras. "

Do you have a better way? By all means share.

" If a pedestrian can cross the street in a reasonable amount of time (and without running for their lives), or a bicyclist feels safe to use the newly calmed street as a thoroughfare, we can count it as a success."

I'd fully support a survey to find out how pedestrians feel, and incorporate that into our review of the success of traffic cameras.

At least then we'd know, that even if the number of people being killed is completely unaffected, people fell better about it. Kind of like when you ask people how they feel about the economy and stuff, that's a much more useful measure that, say, unemployment figures... umm... ok.

But however stupid I think that is, as far as I know, the "how do you feel?" measures of success are not at this point available either, and so we continue to go on the basis of... nothing.

"But that's because they haven't been installed in places where pedestrians are likely to be in the most danger."

Well, hey, we agree on something!

Why is it, do you think, that this is not the case?

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 1:44 pm • linkreport

@tresluxes - "Can we assume that almost no deaths would occur if every car obeyed a 15 mph limit? I think that's a reasonable assumption. "

Though I agree with many of your points, I don't think this is correct.

First, lowering the speed limit to 15 MPH might cause people to start moving out of DC in large numbers, but I doubt it would change the accident rate much, even if you could enforce it.

This is because there are broad assumptions that ped accidents a result of some fractional percentage of people doing "the stuff that people do" going horribly wrong. I don't think this is true.

Most of the accidents I remember involve: a drunk driver. An inattentive pedestrian, e.g. who literally steps in front of a car. A turning bus or truck, who was moving well below 15 MPH and not going in a straight line anyway.

How many ped deaths really happen when a car, moving in a straight line, not at an intersection, with a sober driver, with a pedestrian who is not responsible?

Can someone refer me to the details of even one that meets these basic criteria?

These accidents are anomalies. They happen in extreme circumstances: drunken driving (Florada avenue last year); late night insane speeding (16th St last year); large vehicles with poor visibility, operator error, or pedestrian error (numerous bus/truck accidents). They are not just a result of someone who is otherwise obeying the law, on a stretch of road with good visibility, in a normal vehicle, just having bad luck.

To prove my point, in the last five years there have been two people killed by bicycles.

As a percentage of traffic, that's an accident rate roughly on par with cars: 3% of traffic is bikes (1 in 33). 33 * 2 = 66, only a bit smaller than the number of peds killed by cars.

Are those two incidents anomalies?

Damn right they are.

Would any law have prevented them?

I don't see how.

What makes the car-ped incidents, which happen about the same frequency, not anomalies?

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 2:03 pm • linkreport

@jamie, oboe

Ped death is a useful metric, but maybe we should be using pedestrians accidents instead. Whatever. Point is, these are the only metrics we have available to evaluate pedestrian safety as impacted by speed limits. There is no data regarding "potential accidents" -- where a pedestrian might have to run to avoid a surge of traffic as the light turns, or a ped who is nearly missed by car running a red light.

Also, while it'd be nice if all streets were easily bikable, I'm not sure we have to address that through speed limits. I think the current system of bike lanes is working fine -- we should just work on expanding it. Leave some main roads for use primarily by cars, and plop a bike lane on every other road.

Jamie, I was really being somewhat facetious in that earlier argument. My point was that speed kills -- but essentially, we're all okay with that, being that no one's lobbying for a truly safe speed limit. We accept the risk associated with an unsafe speed limit -- 25 or 30 mph -- because we care more about a variety of other quality of life concerns

I agree that the majority of ped accidents are probably the result of things that camera fines can't address. People make mistakes -- the fine could be $10,000, and people would still make mistakes. Mistakes -- human error -- along with drunk driving and red light running are probably the cause behind almost all accidents. I don't think that simple speeding -- going 10 mph over -- is responsible for a statistically significant number of accidents with peds. With other cars, maybe, but not with peds.

by tresluxe on Feb 23, 2012 2:30 pm • linkreport

vtrc.virginiadot.org/rsb/RSB23.pdf

Comprehensive summary of studies on speed cameras as a tool to reduce traffic fatalities.

Conclusion is that studies tend to show reduction in average speeds and, more importantly, absolute reduction in traffic injuries and deaths.

Debate is now over.

by Crickey7 on Feb 23, 2012 2:37 pm • linkreport

"Ped death is a useful metric, but maybe we should be using pedestrians accidents instead. "

I could not agree more - but this data is extremely hard to find. Actually I've been interested in setting up an app to monitor the DCEMS twitter feed to collect data (can you believe there's no better source?) for exactly this purpose.

But the reality is, DC government is not at all interested in having this conversation be data-driven. That is not surprising, since they stand to lose a lot of money if we find out that the cameras are useless for safety (or even worse - that they should be put in places where they could help safety but *actually cost money* since they wouldn't generate much revenue!!)

What does trouble me is how much the GGW fan club is willing to align themselves with this approach.

Why does any attempt to bring facts into this discussion meet with such resistance? Don't you guys want to know if this program, which also has much potential for abuse in terms of monitoring your location while in a car, actually has any positives other than cash?

Would you favor just sticking cameras up all over the city that don't issue tickets, but keep logs of every license plate that passes by them? If these don't improve safety, that's basically what you've got (plus some money).

We need data. EMS tweets most car-ped incidents. Why can't the provide a useful API that also includes resolution data, such as causes?

Only fatality info is available from FARS.

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 2:37 pm • linkreport

"Debate is now over."

I'm sorry, how does a PDF which includes a soundbite from a bunch of studies hand-picked by VDOT (an organization that makes money from speed cameras) end a debate?

I don't suppose it includes the studies which show an increase in rear-end collisions from red-light cameras does it? (The word "rear" does not appear in that PDF.")

Just for the record, the word "pedestrian" appears only once in that study, related to a 2000 UK report, which is not available online, so I have no way to review their methodology.

Nice try.

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 2:43 pm • linkreport

That's a pretty fast perusal. The analysis is pretty evenhanded in noting flaws in methodology and analytics in the various studies. I found it credible and, moreover, it meshes with what basic logic tells you. As drivers adjust their behavior in acordance with disincentives to speed, they speed less. Lower speeds allow more reaction time and reduce the energy of impact.

If you have better, please share.

by Crickey7 on Feb 23, 2012 2:48 pm • linkreport

@Jamie:

There is more to speeding than pedestrian fatalities; you should also consider the total number of vehicle collisions, total number of driver and passenger fatalities, etc. etc. The DC police web cite does not include these other factors.

Check out a better compendium of such data here. Indeed, there is a downward trend in fatalities since 2006, as a function of vehicle miles traveled and of population.

Now, can this trend be attributed to speed cameras? I leave that to you to figure out.

by goldfish on Feb 23, 2012 2:53 pm • linkreport

Crikey7, I don't have better. That's the problem. Most of those studies are:

1) Not available online
2) Not from the US
3) Not of in-city installations (e.g. they refer to car occupant injuries).

"Lower speeds allow more reaction time and reduce the energy of impact."

You are still making the same mistake.

Are the speed cameras here, in Washington, DC, preventing any collisions, or reducing the speeds at which people drive except directly around the cameras?

How many pedestrian accidents occur each year at the camera sites, before and after installation?

How many resulted injury or death?

All this data must be easily available within the DC government's computer systems. I mean, even 20 years ago, someone must have kept this stuff in a spreadsheet. They probably have to report it all to the feds online, now.

I wonder why it's so hard for someone like me to get that data?

If it shows the cameras are effective, why aren't they issuing press releases every month, or every time the camaras come under fire?

"Pedestrian accidents reduced from 44 per year before, to 12 per year at Carter Barron camera site after 2001."

That would shut me up in a second!

I've never seen a press release that cites data about the speed cameras. Ever. I wonder why.

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 2:54 pm • linkreport

Crash records in DC are nowhere near as computerized as you might think. MPD sends DDOT hard copies to code into the TARAS records system. That an MPD officers are terrible about correctly completing pedestrian and bicycle crash info. Traffic fatalities -- that is well done, everything else, meh!

by Some Ideas on Feb 23, 2012 3:06 pm • linkreport

@Some Ideas, maybe DC should spend a bit of that $50 million dollars they have to set up an Excel spreadsheet capable of logging <1000 incidents per year.

If the city really has no competent system to track the very data that they should be using to justify these things, then really I am at a loss, and I'm astounded that people would continue to blindly back these things when we aren't even trying to figure out if they are effective, or where they could be more effective.

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 3:10 pm • linkreport

... what I mean is, I'd be astounded if the city *actually was not tracking* this data. What I assumed is that the data doesn't support the notion that the cameras improve the accident rates, which is why we've never seen it.

Honestly I'm not sure which is worse. But since nobody's ever seen this data (at least outside DC gov), it's one or the other, and both are damning indictments of the program.

There is absolutely no excuse for implementing something on this scale, that is this controversial, on the basis of safety, without any analysis. And that seems to be exactly what we are doing. Or, the analysis doesn't show what they want, so it's being concealed.

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 3:18 pm • linkreport

essentially, we're all okay with that, being that no one's lobbying for a truly safe speed limit. We accept the risk associated with an unsafe speed limit -- 25 or 30 mph -- because we care more about a variety of other quality of life concerns

Just wanted to chime in that I've advocated for mandatory speed-limiters that tie into a vehicles GPS that would enforce a 20 mph speed limit on all neighborhood streets, and, say, 35 on arterials.

Obviously, that's not going to happen in the next year or two (or two hundred). But I'd gladly take that--and I think there'd be roughly zero impact on "convenience" or an exodus of people fleeing the city.

by oboe on Feb 23, 2012 3:34 pm • linkreport

What does trouble me is how much the GGW fan club is willing to align themselves with this approach.

Not sure what you mean here. Could you give an example?

by oboe on Feb 23, 2012 3:36 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure why the City has any duty to meet the burden of producing highly specific findings broken down by location, type of user, severity of injury, etc. in order to place cameras. I'm not even sure it's relevant whether only motorist injuries have decreased but not pedestrian, or vice versa. Note that before you place a camera at a location, you don't have that data at all.

What predictive data is available generally says speed cameras work as intended, and what data the City collects after-the-fact concurs (even AAA Mid-Atlantic agreed, in December 2011). Whatever burden of proof the City needs to meet, it's met.

I'm really not seeing there an issue here on the safety aspects. Equity or privacy, maybe, but not safety.

by Crickey7 on Feb 23, 2012 3:36 pm • linkreport

"Not sure what you mean here. Could you give an example?"

You think that "how people feel" about speeding is a more effective measure than accident data, for evaluating speed cameras.

"I've advocated for mandatory speed-limiters that tie into a vehicles GPS that would enforce a 20 mph speed limit on all neighborhood streets"

The first time you have to drive your kid to the hospital, or try to accelerate to avoid a hazard, I bet you'll be less interested in one of those. This is absurd.

"Im not sure why the City has any duty to meet the burden of producing highly specific findings "

Specific findings would be great! I'll take any at all.

@Oboe - another answer to your question. Crikey doesn't think someone arguing that speed cameras are "for safety" is under any obligation to present easily available data that shows that.

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 3:40 pm • linkreport

"What predictive data is available generally says speed cameras work as intended,"

NO. What predictive data that HAS BEEN MADE AVAILABLE or that someone has chosen to publish.

Beyond the selction bias, very little of that is applicable to car-ped accidents, which are the majority of traffic deaths in DC, since DC has only a few miles of highway.

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 3:43 pm • linkreport

There is absolutely no excuse for implementing something on this scale, that is this controversial,

Actually, my sense is that it's not particularly controversial, at least among a majority of DC voters. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't. If it manages to transfer $50 million dollars a year into DC's coffers, and that money comes overwhelmingly from non-taxpaying, non-voters, I say more cameras please.

I would be interested in seeing the polling of DC residents on the issue, though.

Anyway, how is this different than the small town cop who sits on the side of the road, pulling over out-of-towners speeding through some Eastern Shore town? How many deaths does that guy prevent?

Sorry, but high traffic speeds on neighborhood streets, and congested arterials do impact quality of life. We need more cameras all over, not just exacting a de facto commuter tax.

by oboe on Feb 23, 2012 3:44 pm • linkreport

"Anyway, how is this different than the small town cop who sits on the side of the road, pulling over out-of-towners speeding through some Eastern Shore town? How many deaths does that guy prevent?"

Actually, probably a lot more. Since that guy gives you a ticket right away. You'll remember him. You'll wonder what corner he's sitting on. You'll probably never speed in that small town again.

In DC, we do our best to make sure you don't find out about that invisible cop until a month later.

"Sorry, but high traffic speeds on neighborhood streets, and congested arterials do impact quality of life. We need more cameras all over, not just exacting a de facto commuter tax."

If it could be shown that having more cameras all over improved the quality of life, then I'd be with you 100%!!

We have 50 of them now and 10 years of data. Should be a no brainer to figure out which ones work, which ones don't, where they make a difference, where they could...

So why don't you think that's worth doing?

Why do you just assume that the way they're being used is effective?

Why, EVER, would you not want to look at objective data to understand the results of, well, anything?

Do you just not believe in the scientific method?

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 3:51 pm • linkreport

@Jamie, the data is there. Please see my 2:53 comment.

by goldfish on Feb 23, 2012 3:56 pm • linkreport

@goldfish, what is it that you think that data shows?

Pedestrian fatalities: 17 19 9 14 13

That's a trend? Dude, that was my original point: the numbers are all over the place.

OK, you want to include all traffic deaths?

Fatalities: 37 44 34 29 24

That could be considered a trend. Sorta. I wonder what happened in, say, California?

4,240 3,995 3,434 3,090 2,715

WOW! SAME TREND! How about New York?

1,454 1,332 1,238 1,158 1,200

WOW!!! Down too!

Er, Delaware??

148 117 121 116 101

UNREAL!!

Shocker. National trend.

Now, never mind that. You showed me a page with five years of data showing (sorta) a reduction in car accident fatalities and (not really) a reduction in pedestrian fatalities.

DC didn't install any new cameras in that time.

So what exactly did you think that data showed anyway?

You need BEFORE AND AFTER data. It has to be RELATED TO THE ACTUAL CAMERAS. You need CONTROL SUBJECTS. Speeding cameras on 16th Street really don't do much in, say, Capitol Hill.

This data is available. Why can't we see it?

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 4:07 pm • linkreport

By the way: just so you don't have to keep wondering, the data probably shows what happens as the last generation of cars without airbags retired and newer cars with airbags replace them.

The ped fatality rates are more or less unchanged in that time in larger states (went down a bit in CA, unchanged in NY).

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 4:09 pm • linkreport

Actually, probably a lot more. Since that guy gives you a ticket right away. You'll remember him. You'll wonder what corner he's sitting on. You'll probably never speed in that small town again.

Sure, but people who drive in DC know there are speed cameras everywhere. They have the option of driving the speed limit or paying fines. How is the situation in DC any different. Before you say, "They're ineffective! People don't change their behavior!" I suppose the response is, "What if that cop didn't give you points, but just a fine?" Then you could speed to your heart's content, get pulled over four times a month, and do what you like. In that case, your hemorraghing bank account would be no one's fault but your own, right?

We have 50 of them now and 10 years of data.

Wait, I thought the whole critique was that DC is putting these cameras where they're "just money-makers" (i.e. NY Ave, SE/SW Freeway, etc...).

We can't say Communism has failed, because Communism has never been tried!

by oboe on Feb 23, 2012 4:11 pm • linkreport

@oboe,

We're back where we started.

If the cameras are effective, then a) how come we make so much money, and b) how come there seems to be no change in accident rates?

I ask you again: Why on earth would you NOT want an analysis done of the accients - city wide, at specific locations, to see what, if any, effect there has been?

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 4:12 pm • linkreport

"I don't suppose it includes the studies which show an increase in rear-end collisions from red-light cameras does it."

No. Because it's a compendium of studies of speed cameras. I have seen the study you cite, though and you are correct that it concludes that for its study parameters, the number of accidents rose. The severity dropped, however, and there were 20% fewer injuries. The study actually concluded a net safety benefit.

by Crickey7 on Feb 23, 2012 4:13 pm • linkreport

I suppose the disconnect here is that, for a majority of DC residents, having speed cameras issuing tickets to lawbreakers and filling the city's coffers is a good in and of itself. If it curtails that behavior, so much the better. If more cameras could be erected to exact fines from people speeding on neighborhood streets, that's better than the status quo. If their behavior can be curtailed, that's just icing on the cake.

As it is, the arguments a bit like saying, "Look, there's no evidence that arresting people who steal bikes does anything to curtail bike theft, and bikes are rarely recovered. So why bother arresting them? There's no point!"

by oboe on Feb 23, 2012 4:16 pm • linkreport

"Look, there's no evidence that arresting people who steal bikes...:"

Bike theft is a felony. It's that simple.

My problems are pretty basic. I don't like being lied to by my government.

If this is "for safety" then use the data you already have to prove it. The fact that nobody has ever presented evidence, when the analysis is so simple, is a pretty strong indictment that the "safety" mission is not being achieved.

If it's not "for safety" and "just because" then stop lying about it.

You all seem to be trying pretty hard to convince yourselves of the safety argument. Now, it seems as if you've given up on that, you're falling back on, "well it's illegal anyway." Fine, but either be willing to look at data, or drop the safety argument, which is, still, completely unproven.

Now, if you think "just because it's a law" is good, why don't you think the same standard should apply to all laws, as I mentioned yesterday in my first post?

Have you ever stepped off a curb outside a crosswalk?
Left your trashcan out past 6?
Failed to shovel your walk in time?
Failed to recycle a recyclable?

Don't you think those laws are on the books for a good reason, too? Why should all those violators get a free pass every day?

Since you can't back up your position that speed cameras improve safety, it seems that's no different than breaking any other law.

And actually unshoveled walks are a REAL safety problem.

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 4:23 pm • linkreport

@Jamie,

1. You have neglected the number of miles traveled. Obviously if people drive more, you should expect more crashes and hence more pedestrian fatalities, everything else being equal. The plots I have cited account for that. This partly explains some of the scatter in the number of pedestrian fatalities.

2. For any statistical observation, there is an uncertainty of ± n^(-1/2). So for 2005, when there was 16 pedestrian deaths, the uncertainty is 25% of that number, meaning that it can range from 12 to 20. Since there are so few observations (thank God), the measure you are considering will have a wide range. So the yearly total of pedestrian fatalities is a lousy way to determine whether or not speed cameras work. You need a better measurement.

by goldfish on Feb 23, 2012 4:24 pm • linkreport

Bike theft is a felony. It's that simple.

Ah, so now we're getting down to it. It sounds very much like what you're saying is bike theft is breaking the law, but speeding is not.

As I said, more camera enforcement in neighborhoods. That means more cameras. Maybe lower fines. As it is now, perhaps the existing speed cameras work to curtail speeding. Perhaps they don't. They certainly "raise awareness" as they like to say. And perhaps that will let folks know that we actually take speed limit laws seriously in DC.

If not, the extra revenue is nice to have, and pays for all sorts of things like extra police who can make traffic stops, more cameras, etc...

And even if speeding doesn't lead to more fatalities (skeptical), the government has an obligation to curtail it, because it makes (sub)urban life less pleasant for everyone. Preserving quality of life is a goal of government.

by oboe on Feb 23, 2012 4:35 pm • linkreport

@goldfish:

1) Huh? Aren't we talking about speed cameras and safety? Whatever your point is, I'm not sure how it relates in any way to five years of data, during which there were no new speed camera installations.

2) "So the yearly total of pedestrian fatalities is a lousy way to determine whether or not speed cameras work. You need a better measurement."

I couldn't agree more! We need ALL accident data, not just fatalities.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 4:39 pm • linkreport

You're demanding statistical proof that is not possible given the lumpiness of accident data at this level of granularity. In any given location, there may be only one serious accident a year. DC hasn't really had enough cameras long enough to make statistically valid observations other than in gross fashion. Ironically, what would help resolve the issue would be lots of cameras so that we could accumulate the necessary data.

by Crickey7 on Feb 23, 2012 4:45 pm • linkreport

"Ah, so now we're getting down to it. It sounds very much like what you're saying is bike theft is breaking the law, but speeding is not."

No, bike theft is a felony, and speeding is not.

You may not agree with the societal construct under which we all live, but we have a wide range of severities of crimes, including a number of broad categories. For centuries, the United States of America has used a legal system wherein certian classes of crimes are considered more severe, and therefore more deserving of aggressive enforcement and more severe punishment.

To quote someone else here, if you think speeding should be a felony, why aren't you lobbying to change the law?

"As it is now, perhaps the existing speed cameras work to curtail speeding. Perhaps they don't"

Indeed. It sure would be an easy question to answer - one could amost do it just with the Twitter data from DC EMS for the last couple years!

Boy I sure wish DC would give the public access to that most basic of data, so someone could do about 3 hours of work with Google Maps and a spreadsheet to see how things are working out.

It really does seem hard to believe that they would not release this data, if there was nothing in it that they didn't want people to know.

Do you really think that the speeding camera program would be as "popular" if there was a Washington Post headline that said:

"No Change In Accident Rate After Ten Years Of Traffic Cameras?"

or

Or, "Cameras Placed In High Traffic, Low Accident Commuter Routes; Pedestrian Safety Areas Not Addressed By Automated Enforcement?"

Do you think the average person who doesn't think too much about it would like the program, if the data revealed those statements to be true?

Don't you want to know if those are true or not?

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 4:46 pm • linkreport

@Jamie:

1. The more people drive, the more accidents there will be. That is why you need to normalize the fatality data by the total number of miles driven.

2. look at the data I posted. What you are trying to understand is the effect of speed on the number of accidents. The trend is down; separating the effect of speed cameras -- which were introduced incrementally -- from other factors, is going to be quite difficult. Along with new speed cameras, (a) cars got got safer with the replacement of older models by those with antilock brakes; (b) the price of gas spiked, cause people to slow down to save money; ... etc.

by goldfish on Feb 23, 2012 4:48 pm • linkreport

"In any given location, there may be only one serious accident a year."

And that's an argument for putting a camera there?

Anyway, that's BS. And DC tracks this information, since someone made a map of it in 2009.

http://dc.gov/DC/DDOT/About+DDOT/Maps/High+Accident+Intersections+Map+2009

For fun, see if any of the speed camera locations YOU can think of align with the "high accident intersections" on this map!

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 4:51 pm • linkreport

@goldfish:

1. Repeating yourself does not change the fact that it's an irrelevant statement. It may actually be a sign of impending mental collapse.

2. The trend is down NATIONALLY. There was no change in the number of speed cameras in DC in that time.

Even if there were new speed cameras installed in that time, you'd be dealing with the fact that correlation does not imply causality. But you're trying to attribute an effect to a non-cause! NO NEW CAMERAS!

Beyond that, if the "trend" is mimiced across the nation, then it means almost without a doubt that there were no local influences in that trend.

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 4:54 pm • linkreport

That map seemed to be incomplete. In any event,it purported to show only accidents, not accidents resulting in injuries or fatalities. So it's not terribly helpful. Perhaps my off-the-cuff number of one was too low, but the point is that the combination of small per-location numbers and annual fluctuations means you need more locations and a longer period.

You know, the scientific method. I'm game.

by Crickey7 on Feb 23, 2012 4:59 pm • linkreport

@Jamie, You could google the question and find this study. Or you could anecdotally observe that the speeds are down in DC.

Please re-read what I wrote. The only position I have taken is that the data you have cited is ill-suited for what you are trying to determine, the effectiveness of speed cameras in reducing pedestrian fatalities. To understand that will take a far more in-depth statistical analysis that what can be done arguing on a blog.

by goldfish on Feb 23, 2012 5:04 pm • linkreport

" the point is that the combination of small per-location numbers and annual fluctuations means you need more locations and a longer period"

Sure do. I would be thrilled to start with citywide data on all accidents (not just ones resulting in deaths) and injury-causing accidents.

Then break it down by areas with 25 MPH speed limits, and those with higher speed limits.

Then by broad areas of population density.

You might have noticed that there are large concentrations of accidents in Adams Morgan/Dupont area. Obviously, that's because of all the pedestrians who live there.

How come 16th Street gets a speed camera at Juniper Street, near a temple which has pedestrian traffic exactly twice a week (none of which is likely to be actually crossing the street), but Adams Morgan doesn't get one?

Why, because they wouldn't make any money in Adams Morgan.

It's a traffic clusterf*ck there all the time. You can't speed.

Yet there are still tons of accidents!

The causes of accidents seem obvious to me: combination of high pedestrian and car density.

And almost every one I hear of happens in such an area.

These are not places that people can really speed. And that's why there are no cameras. Because they wouldn't do anything.

There's plenty of data every year in DC to make statistically significant conclusions about the causes of accidents and the factors that contribute to them. We just aren't doing that, we're simply cashing in on soemthing that is unrelated to the actual causes of the problem.

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 5:07 pm • linkreport

@goldfish, come on. Can't you do better than that?

"Although crash data are not yet available to tell whether speed reductions have led to decreases in the
number or severity of crashes in Washington..."

I look forward to reading the follow-on study.

The study shows that people slowed down at speed traps. I could have told you that. I already did. See my first post: "people slow down within 100 feet of speed cameras."

Now, back to our original question: does that have any effect on accident rates?

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 5:10 pm • linkreport

When presented with studies, you dismiss them. You demand proof of efficacy unheard-of in traffic enforcement, and certainly not connected to any legal requirement. You continually shift your metrics depending on which one best suits your argument at that moment, regardless of whether these metrics show a misleading picture.

And then you make blanket, unsupported assertions regarding motivation. You're now officially a waste of time. The data is clear, even if you refuse to acknowledge it.

by Crickey7 on Feb 23, 2012 5:14 pm • linkreport

do we need proof that cops giving tickets reduces accidents? Or that unmarked cop cars does so?

In general we do not require a statistical study before instituting an enforcement mechanism for a traffic regulation. Unless it involves a large investment (and sometimes not even then) Since the cameras pay for themselves, it seems like the need for a full BCA is limited.

Except some folks are particularly hung up on traffic cameras.

If Jamie can make the case that vehicle speed does not have an impact on number AND seriousness of accidents, by all means he should do it - it will get him lots of attention. Meanwhile the reason we have speed limits is the consensus that speed impacts the seriousness of accidents. GIVEN that, proof of effectivenes hardly seems needed for a method that pays for itself.

As for shoveling walks, of course that should be enforced.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 23, 2012 5:18 pm • linkreport

Jamie: See this study, from the prestigious Texas Transportation Institute. Conclusion: "The research literature makes it clear that illegal speed increases both crash risk and crash severity. There is also substantial evidence that speed cameras reduce speeding. Consequently, research finds that speed cameras reduce crashes and crash severity."

When are you going to find something for yourself? It is really easy, just use Google.

by goldfish on Feb 23, 2012 5:51 pm • linkreport

MPD sent an email in response to my petition. I've posted it in the "Petition Updates" tab on the petition site. It's good to get some input from MPD--gives some answers but not all. Thank you to Lisa Sutter for giving some input from MPD.
link to petition if needed-- http://www.change.org/petitions/lower-speed-camera-fines-in-dc

by Mark Mueller on Feb 23, 2012 5:56 pm • linkreport

All of these studies say the same thing: speed cameras reduce speeding where the camera is.

You've yet to link that notion to a reduction in accidents in DC. In order for that to be the case, there would need to be a significant number of accidents where the camera was installed.

"Logically, if illegal speeds increase the risk of crashing and crash severity and if speed cameras reduce illegal speeds, as shown above, then, all other things being equal, speed cameras should reduce speeding-related crashes and crash everity. That logical conclusion is supported by the research literature, though with some caveats"

"While critical of the methodological limitations of the
studies reviewed..."

"The level of evidence is relatively poor, however, as most studies did
not have satisfactory comparison groups or control for potential confounders..."

There is one pattern that keeps coming up on these studies. They are done by non-independent organizations, and under critical review, they have questionable methodologies.

Why is it so hard to stop pulling out study after study with inconsistent methodologies, in places with georgaphy nothing like our own, and instead to just say yes, I would like to see the actual data for DC?

We've made $300 million of the cameras, is it too much to ask that we spend $50K and do a decent study?

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 5:58 pm • linkreport

"Jamie can make the case that vehicle speed does not have an impact on number AND seriousness of accidents, by all means he should do it - it will get him lots of attention. "

I have the technical ability, and the means, and the motivation to do an analysis of the accident data.

Now, where is that data....

I will pay money for basic data on accidents in DC, and even set up a web site that lets you do your own crosstabs.

All I need is the following information:

Accident location (intersection)
Severity of injury (at whatever detail is available, or just death/non death if that's all)
Date

Anything else would be gravy, e.g.

Fault assigned (if available)
Causes (e.g. excessive speed, drunk driver, drunk ped, whatever)

This is 2012. EMS tweets the accidents as they happen. It's ridiculous that such basic info is not available.

I could set up a web site that would plot this stuff on google maps, compare it to speed camera locations, show trends, and so on in no time.

EVERYONE HERE SHOULD BE INTERESTED IN THIS. If you are really conerned about safety, you should want to know where accidents happen most often, and what relationship there is over time to traffic enforcement, logistical changes (like intersection reconfigurations), population trends, and so on. Most of the demographic data can be had pretty easily -- just not the accident data.

Sure - I have an agenda - but if the data shows I am wrong, I will be the first one to eat my words. I believe that the speed cameras do nothing for safety, but I'm much more interested in knowing what effect they have, than I am in being right.

I'll give anyone $200 who can get me that data for the last 20 years. (I'll take less, but it would definitely be better to have some pre-2001 data). I won't reveal your sources if you can get it to me.

by Jamie on Feb 23, 2012 6:14 pm • linkreport

A few observations:

1) Because DC suffers from the curse of small statistics, looking only at fatalities will not show the story in any meaningful manner. You need to examine injury and serious injury crashes to have a large enough sample size. Then go into crash types, etc.

2) one city had 3 camera and moved the cameras around between 16 different locations. People slowed at all 16 locations whether the camera was active or not (can't find the reference right now, but will look)

3) DC also has equipment for mobile speed enforcement with the cameras (not just the fixed locations). Those locations are on MPDs website, they could be there any day...or not.

4) FOIA the data from DDOT for 2010-2011, but here is the location of the DDOT published data: http://cjdt.dc.gov/DC/DDOT/On+Your+Street/Safety/Traffic+Safety/Traffic+Safety+Report+Statistics
[that should be $20 for me for 10 years, right?]

by Some Ideas on Feb 23, 2012 7:18 pm • linkreport

This is a great article from NPR:
http://www.npr.org/2012/02/22/147213437/whats-driving-the-backlash-against-traffic-cameras

by Mark on Feb 24, 2012 12:09 am • linkreport

The NPR article is great - though we are talking about speed cameras here, I think the discussion of red light ones is also important.

The problem, which the article only glosses over in its closing paragraph, is was a red-light camera really the right way to solve the problem? Red light cameras are installed at intersections where people run lots of red lights.

So, some intersections have lots of red-light running, others not so much. Why would there be variations? Do bad drivers only drive in certain places?

If the problem is safety, then shouldn't we be trying to understand why people run lots of red lights at certain places and fix the cause of the problem itself?

The reality is that most of the time, the intersection has serious problems that should be addressed. And of course as everyone knows, there are many document cases where short light timing is actually part of the contract.

My favorite example is Connecticut and Porter Streets. There is no left-turn arrow from Porter to Connecticut southbound. But many hours of the day, traffic is heavy so there's no break to turn left, and there are always lots of pedestrians.

As a driver making this turn, you literally have no choice but to run the light at the beginning or end of the cycle in order to make it safely. Otherwise you would be cutting off a driver or pedestrian.

This intersection underwent a major redesign about a decade ago, and anyone who lived around there was familiar with the problem, yet no left turn cycle was added.

A red-light camera was, though.

http://mpdc.dc.gov/mpdc/cwp/view,a,1240,q,548257,mpdcNav_GID,1552,mpdcNav,%7C31885%7C.asp

Some Ideas, that is far better data than I've ever seen. I am a skilled googler and I have never been able to find it before. I can't tell if its complete yet (and of course its in a difficult format to use) but at first glance there's a lot there - you deserve something, contact me at robbenblanks@hotmail.com

by Jamie on Feb 24, 2012 7:41 am • linkreport

Defense for red light camera: Subpoena the actual camera, and question it in court as the only witness. When it refuses to answer, ask the judge for a directed verdict.

If used, the following restrictions must be placed on these:

1. The yellow light must not be shortened.

2. The camera must not become active until after the red clearance period.

3. The purpose must be to stop violations, not raising revenue.

by Troubleshooter on Feb 24, 2012 8:40 am • linkreport

Porter & Connecticut followup. This intersection happened to be the subject of a detailed study because of Klingle Road closing a long time ago.

Letter to Phil Mendelson 8/14/02"Did you know the average car spends 9.5 minutes waiting at Porter Street & Conn Ave NW?" (DDOT responds saying it's really only 2-3 minutes). The point is that this discussion goes back more than a decade.

Mt. Pleasant forum 9/9/2008 - "I've persuaded Councilmember Cheh to take up the issue of modifying this intersection for the benefit of east-west traffic.. the Berger study confirmed that the intersection is dreadful, rating it "F" for much of the Porter Street traffic, in particular westbound turning onto southbound Connecticut. Clearly there's a need for a dedicated left-turn phase for the Porter Street traffic light.

"1. Porter Street, East of Connecticut Avenue
24 hour traffic volumes increased from 13,579 to 15,940 by about 17.3 percent. AM eastbound peak hour volume increased-from 672 v.p.h. to 767 v.p.h., an increase of 14.1 percent"

Then:

COMMUNITY INPUT RESULTS - Submitted to the DC Department of Transportation March 24, 2010

1. Porter and Connecticut
2. Porter and Quebec

(Many comments about how dangerous and complicated the intersection is)

4/13/10 4/13/10 DDOT presentation

Connecticut Ave. and Porter St "CCC – Five leg intersection is confusing for pedestrian activity and vehicles get stuck in middle of intersection"

Finally:

Red light camera at Conn & Porter to be activated

Problem solved!

A dozen years of analysis, thoughtful community input, conversations with ANC reps, councilmembers, DDOT, and the answer is always the same. Stick a camera on it.

Never mind that this addresses none of the many root causes, complexities and dangers. Never mind that it's obvious this intersection needs to be fixed, not profited from. Never mind that it's been on everyone's radar since the record of the Internet begins.

The answer is to issue tickets.

by Jamie on Feb 24, 2012 9:14 am • linkreport

No, bike theft is a felony, and speeding is not....You may not agree with the societal construct under which we all live, but we have a wide range of severities of crimes...[etc...]

Don't want to get to far into the weeds, but you're just begging the question: What we're debating is whether we're going to more aggressively penalize scofflaw drivers. Your response is that, no, we shouldn't be cause we as a society have made the decision not to more aggressively penalize scofflaw drivers.


Do you really think that the speeding camera program would be as "popular" if there was a Washington Post headline that said:

"No Change In Accident Rate After Ten Years Of Traffic Cameras?"

I think we'd have the situation we now have: which is that people want the neighborhoods that they, personally, live (and work) in blanketed with automated enforcement, but that they want any other cameras banned as an infringement on our "Precious Liberties".

If anyone's got polling numbers on popularity of speed cameras in DC among DC voters, I'd be very interested in seeing them. My guess is that they're fairly popular, and are growing more so as DC's population grows more middle-class.

by oboe on Feb 24, 2012 9:15 am • linkreport

"My guess is that they're fairly popular,"

My guess is that they're about as popular as they are everywhere else in the country

"In roughly 24 cities in nine states, voters have passed ballot initiatives rejecting cameras, with decisions passing in eight of the cities last year alone. Also last year, the Los Angeles police commission voted to end the city's program."

Go ahead, put it on the ballot!

by Jamie on Feb 24, 2012 9:20 am • linkreport

My guess is that they're about as popular as they are everywhere else in the country

Popularity of speed cameras is like popularity of congressmen. Everyone hates other people's congressmen (to the point of wanting term-limits), but loves their own.

The reason speed cameras are so popular in DC (as opposed to, say, Los Angeles) is that we have a much greater number of people who don't exclusively drive--in fact, a much lower rate of car ownership overall.

There's no need to "put it on the ballot" as you say; policies are implemented by elected officials. If it was an issue people were up-in-arms about, it would be an issue during elections. It's not.

by oboe on Feb 24, 2012 10:16 am • linkreport

Why speed cameras and other (perceived) traffic-calming measures are almost certainly more popular in DC than "most cities":

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/13802/latest-data-shows-plenty-of-car-free-living-in-dc/#comments

I have no doubt that DC speed cameras are quite unpopular with non-DC residents.

by oboe on Feb 24, 2012 10:22 am • linkreport

Go ahead, put it on the ballot!

While at a neighbor's house not long ago, I spotted an speeding ticket from the oft-mentioned camera, eastbound on East Capital past 19th St, doing 46 in a 25 mph zone. Fine: $300.

This fine is excessive -- the speed limit is too low there given the road conditions and lack of pedestrians. Having driven that road many, many times I can see why it is easy, if you are distracted, to go that fast. (But for the grace of God, there goes I.)

I am not a suburban, speed-crazed nutcase complaining about the backhand "commuter tax"; I have small kids and I am most concerned with how fast people drive in congested areas. Pennsylvania Ave is the case in point: inbound in the morning this street is filled with impatient, aggressive drivers going around 50 mph that only see the other cars they are competing with, and not pedestrians. Crossing it with my 3-year-old is very scary indeed.

But this excessive fine gets to the original point of the thread, that the fines are sometimes too high. These excessively steep fines really cut into a family budget. Certainly the deterrence point would have been made if it were only $50.

If many more of these are mailed out to DC voters, then yes this will become an election issue.

by goldfish on Feb 24, 2012 11:03 am • linkreport

Sure, oboe. Even though everywhere else that has made a ballot issue has rejected it, we're different!

It's incredible how a vocal minority can convince themselves that their opinion represents the majority's despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

And evidence shows people live car-free in DC! WOW! THat makes us different than... what other cities?

According to Wikipedia our rate of carless households is about the same as... Baltimore, Philly, Boston. When you consider that the city limits of those cities include much larger, suburban areas, that doesn't make our number look all that great. If we're such a miracle of non-car transit, we should be first by a mile, since Chevy Chase, Arlington, PG County and so on, aren't included, as they are with other cities.

You keep forgetting that cyclists are only 3% of the road users.

Why aren't you concerned about the 2 deaths caused by cyclists in the last 5 years? As a percentage of road usage, that's about on par with cars. Shouldn't we be finding automated, draconian ways to fine a cyclist $125 every time they fail to stop at a red light? It's for safety.

by Jamie on Feb 24, 2012 11:17 am • linkreport

@oboe

Trying to argue that speed cameras are popular among DC residents is a losing battle. First of all, there aren't many speed cameras in areas that residents live -- so there's very few people that could even imagine their neighborhood benefits from a speed camera. Second, the few residents who do have cameras nearby are the most likely to incur multiple citations, given they travel by those cameras more frequently than any other group. Third, cameras aren't like congressmen. Cameras are like cops. Few people have warm feelings for the cop on the side of the road with a radar gun. Fourth, DC is a walkable city -- if you live in lower northwest, or Cap Hill. How many of these cameras are in lower NW, in neighborhoods that actually have a culture of walking?

If put to the ballot or an opinion poll, there's little chance that someone who's received a ticket is going to vote "yay". A large number of DC residents have received these tickets. It's a lost battle. These fines are insanely high, they're not placed so as to effectively make the city safer. What's to love about the system as is?

Now, if they were to drop the fines, I think more people would take a more moderate stance towards the cameras. As is, they're hurting a lot of middle class people -- in DC and in MD/VA. It's a slap in the face, when a scolding is all that needs be done.

by tresluxe on Feb 24, 2012 11:21 am • linkreport

The problem is drivers moan about speed limits and cameras with arguments like "the road is overbuilt! It's hard not to speed!"

OK, so the solution is a road diet. Make lanes smaller, remove lanes, slow the road down.

Every time DC has tried to implement traffic-calming measures, DRIVERS scream bloody murder about the war on cars and other nonsense.

So can it with the "unfair speed limits" argument and get to the point - you want to be able to drive 45MPH along major arterials, regardless of whether that's safe or not or whether high-traffic arterials are anathema to neighborhoods.

by MLD on Feb 24, 2012 11:29 am • linkreport

Earlier in the thread, Henry made a very good comment about setting up cues on the road for red light cameras--i.e. stop ahead, painted lanes, etc. I think this could--and probably should--also be applied to speed cameras.

If the point is to decrease speeding at trouble points, speed cameras should be announced at some distance ahead of the actual camera. Screw another plate on top of a speed limit sign, so instead of "35 MPH," you see "AUTOMATED SPEED CAMERA AHEAD 1000 FEET," too. I mean, you do want people to slow down, right? Put a sign on it (/portlandia).

If the point is to make folks conscious of the risk of a ticket throughout the city and thus decrease speeding overall, then I would say consolidate the cameras in residential neighborhoods and heavy traffic commercial districts, not access roads or 3 lane roads with a higher flow of traffic, as some of them cover now. The current solution is somewhat deficient, regardless of which policy driver (har!) you favor, or if you favor both.

by worthing on Feb 24, 2012 11:33 am • linkreport

Not surprisingly, cyclists respond pretty much the same way as drivers when they get slapped with a big fine for doing something that is against the law but everyone does:

http://dcist.com/2008/07/cops_ticket_cyclists_at_new_hampshi.php

"ticketing people on that stretch of road is a highly irrational response.

http://momentummag.com/articles/street-cents:-the-mistake-of--ticketing-cyclists

"A couple times a year, cranky neighbors complain about cyclists rolling the stop signs. The police usually respond by handing out a couple dozen $242 tickets and then go back to ignoring it. Very productive. Sure cyclists don’t come to a complete stop at this or most stop-controlled intersections. Most motorists don’t come to a complete stop either."

Seems that cyclists get agitated too when hit with extraordinary fines for minor traffic infractions.

Since your argument has occasionally fallen back on the old "well it's illegal no matter what so how can you complain," an I assume that you'd be in favor or the exact same style of enforcement for cyclists?

http://www.thewashcycle.com/2008/07/police-sting-on.html

"Police Sting"

I love how the very same people who can argue that speed cameras are OK because regardless of anything esle "ITS THE LAW" will decry law enforcement of their own illegal activities as a "sting" and go on to justify their illegal action.

So what is it? Is it a sting? Is it OK to break the law when you personally think it's the best thing to do, or not?

by Jamie on Feb 24, 2012 11:35 am • linkreport

@Jamie

Some of us recognize the danger difference between 3000lb automobiles and a person on a bicycle. I guess you don't care to make that distinction.

The argument is not "well it's illegal," the argument is "here's a bunch of papers that say that slower moving traffic is safer." You just choose to ignore those, instead favoring some unicorn of perfect data that doesn't exist.

As for why there are no speed cameras in already walkable places, that's because streets and traffic have already been modified to make traffic slower and don't need the cameras. In places where those modifications have been politically untenable, but we still want people to slow down, we put up cameras.

by MLD on Feb 24, 2012 11:49 am • linkreport

Trying to argue that speed cameras are popular among DC residents is a losing battle.

Hey, I'm just pointing out that the elected officials of DC are implementing this stuff as public policy. And they're getting re-elected. Now, there's a possibility that they've made a political miscalculation here. But in the absence of a) change in leadership; b) change in policy; or at the very least c) some sort of polling among DC residents, I'm going to have to go with the obvious: DC residents largely support getting speeding drivers under control.

It's incredible how a vocal minority can convince themselves that their opinion represents the majority's despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

I wouldn't call the evidence that DC residents favor stricter traffic calming efforts "overwhelming" but, yes, I think the impulse you've identified is real.

by oboe on Feb 24, 2012 11:56 am • linkreport

I wonder if the families of those two people killed by bikes agree with your risk assessment.

by Jamie on Feb 24, 2012 11:58 am • linkreport

@Jamie -risk is risk. Its not an opinion. Its a mathematical calculation. Some people die of very rare causes. The risk to the population from that form of preventable mortality is what is measured. e.g. it may be 1/10,000 or 1/1000.

by Tina on Feb 24, 2012 12:09 pm • linkreport

I agree tina. Given that bikes are about 3% of road traffic, how does that compare to your risk of death from a car? Hint: there have been about 80 peds killed by cars in the last 5 years.

by Jamie on Feb 24, 2012 12:16 pm • linkreport

@Jamie: I do not see how bicycling has anything to do with this thread.

by goldfish on Feb 24, 2012 12:36 pm • linkreport

@Jamie

Using the ACS commute mode data to say that bikes are 3% of traffic is incorrect.

Got any traffic count data or something more specific for DC? You really need some more specific data if you're going to make that point!

by MLD on Feb 24, 2012 12:37 pm • linkreport

I wonder if the families of those two people killed by bikes agree with your risk assessment.

Let's not forget about the nine people killed on the Red Line in 2009. It's important to be clear-headed about where the real threats lie.

by oboe on Feb 24, 2012 12:49 pm • linkreport

" I do not see how bicycling has anything to do with this thread."

I am trying to make a point - the position of favoring draconian enforcement of traffic laws (and only traffic laws) is hypocritical, because the same group of people (typically cyclists) reacts negatively to enforcement of traffic laws for other types of vehicle.

The arguments in favor of traffic cameras are safety, and barring proof that they help safety, just that it's against the law.

If you believe they are for safety, you should want proof that they help safety. If you believe that all laws should be aggressively enforced, your position should be consistent.

Bikes cause harm to pedestrians, and the numbers are not (contrary to the attitudes frequently found here) inconsequential.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/working-bike-commuting-on-the-rise-in-dc/2011/03/30/AFa21vWC_story.html

U.S. Census: 2.2% of commuters are cyclists in DC

If you have a better number, or a number that you like better, bring it on. It doesn't matter. Even if it's 10%, there have been 2 people killed by bikes in the last five years, and a much larger number injured.

The risk is not zero, and therefore any argument that "cars are unsafe and bikes are not" is invalidated.

If you would choose to say "cars are less safe than bikes" then I look forward to hearing your rationale for why the boundary of injuries caused by each is where you think laws should start and stop being enforced.

It's totally arbitrary. You just don't like cars.

by Jamie on Feb 24, 2012 12:55 pm • linkreport

"Let's not forget about the nine people killed on the Red Line in 2009. It's important to be clear-headed about where the real threats lie."

I didn't realize that the red line was using the same roads and subject to the same laws as bikes and cars.

by Jamie on Feb 24, 2012 12:57 pm • linkreport

@Jamie, here's a stream of proof.
The law of momentum-> the risk of mortality relative to speed (this is well documented)-> speed cameras cause slower speeds (I think you even acknowledge this in a comment up thread)-> slower speeds reduce mortality risk.

by Tina on Feb 24, 2012 1:01 pm • linkreport

@Jamie: "favoring draconian enforcement of traffic laws (and only traffic laws) is hypocritical, because the same group of people (typically cyclists) reacts negatively to enforcement of traffic laws for other types of vehicle."

Only if you live in a place that is governed by stereotypes.

"It's totally arbitrary. You just don't like cars."

Please keep track of whom you are arguing with. I just pointed out upthread that I thought the fines are too high.

by goldfish on Feb 24, 2012 1:03 pm • linkreport

Tina, that's not a proof. If you go back to my original comment, you missed an important link.

You assume that speed cameras reduce the speed of a car AT ALL TIMES.

Most pedestrian accidents already occur below the speed limit, e.g. turning cars, buses, trucks, or involve extreme situations like outrageous speeding, drunk drivers, or pedestrian error.

So supposed speed cameras reduce the speed on upper 16th Street from an average of 38 MPH to 33 MPH.

Was anyone actually hit on a straight stretch of upper 16th Street, with no other factors except speed involved?

Do you even know where almost all car/ped accidents occur?

It's not where any speed cameras are, and it's not on roads with speed limits over 25 (which is where all the cameras are).

The reality is that the actual numbers - the number of accidents, and deaths, are not consistent with the notion that speed camareas have affected them in any way.

by Jamie on Feb 24, 2012 1:07 pm • linkreport

It's totally arbitrary.
Its not arbitrary. By the laws of physics and mathematics cars pose a greater risk to pedestrains than bikes. Injuries to pedestraisn from both are 100% preventable (in theory). One easy way to reduce risk to pedestrains from cars is to reduce the speed of cars. Its not arbitray. Its math.

by Tina on Feb 24, 2012 1:07 pm • linkreport

"Only if you live in a place that is governed by stereotypes."

In the context of that comment, I linked to several biker blog articles, or feel free to peruse Washcycle posts about this topic. GGW also refers to ticketing lawbreaking cyclists as a "sting" -- yet I've never heard of traffic cameras referred to as a "sting" here. If the shoe fits.

"Please keep track of whom you are arguing with."

The comments weren't directed at you, really, I was reffering to the oboe-like commentariat.

by Jamie on Feb 24, 2012 1:11 pm • linkreport

Was anyone actually hit on a straight stretch of upper 16th Street, with no other factors except speed involved?

Just to keep a plate spinning, I wanted to note again that "pedestrian death by automobile" is only one part of why we want traffic calming. Streams of speeding cars adversely affect quality of life. This is why nearly every residential neighborhood in the country has low speed limits; and why the residents of these neighborhoods are committed to them.

(DC seems like a special case because our residential neighborhoods tend to be mixed-use as well.)

But if no person was ever killed by an automobile in the history of auto travel, it would still be in the public interest to force cars to slow down.

by oboe on Feb 24, 2012 1:15 pm • linkreport

"Streams of speeding cars adversely affect quality of life"

Bikes riding the wrong way on a one-way street adversely affect quality of like.

I live on a "bike commuter block" where every evening dozens of bikes ride the wrong way up my street. I have nearly been hit while walking my dogs numerous times.

Again, why are the problems that cars cause the only problems worth addressing?

I would not vote to favor aggressive enforcement of bikes on my street (though I do wish that, on average, they were more considerate about, say, stopping for me when I'm crossing the street).

Just because something is a slight detriment to quality of life doens't mean we should start dishing out tickets as fast as we can.

by Jamie on Feb 24, 2012 1:19 pm • linkreport

I live on a "bike commuter block" where every evening dozens of bikes ride the wrong way up my street. I have nearly been hit while walking my dogs numerous times.

Great. It's likely that your neighbors are equally peeved about this. Why not talk to your neighbors and write your councilmember about increased enforcement (or better signage/facilities for bicycles). Organize a public meeting. On the likely chance that it's not just your personal pet peeve, I'm sure you'll get lots of community buy-in.

Meanwhile, I have yet to see a single community in the US--or anywhere else in the world, for that matter--that doesn't have a significantly lower speed limit in its residential areas than it does on its non-residential areas. If there's any through traffic at all, there are complaints about speeding. If there's no through-traffic at all, homeowners brag about its absence. In houses in the city and in the suburbs, you see proximity to traffic thoroughfares reflected in the price of housing. It's universal sentiment.

There's a possibility that people on bikes going the wrong way is equally universal. Hopefully we won't see the value of your house and your neighbors fall by 20% because of wrong-way bike traffic. Maybe there's a silent groundswell of untapped anger just waiting to be given release.

In any case, leaving aside bikes, the point remains that calming traffic is something residents want, regardless of how many people actually die every year.

by oboe on Feb 24, 2012 1:44 pm • linkreport

In the context of that comment, I linked to several biker blog articles, or feel free to peruse Washcycle posts about this topic. GGW also refers to ticketing lawbreaking cyclists as a "sting" -- yet I've never heard of traffic cameras referred to as a "sting" here. If the shoe fits.

The shoe does not fit. I both bicycle and drive. I think most bicyclists also drive, and have received speed camera tickets.

by goldfish on Feb 24, 2012 3:44 pm • linkreport

Most speed cameras in DC and outside the District have little to do with safety. In Maryland, most are supposed to be around school zones, but their placement is almost always facing in a way to catch speeders on major roads, rather than intersections that school kids use. I have been caught once in DC, on Benning Rd, in the middle of a long block that is rarely crossed by any pedestrians, even at the intersections which were a long way from the camera.

You are making a totally bogus argument that the cameras do anything to foster safer driving. In my experience, the opposite is true, because it causes cars to brake to slow down in the midst of moving traffic. I'd bet most cameras cause more accidents than they prevent.

I would agree that more cameras would cause drivers to slow down as a matter of course, if a LOT more cameras are installed. However, all the arguments about the excessive fines are spot on. With speed limits that are set too low, this fines can be really oppressive for folks who are have to work at least 2 full shifts just to afford to pay one ticket.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Feb 24, 2012 5:30 pm • linkreport

That should read:

"With speed limits that are set too low, these fines can be really oppressive for folks who have to work at least 2 full shifts just to afford to pay one ticket."

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Feb 24, 2012 5:33 pm • linkreport

I also want to take issue with this observation:

"We'd need to make sure it's high enough that wealthier people don't just decide to constantly run red lights (which is dangerous) and then pay the extra cost, but it doesn't need to be very high."

There is scarcely any figure that an individual would pay to "decide to constantly run red lights." I think if someone knew it would cost them as little as $5.00, they wouldn't do it -- no matter how wealthy they are. Moreover, calibrating a fine so as to provide a deterrent for the wealthiest amongst us is absurd if it means that the poorest must pay the same amount. When a number of drivers are earning 10x more and some drivers might be earning 100x what the poorest are, that seems patently unfair. If you want to propose a sliding scale based on income, then I think you've got something.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Feb 24, 2012 5:43 pm • linkreport

Great article!

by sarah on Feb 26, 2012 12:41 pm • linkreport

This petition actually doesn't go far enough. I've created another petition that would allow DC residents to vote on whether to continue the use of traffic cameras. Right now, amazingly, we're not allowed to organize any voter referendums -- per the DC Charter -- that would impact the city's revenue. This despite the Council's fanfare for the city's unofficial "Taxation Without Representation" slogan.

Sign my petition if you agree: http://www.change.org/petitions/chairman-city-council-washington-dc-allow-dc-residents-to-vote-on-banning-speed-cameras

by Tom Elliott on Feb 27, 2012 8:50 am • linkreport

"Right now, amazingly, we're not allowed to organize any voter referendums -- per the DC Charter -- that would impact the city's revenue."

What a fascinating, imbecilic rule. What qualifies as something that wouldn't impact city revenue? Don't all laws and ordinances require enforcement and/or have penalties and fines for violation? If not, then why does it require a referendum in the first place?

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 9:04 am • linkreport

I disagree with the whole premise of "referendums". You already have a say: you elect representatives. We have a representative democracy because we want the people making the decisions to have the ability to properly inform themselves on the issue. Don't like your Councilmembers position on speed/red-light cameras? Vote them out of office.

California has "referendumed" itself right out of economic viability. It should stand as a cautionary tale for any other municipality.

by oboe on Feb 27, 2012 10:19 am • linkreport

Thank God we've got the DC council looking out for our best interests! The ones that aren't former or future convicted felons will surely be able to make rational, informed, public policy decisions that have the best intersts of us all in mind.

And if we don't agree with them, we can just vote them out every four years, which is impossible because even convicted felons are overwhelmingly re-elected in DC (and, generally, in any election).

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 10:31 am • linkreport

@Oboe - In general I agree. But the objective of government is good governance, not representative democracy -- representative democracy is meant as a means to that end. Right now, representative democracy isn't delivering good governance, which is why referendums become necessary. If 98 percent of the people despise traffic cameras yet, for whatever reason, we're incapable of electing people to act on this popular opposition, the problem is with the system itself.

And if we're to believe what public officials tell us about traffic cameras -- that they're meant to ensure safety, not generate revenue -- then your concern over remaining "economically viable" is misplaced.

by Tom Elliott on Feb 27, 2012 10:47 am • linkreport

hey @oboe, I forgot to ask you something last week.

"Because of this human factor, as speeds increase, the stopping distance increases dramatically. At 30mph the stopping distance is much greater—109 feet. At 35 mph it goes up to 136 feet"

This fact seems to be crucial to your position that the cameras are installed with the goal of improving safety. Of course it's indisputable that getting hit by a car at a higher rate of speed is worse.

What do you think about the cameras found on: 16th Street (30 MPH), N. Capitol Street (35 MPH), New York Avenue (35 MPH), 395 (45 MPH), Porter Street (30 MPH)?

If you are trying to keep traffic at 25 MPH, you know, to keep pedestrians safe, it seems like lowering the speed limit would at least put the law in the place you want it. I mean, even with a traffic cam, everyone's still going 30 on Porter Street and 16th Street, which, as you note, is a lot worse than 25 for stopping distance.

Actually, there's not a single camera in a 25 MPH speed limit that I have a problem with. Though, the only one I can think of is on Michigan Avenue. I'm guessing there are others, I just don't know of any.

I would have no problem adding speed cameras on streets with 25 MPH speed limits. You can put as many as you want in. I never speed even by 5 MPH when driving in-town, and I think speeding in built-up areas is incredibly irresponsible.

Unfortunately, speed cameras on 2-lane roads with 25 MPH speed limits probably don't really make any money, since they'll only catch the true, outlier reckless drivers. Who are actually the problem. But issuing a dozen tickets a day doesn't keep Lockheed Martin in business.

Anyway, where are these cameras that keep pedestrians safe, and why wouldn't we reduce the speed limit to 25 wherever there's actually a concern for pedestrians?

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 11:04 am • linkreport

98%? Since we appear to be making statistics up from whole cloth, I'll just say that it's more like a very loud 5%.

In other news, a large minority of the population doesn't like paying taxes, and more people distrust the police than like 'em. Still, we soldier on. "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow under the tree?" Same with speed cameras, apparently.

by David R. on Feb 27, 2012 11:04 am • linkreport

"I'll just say that it's more like a very loud 5%"

Even though everywhere that's had a referendum, it's been 60-80%. But hey we're different! Because Oboe says so.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 11:06 am • linkreport

60% = 95%? I think it's called the calculus of speed cameras, the kind of math that makes 35 mph is acceptable in a 30 zone. It's like regular arithmetic, but you round up whenever the figures are in your favor.

by David R. on Feb 27, 2012 11:13 am • linkreport

Again, let's see some sources for those referenda. I won't dispute the numbers, but without some kind of backup, we're talking about election results "because Jamie says so." You make the claim: you get to do the homework of finding the figures.

by David R. on Feb 27, 2012 11:15 am • linkreport

I didn't say 95%.

And if 60%=95% is bad math, then 5% = 60-80% is DC Public School math. There's plenty of arbitrary number slinging on both sides.

The fact is that referendums on traffic cameras have passed everywhere they have been taken place.

I don't know what percentage of DC residents favor one, since we've never had a vote or a survey, but it's pretty silly to argue that we'd be overwhelmingly in favor of them, when nobody else in the country is.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 11:17 am • linkreport

@David R. Yes, I thought that by using "98 percent" it would be obvious I was creating an imaginary scenario to highlight a point of logic. Next time I'll say "99.9 percent" to make it even more obvious I'm just trying to make a point.

by Tom Elliott on Feb 27, 2012 11:23 am • linkreport

http://www.npr.org/2012/02/22/147213437/whats-driving-the-backlash-against-traffic-cameras

"In roughly 24 cities in nine states, voters have passed ballot initiatives rejecting cameras, with decisions passing in eight of the cities last year alone. Also last year, the Los Angeles police commission voted to end the city's program."

http://warondriving.com/post/12557699166/traffic-cameras-voted-out-of-7-cities-on-tuesday

http://warondriving.com/post/15045469337/3-voters-kick-red-light-cameras-out-of-7-cities

"In November, voters took to the polls en masse and voted out red light cameras. 27 out of 28 times, photo ticketing has been voted out by the people, when they’ve been given a chance."

Sorry, they voted to keep them in one place. My bad! I googled "voters keep traffic cameras" and came up with East Cleveland, where they won by 54%. In fact every single google hit on that search is about East Cleveland.

Of course it was a bit of a loaded vote. This just before the vote!!


">East Cleveland announcing huge police, fire and service layoffs
-- East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton, Jr. is tonight announcing major layoffs in city government – primarily in safety forces – that will take effect if East Clevelanders vote in November to have the city dismantle its traffic camera system.

Classy. Even with that ominous threat, they barely won.

Anyway, just google "voters reject traffic cameras" to see stories about places other than East Cleveland. Google is your friend.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 11:29 am • linkreport

There's plenty of arbitrary number slinging on both sides.
I'm tossing out arbitrary numbers because if you get to do that, so does everyone else. I'm glad that you concede that you're mostly making your figures up.

@Tom Elliott: I guessed that you were speaking rhetorically, but even so, you've managed to insert a spurious figure, with all the authority that data connotes. Better to say "the great majority," perhaps.

by David R. on Feb 27, 2012 11:30 am • linkreport

"The fact is that referendums on traffic cameras have passed everywhere they have been taken place."

But what about all the places where they haven't taken place at all? Using your logic of extreme generalization, can't we assume that all the cities that did not even put the issue up for referendum must be ok with traffic cameras? Earlier in this comment thread, you quoted the following: "In roughly 24 cities in nine states, voters have passed ballot initiatives rejecting cameras, with decisions passing in eight of the cities last year alone. Also last year, the Los Angeles police commission voted to end the city's program."

Not sure where that came from, but even assuming it's true it doesn't mean the majority of people do not like traffic cameras. How many municipalities us traffic cameras? Once you can show me that 24 is more than half of all municipalities that were (before those ballot initiatives passed) using traffic cameras, I'll believe you.

by 7r3y3r on Feb 27, 2012 11:35 am • linkreport

"I'm glad that you concede that you're mostly making your figures up."

Again, I did not say 98%. Please keep your attributions correct. I said 60-80% which is what I read in one of the articles about this above. (Actually the number I read was 60-86% - that was a typo).

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 11:36 am • linkreport

all those places were small towns, small cities, or suburbs, with the exceptions of Houston.

Any dense central cities in large metros?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 27, 2012 11:42 am • linkreport

@7r3y3r, not every city allows referendums on traffic cameras (or anything). For example, Washington DC.

As I said, I do not know how DC voters would feel about this because there has never been a referendum or a survey (to my knowledge).

But here are the facts.

1) It does not take a referendum to install traffic cameras

2) Traffic cameras cost nothing to install (since 3rd parties pay for it and take part of the money), and they make lots of money. For obvious reasons, they are popular with legislators.

3) Some places do not allow ballot initiatives to remove them (e.g. DC)

4) Everywhere (except East Cleveland) that's actually asked voters to decide if they want to keep them, has gotten rid of them

It seems very obvious to me that it's easy to install cameras and hard to remove them. There are no obstacles to putting them in, and many to removing them.

In the absence of any specific evidence against them, the fact that almost everywhere that's has both the legal means (which we do not) to vote on them, and has gotten through the process to put it on the ballot, has voted them down, means that generally they are not popular.

There is a lot of momentum that keeps them present and who knows how many municipalities even have a legal recourse to vote them out. The fact that there've only been votes in a fraction of the cities is just a testament to that reality.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 11:43 am • linkreport

"Any dense central cities in large metros?"

Does Los Angeles count as a city?

Of course it's a lot harder for cities. For those that actually have a citywide ballot initiative process, I'm sure the barriers to getting something put to a vote are much higher.

The point is, there is plenty of evidence that they are unpopular with voters.

So what is in your column? You can keep dismissing what I'm posting here, but nobody has presented any compelling evidence that most people like them.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 11:49 am • linkreport

LA changed by council action, IIUC, not be referendum. And no, its not a dense central city. Its city that notoriously includes lots of low density suburban areas. It IS a large city however. Like Houston.

Again, any dense central cities? I think the legal barriers to referenda vary by state, not by municipality.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 27, 2012 11:53 am • linkreport

"Again, any dense central cities? "

Again, anything, at all, in your column?

All of this has happened in the last couple years. I don't have time to research the unique laws and history of every city to find one like ours and see what's going on.

I don't know for sure, but there's lots of evidence that in most places they aren't popular, and none so far that people like then.

Except of course in East Cleveland, where the police and firemen went door to door and told stories of woe about how the apocalypse would come if people voted them down.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 11:56 am • linkreport

And you haven't posted any evidence that most people don't like them. Much less people in DC.

by 7r3y3r on Feb 27, 2012 11:56 am • linkreport

By the way, "AWalkerInTheCity" did you see my other post about where the cameras are installed?

Is there anywhere you walk on a regular basis that has a speed camera?

I am also a walker in the city. And a driver, and a biker.

I would love a speed camera or two in my neighborhood. On 25 MPH roads, where I walk.

I don't walk too much on 395 or Military Road or North Capitol Street north of Michigan Avenue.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 11:57 am • linkreport

"And you haven't posted any evidence that most people don't like them"

OK, so the 95+% of municipalities that have rejected them are not people I guess?

Wow.

If there was a clone of Washington, DC that allowed referendums, and had banned them, I suppose even that wouldn't satistfy you because since they allow referendums in that other city, they aren't exactly like us!

I gotta give it to you, you're nothing if not committed to your delusion.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 12:01 pm • linkreport

This conversation is backwards. The onus ought to be on the pro-camera crowd to prove there's a popular demand for expanded policing powers. If the people have to go out of our way to conduct polls, organize referendums, etc., whenever the government/police propose new ways to expand their power and diminish the people's liberty, our entire system of government has been flipped on its head. The government, as originally intended -- in America, anyway -- was meant to preserve and protect our liberty, not expand its power whenever the people aren't vociferously opposed or are otherwise sitting on their hands.

by Tom Elliott on Feb 27, 2012 12:05 pm • linkreport

Tom - there has been enforcement of speed laws for generations - by observation by police. This is merely a new technology. It is naturally a choice for elected representatives to determine appropriate enforcement technologies. Were referenda required to implement police radar?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 27, 2012 12:11 pm • linkreport

you don't want speeds enforced on I395? I drive there, and I certainly want speeds enforced there.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 27, 2012 12:13 pm • linkreport

"you don't want speeds enforced on I395?"

No. I want it was enforced where accidents happen, not where there's an opportunity, say, where the speed limit has just dropped by 20 MPH. If there's no safety problem, then I really don't care. You seem to think that the speed limit is the arbiter of what is safe. I would rather that actual safety problems be the arbiter of what is safe.

On that camera, the city is cashing in on the obvious reality that people slow down gradually after getting off a highway. No. I don't want it in enforced unless there's any evidence at all that there's a problem.

If this is all about safety, then just show that there's a safety problem. It's that simple.

I would even accept as a consolation prize, the earmarking of money raised by the opportunistic speed cameras, for the installation of safety improvements in areas where they can't actually make money from it: intersection reconfiguratons, regular non-automated patrols (where someone actually pulls over the often-drunk jerks who blow through my neighborhood) and so on.

I know that stuff takes cash. So with $50 million a year raised "for safety" why can't we spend it on, actual safety?

Right, I'm not holding my breath, and I've never seen someone get pulled over on Spring Road for speeding.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 12:22 pm • linkreport

All you've proven is that the majority of people in cities that have succeeded in placing the issue on the ballot have then succeeded in banning traffic cameras. I'm not arguing that most people do like traffic cameras, but rather that your broad generalization lacks adequate support.

I get it: you dislike traffic cameras and will probably continue to do so regardless of what statistics someone cites to in favor of them. That's ok. Everyone's entitled to their opinion.

by 7r3y3r on Feb 27, 2012 12:23 pm • linkreport

You're wrong - I don't dislike traffic cameras inherently. I dislike that they are used to raise money rather than to improve safety.

Nobody's answered my question as to why you wouldn't lower the speed limit to 25 before installing a speed camera, if you're concerned about pedestrian safety.

I would love speed cameras on several streets near where I live. Spring Road between 10th and 13th. A couple blocks of 13th Street near the former Roosevelt school. New Hampshire Avenue south of the Petworth Metro.

Those areas have tons of foot traffic, and lots of speeders. I guess, though, the ones who would go over 35 MPH are not often enough to raise the money DC wants from these devices. Of course, those are the ones that are the real threat. Too bad the automated traffic cameras never result in a drunk driving arrest. Too bad they never stop someone from being hit by a car in Columbia Heights.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 12:27 pm • linkreport

Do you think its wrong when state police enforce the speed limit on a part of I395 with no recent history of accidents? Are you going to start a campaign for a referendum to stop enforcement of speed limits on sections of I395 with no recent history of accidents?

by AWalkerIntheCity on Feb 27, 2012 12:27 pm • linkreport

"AWalkerIntheCity", what is your point?

If it were technologically possible, would you think it reasonable if an automated camera issued a ticket to every pedestrian if they stepped off a curb outside of a crosswalk? Don't bring your trash can in by 6 PM? Don't put everything that's recyclable in the blue bin instead of the green one?

If your point is just that "it's a law and so it should be enforced, and if you break it you've got nobody but yourself to blame," then we've been down that road already. If you really believe that, then fine, we disagree.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 12:30 pm • linkreport

For all those examples, I find our current legislative process works fine, and no referendum is needed. If that were to happen, we would all have to decide if those laws were reasonable. We might decide those activities should be legal - or we might decide that those infractions are usually innocous, but sometimes not, so that police discretion in enforcement is desirable. Apparently you believe that driving more than 10 MPH over the speed limit is so innocous that it should usually be tolerated, but police should have the right to occasionally enforce it, as happens with jaywalking, recycling, etc, etc. If you feel that way, you should go ahead and lobby your local representatives. I dont think thats a civil liberties issue, or that it requires a referendum. I also suspect that police enforcement of speed laws sans speed cameras is somewhat more intense than enforcement of those other regulatins, which reflects our societal consensus on the relative innocousness of those activies.

"Nobody's answered my question as to why you wouldn't lower the speed limit to 25 before installing a speed camera, if you're concerned about pedestrian safety."

I have repeatedly - its not only about PEDESTRIAN safety. Its about safety for all road users, including drivers. The statement that no one has answered you is a lie.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 27, 2012 12:39 pm • linkreport

Lisa Sutter, spokesperson for MPD has specifcally identified pedestrian safety as the rationale for DC's high fines. Are you saying shes wrong? Regardless we are still facing a lack of evidence of any safety problem at all at the vast majority of camera locations.

Btw are you just an oboe alter ego? Funny how you appeared when he went silent rehashing the same arguments.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 12:54 pm • linkreport

If youve been around here you would see how often I disagree with oboe - specifically on the question of the potential for reinventing the inner suburbs. That my arguments parallel his may simply indicate that we have both find the same weaknesses in your arguments.

WRT to Ms Sutter, she may well be wrong. Anyway thats a rationale for the level of the fines, not for the existence of the cameras.In case youve forgotten, the OP suggested lowering fines but adding more cameras.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 27, 2012 12:58 pm • linkreport

I would love speed cameras on several streets near where I live. Spring Road between 10th and 13th. A couple blocks of 13th Street near the former Roosevelt school. New Hampshire Avenue south of the Petworth Metro.

Okay, so we've got one more vote in favor of speed cameras in DC. Anyone opposed?

by oboe on Feb 27, 2012 1:04 pm • linkreport

Actually i mostly agree with OP my beef is with the hardliners here. My consistent position has been i would have no issue with cameras if they were really for safety. But the city has never made a case for safety or presented evidence of a problem that is actually helped by the cameras. Im all in favor if hem in ped heavy areas. But dont hold your breath since those cameras wouldnt make any money. I want first and foremost for the city to provide transparency on how the locations are selected. If they say its to solve a problem then why should we not be allowed to know what the problem is?

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 1:07 pm • linkreport

I suppose I'm much more radical than everyone here, in that I don't believe police should setup cameras to automatically "enforce" traffic law. Just like I don't think we should be forced to install cameras in our homes to protect against domestic violence and/or drug use. Just because you agree that a speed limit makes sense doesn't require you to endorse every new method the government devises to enforce that law. As we've seen time and again, these cameras are ripe for abuse. There are plenty of instances where the speed at which tickets are issues is arbitrarily adjusted so as to elicit more tickets. In Maryland, people are ticketed for stopping at red lights: http://wusa9.com/news/article/175175/158/Red-Light-Camera-Debate-Drivers-Ticketed-For-Stopping-Over-The-White-Line When power is arbitrary, it is unjust.

Incidentally, the Constitution provides for the accused a right to confront his accuser. Obviously that's impossible when your accuser is a robot attached to a telephone pole. A recent Supreme Court case confirmed that this applies to police powers like traffic cameras: http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/35/3515.asp

by Tom Elliott on Feb 27, 2012 1:11 pm • linkreport

@Jamie:

I would have no problem adding speed cameras on streets with 25 MPH speed limits. You can put as many as you want in. I never speed even by 5 MPH when driving in-town, and I think speeding in built-up areas is incredibly irresponsible.

This is pretty much close to my position on the issue. If I were Emperor of DC, I would set the speed limit to 25 mph and trigger violations at--at most--30 mph. And they'd be everywhere, without warning. Perhaps install "Potemkin" cameras around as well to supplement the live ones.

As far as streets like North Capitol and so forth, obviously car-dominated traffic sewers shouldn't be the roads we focus our initial enforcement efforts on. On the other hand, it doesn't get me worked up either. I still maintain that traffic speeds on the SE/SW Freeway are unnecessarily high, and that the posted speed of 45 mph between the 14th street bridge and 6th street exit is perfectly reasonable.

@Tom:

And if we're to believe what public officials tell us about traffic cameras -- that they're meant to ensure safety, not generate revenue -- then your concern over remaining "economically viable" is misplaced.

Sure, but the problem is that referendums can be used to legislate (or delegislate) just about anything. If the law were modified to permit referendums that dealt only with automated traffic enforcement it might be feasible. Otherwise I think the evidence is that referendum laws lead to disaster.

by oboe on Feb 27, 2012 1:15 pm • linkreport

It would seem that jaywalking is a much bigger threat to pedestrian and car safety than moderate speeding on non-residential streets. If we're going to hit cars with punitive fines, we should be ticketing jaywalkers with punitive fines. I remember seeing a couple incidences of this around Dupont Circle years ago, where a police officer stood on Q Street and handed out what must have been hundreds of tickets by the end of the day. He was getting several people per light.

As for people who do speed on residential streets, I don't think cameras are the answer. Speed bumps make people slow down before they speed; cameras only after.

captcha: Speedy, samasso

by tresluxe on Feb 27, 2012 1:21 pm • linkreport

It would seem that jaywalking is a much bigger threat to pedestrian and car safety than moderate speeding on non-residential streets. If we're going to hit cars with punitive fines, we should be ticketing jaywalkers with punitive fines.

As an alternative, I'd suggest eliminating the "contributory negligence" standard in favor of "comparative negligence", and reducing the speed limit to 20 mph, at least in the urban core.

Actually, that's a compromise position: my "natural" position is to eliminate the concept of "jaywalking" altogether, and make drivers operate cars in congested areas with the same amount of care that those "courtesy shuttles" are operated inside of airport concourses.

The whole "jaywalking" thing contributes to the culture of GTFOOMW.

http://westnorth.com/2009/02/01/a-history-of-jaywalking/

by oboe on Feb 27, 2012 1:46 pm • linkreport

In fact, there's some evidence that jaywalking leads to calmer traffic and safer streets:

http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2010/06/15/jaywalking-is-not-a-crime

by oboe on Feb 27, 2012 1:49 pm • linkreport

I just went out to run some errands and on the way back, was presented with an unfortunately all-too-common demonstration of the problem with DC's approach to traffic enforcement.

Pulled up to a red light in the left lane on Georgia Avenue behind an Infiniti of some kind. To my right was another car, and behind that car was a cop. So it's

me someone else
infiniti cop

This is near the Safeway. Lots of pedestrians.

The Inifinit floors it when the light changes. I, of course, am going out of my way to be sure I don't go 1 MPH over 30, since there is a cop next to me.

The infiniti was easily 500 feet ahead before the next light. He had to have hit 40 or 45.

The cop did nothing.

Nor did I expect him to.

What do you think makes people less likely to speed? Drive drunk, recklessly? Cruise around hotboxing with a carful of people holdin'?

Getting tickets in the mail, or actually thinking there's a remote possibility of being pulled over by a cop?

I never see people pulled over any more.

If jaywalking tends to slow traffic down, policemen not having traffic quotas any more tends to make policemen not bother to pull people over.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 1:56 pm • linkreport

@Jamie,

I agree that we should walk and chew gum at the same time.

by oboe on Feb 27, 2012 1:58 pm • linkreport

Sure - it would be great. But observing the consequences of a the large-scale dependence on automated enforcement program is legitimate. We aren't able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 2:01 pm • linkreport

Sure - it would be great. But observing the consequences of a the large-scale dependence on automated enforcement program is legitimate. We aren't able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Well, but that would seem to imply that traffic stops by officers is somehow negatively correlated with the existence of the automated enforcement program.

It seems to me there's no way there could be anything but a positive correlation between the two. Get rid of the cameras, and the only practical effect is to reduce city revenues--revenues that, among other things, pay for cops.

by oboe on Feb 27, 2012 2:38 pm • linkreport

"Well, but that would seem to imply that traffic stops by officers is somehow negatively correlated with the existence of the automated enforcement program."

Ummm... gold star?

" Get rid of the cameras, and the only practical effect is to reduce city revenues--revenues that, among other things, pay for cops."

Look, I don't have any data to fall back on, but it seems pretty clear that there's very little emphasis on in-person traffic enforcement these days.

Somehow, before all that traffic camera revenue started flowing in 1991, we had the wherewithal to pull over the shotgun stalker for a traffic violation, and caught a really bad guy. With just the cops we could pay for in 1990.

There are substantial positive side effects of having a robust in-person traffic enforcement program. You catch people for unrelated stuff, like driving drunk. The presence of cops on the side of the road has obvious psychological value for making people feel like there's actual enforcement - and no amount of traffic cameras can substitute for this.

Whatever fractional percentage of the $50M might have gone to MPD is peanuts compared to the culture that is created by the cameras.

Cops don't pull people over any more for traffic violations in DC. They just don't. I wish I had the energy to figure out what kind of FOIA request could get me the internal policy documents, but it's obvious that this is not considered a priority.

I realize this is not an argument that I can make on the basis of actual policy in place. Of course, we should be able to have cameras, as well as a policy that dictates that police behave the same way towards traffic violations as they did before there were cameras. But things just don't seem to work out in the real world the way the should in a perfect world.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 2:55 pm • linkreport

Oops. 2001. Not 1992.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 2:56 pm • linkreport

Haha! Who needs an FOIA, it's right there in black and white. MPD is actually proud of the fact that the automated cameras replace in-person policing.

http://mpdc.dc.gov/mpdc/cwp/view,a,1240,q,547900,mpdcNav_GID,1552,mpdcNav,%7C31885%7C.asp

"Because the red-light cameras provide 24-hour-a-day coverage, they allow the MPDC to be more consistent, more strategic, and more efficient in its enforcement of traffic regulations—a top priority of citizens. These safety benefits are achieved without having to devote extra police resources to enhanced traffic enforcement. Instead, police officers can devote their time to other priorities, including focused law enforcement, neighborhood problem solving, and crime prevention in DC neighborhoods."

Somehow I am not sure the author of this bit of fluff saw the irony. Traffic stops are community policing.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 3:26 pm • linkreport

More I read, the more I think everyone should sign the petition to lower fines.

http://www.change.org/petitions/lower-speed-camera-fines-in-dc

by tortoise on Feb 28, 2012 4:29 pm • linkreport

By the way - everyone arguing in favor of the policies owes it to themesleves to read MPD's public policy position on the web site I linked above.

Where are cameras:

"The District's cameras are placed at locations where chronic violations cause crashes and endanger the community."

At best, completely unsubstantiated in 11 years, at worst, an absolute lie -- no data has ever been presented to back up this statement, and the 2009 high accident locations map has very little overlap with traffic cameras.

How does this affect in-person enforcement:

"Instead, police officers can devote their time to other priorities."

In-person policing has been officially replaced with the cameras.

What if the registered owner was not driving the vehicle?

"In these situations, the owner is responsible for returning a sworn affidavit to the Automated Traffic Enforcement"

You are guilty unless you can prove otherwise.

"The photos capture only the rear of the vehicle and its license plate—they do not show the driver or passengers."

The district has no photographic record of the actual person committing the crime. In some states, you actually need to be able to identify the driver for a ticket to be valid. We don't even care.

I mean, wow. The official description of the program pretty much spits on the constitution, uses a lie to justify its existence, goes on to say that police will more or less not be bothering to pull people over in person any more so they can address, er, "other priorities."

And this is what they tell the public!!

You guys must really hate you some speeders.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 4:46 pm • linkreport

This is just toooooo funny but SAD - If council members pay NOTHING for speedimg at 55mph over the limit, I think it is "fair" that us "regular" folks pay $40 for going 11 mph over the limit. Sign petition to lower speed camera fines to $40 or perhaps to whatever council members pay!
http://www.change.org/petitions/lower-speed-camera-fines-in-dc

by tortoise on Feb 28, 2012 10:47 pm • linkreport

@Jamie & @David R
It's well known that 68.3% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

by Steve O on Feb 29, 2012 11:45 am • linkreport

Because of the ridiculous speed camera near RFK that tickets drivers If exceeding 25mph, i now opt not to spend any of my money in dc to shop, buy food or gas or tickets to shows/other entertainment. I was born in dc, live in md, and have commuted to dc for 30+ years for work. As long as dc continues to utilize speed cameras for revenue collection - Ill-placed cameras (near RFK where there are multiple lanes and no pedistrain traffic) unreasonable speed limits (25mph) and high fines ($125), i will choose to spend my discretionary funds in md or other places, but not in dc.

by Carroll on Mar 29, 2012 12:36 pm • linkreport

Carroll - you should sign my petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/chairman-city-council-washington-dc-allow-dc-residents-to-vote-on-banning-speed-cameras

by Tom Elliott on Mar 29, 2012 1:56 pm • linkreport

My petition to get the ticket fine amounts lowered back down to a reasonable cost will go to Council soon. Please sign it. There are 701 signatures and I want to make a solid 1000 before sending it. Council will be voting soon on the Mayor's proposal to increase the cameras significantly. SO PLEASE SIGN AND POST ON SOCIAL NETWORKS TO GET OTHERS TO SIGN!
Thanks

by Mark Mueller on Mar 29, 2012 2:41 pm • linkreport

Petition link to lower fines=
http://www.change.org/petitions/lower-speed-camera-fines-in-dc

by Mark Mueller on Mar 29, 2012 2:43 pm • linkreport

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