Greater Greater Washington

Will leaders stand up against the death toll?

Tragically, people are getting killed on District streets, two in one day in February. Experts acknowledge that stopping these deaths is a major challenge. In something of a reversal from decades past, as demographics and living patterns shift, it's also a serious problem in suburban areas such as Montgomery County.


Photo by Hawkins on Flickr.

What is the D.C. Council doing about it? Adding police? Investigating thoroughly? No. In fact, in the budget the council passed this month, Chairman Phil Mendelson dedicated considerable future revenue to ease punishment for those whose dangerous actions put others at risk, while simultaneously restraining the police from expanding enforcement.

I'm not talking about murder and similar violence, though violence in our city is no laughing matter. This problem strikes far closer to home for most of us: distracted driving, speeding, unsafe right turns on red or through crosswalks, red-light running and other forms of unsafe driving.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. 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 now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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While I agree that traffic law enforcement is a vital part of enhancing safety, the DC government is failing on this argument when they have a significant chunk of funds coming from speed cameras, often in areas that have few pedestrians, such as outbound NY Ave near Bladensburg and heading under Washington Circle on K St. These are purely revenue generators that have no safety function.

Greater enforcement is also needed regarding pedestrians and bicyclists obeying traffic laws - crossing against lights, salmoning, entering a crosswalk with little to no time left to cross, etc.

by Chuck on Jun 1, 2013 1:40 pm • linkreport

@Chuck

I don't completely understand your argument.

Who cares if the police are using them to generate revenue? While it is generating revenue it is also enforcing the law.

Please explain how it is a negative for people who break the law to be fined?

by Owen on Jun 1, 2013 2:33 pm • linkreport

I thought comment about the article on the Washington Post's website was interesting.

Alpert misses the point that going 35 in a 25 mph zone is not excessive speeding but it can get you a $100 ticket. Reduce the fines for red light camera tickets as it was meant to be a reminder you did not follow the speed in that area. Set speed limits that match road width and conditions by raising the speed limit where it is excessively low. Time red lights together so the traffic actually moves instead of constant stop and go and it feels like you are getting nowhere. The frustration of not getting down a major road quickly is what drives drivers to speed up and ignore traffic rules.
Here was my reaction. It gives a glimpse of the two different perspectives on road design.

35 in a 25 is excessive in my book and should get you a ticket. Set road width and conditions to create safe speeds for people walking and biking by reducing it where the road/lanes are excessively wide. Timing lights is important, but only if it doesn't encourage speeding/create an unwelcoming or unsafe environment for people walking, biking and taking transit. Poor road design that is geared exclusively to drivers without considering others safety is what drives drivers to speed up and ignore traffic rules.

by nic on Jun 1, 2013 2:43 pm • linkreport

People complain about fines or wanting all roads to be calmed before enforcing the law are just trying to distract. As if all conditions must be met before one can be held responsible for their actions.

Calm the streets, and enforce the speed limit everywhere at the same time. Meanwhile, focus on cars, they're what make the road dangerous.

by drumz on Jun 1, 2013 3:38 pm • linkreport

The speed cameras seem to be working. From what I heard, casualties are down 75% where they are installed. That, making sure sidewalks are complete, and continuing the push towards a comprihensive street car network will go a long way towards reducing deaths.

by Thayer-D on Jun 1, 2013 10:26 pm • linkreport

@Owen: the problem is that areas like this are clearly designed for higher speeds, but drivers are forced to maintain a slower speed with no value toward safety. If, as Dave Alpert is arguing, the purpose of the cameras should be safety, then the city should either rethink the placement of these "revenue" cameras (for lack of a better term) or modify speed limits to better reflect the road composition and surrounding features. Otherwise, drivers (and other citizens, frankly) just see the cameras as another cash grab by the government rather than a public safety campaign.

by Chuck on Jun 1, 2013 10:37 pm • linkreport

@Chuck

Do you have specific ideas about what enforcement activities would not be considered a cash grab by government?

For example, would ticketing pedestrians for entering a crosswalk when little time is left be a cash grab or good policy. Please explain why.

In other words is there some rule of thumb we can use to determine if the police are being greedy or just enforcing the law?

Thanks!

by Owen on Jun 1, 2013 11:01 pm • linkreport

Chuck,

Slower speed is the value for safety. Speed is the differnce between life or death in a collision.

You're right many roads are designed to be built for speeds above the posted speed limit. We still need to enforce the law at present and we should t have to wait for road redesigns.

by drumz on Jun 1, 2013 11:44 pm • linkreport

Chuck: Yeah, this makes no sense.

a) a "cash grab" is a description without meaning. Either the fine penalises conduct that should be discouraged, or it doesn't. Either the fine is appropriate in level, or it is too high/low. Nothing else matters.

DC gets a lot of revenue from their cameras largely due to suburban drivers who are used to being scofflaws, but their behaviour can change. Look to MoCo, where Connecticut Ave in Chevy Chase is now thoroughly tamed. There was no road diet (though that would be nice) but the flow of traffic is an even 30 mph, the speed limit. Everyone knows, drive faster, and the ticket is inevitable. Few find the extra speed worth the sure price.

That certainty compels compliance. We should have speeding cameras in every interection (and some mid-block points) in the city. Right now, 15th NW, Independence SE, and many other intermediate sized roads used by commuters that travel through residential neighbourhoods, are simply terrifying to cross along crosswalks. It is often just not clear the speeding cars _could_ stop for pedestrians as they are required to (simply changing lanes and speeding by is illegal).

by Rahul Mereand-Sinha on Jun 2, 2013 7:32 am • linkreport

In other words is there some rule of thumb we can use to determine if the police are being greedy or just enforcing the law?

It's a cash grab by the city when the fine is disproportionate to the crime. The fine is by definition disproportionate when it's set higher than what's a reasonable deterrent for commitihe crime. The premium over this "deterrent level" is the cash grab.

If you think that there's nothing wrong with grabbing some extra cash from law breakers, fine. But then that policy should be applied to every law on the books. The punishment for breaking every other law is based on the "reasonable deterrent" rule, so an additional fine (or the addition of a fine if none is present) is needed to create a revenue generating premium.

Now you can also say that we should not add a premium to fines for say jaywalking because increasing walking rates is a strategic goal of the city. I can agree with that too but that still leaves a lot of other laws. How about a $1000 fine for public drunkenness? That would generate a lot of revenue.

by Falls Church on Jun 2, 2013 8:08 am • linkreport

You're right many roads are designed to be built for speeds above the posted speed limit. We still need to enforce the law at present and we should t have to wait for road redesigns.

In general I agree. However, there are plenty of places where no greater safety goal is being served.

Also, realistically, there is no reason you should be issued a ticket from a speed camera more than once. Once you know where it is and how much you get fined, why would you keep getting caught by it?

by Tyro on Jun 2, 2013 8:45 am • linkreport

I'm particularly impressed by this WP comment:

What does people getting hit by cars have to do with speed and red light camera enforcement? Cameras have NO effect on people crossing the street illegally or against the light.

Yes, we do need a change of culture.

by Miriam on Jun 2, 2013 9:12 am • linkreport

Actually, I was impressed by this comment too:

Let him talk to his adoring acolytes on his website; he doesn't allow anybody who differs with him to post there.

Perhaps there are two blogs called "Greater Greater Washington", each run by a separate (and different)David Alpert?

by Miriam on Jun 2, 2013 9:18 am • linkreport

I agree with all the points he is making but there are a couple of statements that strike me as rather odd:

The District could wind up charging more to residents who shop online to give a break to residents and visitors who break the law.

Alpert knows that there is really no cause-effect relation of these two issues. I don't support the online sales tax, but let's not stoop to the level of fear mongering.


Meanwhile, other language would force the police to write a report justifying each location before deploying traffic cameras, even where residents are clamoring for the police to make their neighborhoods safer.

Is Alpert saying that he does not support forcing police to justify traffic cameras, or that he does not support forcing police to make written reports? If residents are "clamoring" for police to make their neighborhoods safer, justifying a traffic camera wouldn't be too hard. I support more oversight in how these enforcement measures are implemented. I want my tax dollars to be spent wisely, not stupidly.

Truth is that there aren't enough traffic cameras in places where they are needed, and arguably too many traffic cameras in places where they are not desperately needed.

- 7 traffic cameras in all of Ward 1 where I live, versus 12+ traffic cameras in a 1-mile stretch of K street downtown.
- 8 traffic cameras on a 4-mile stretch of Connecticut Ave between the White House & Chevy Chase but 12 cameras along the National Mall.
- 15 cameras in all of Wards 7 and 8, home to more than 140,000 people, many along interstate highways and not city streets where people actually live.
- 3 speed cameras & 3 red light cameras in all of the Third Police District (AdMo/Shaw/CoHi/Dupont/Farragut North/Kalorama/Logan Circle/Mt Pleasant).

When you take a look at the high-accident intersections and places with high population density (and high pedestrian/cyclist activity) and compare against where cameras are actually located, it's rather stunning. So yes, no wonder people think it's a revenue grab.

by Scoot on Jun 2, 2013 1:04 pm • linkreport

Driving slower is always safer than driving faster, but there is such a concept as 'safe speed'; I'm not a traffic engineer so I won't worry about the details here (you can look it up). No reasonable person will disagree with measures that dissuade unsafe driving, including unsafe speeds. Of course physical measures, like speed humps and chicanes and such, are much preferred over administrative measures such as traffic cameras and fines: the former are effective for all, the latter never: if you get a ticket you were doing something unsafe already.

The principal difference between perspectives of the various commentators seems to be: are all posted speeds reasonable, with as only criterion safety, hence at the 'safe speed'? or could they be lower than the safe speed? are they sometimes much lower? This is where the problem comes in: reasonable people don't generally obey unreasonable laws. and reasonable drivers will exceed unreasonably low speed limits.

Once the speed limits are harmonized with road conditions, such that they actually tell you what the safe speed is (and not some more or less arbitrary number) almost everyone will obey the speed limit, and those that don't deserve to damage their cars (at a speed hump) or to get a ticket: end of problem.

Maryland seems to use this philosophy much more than Virginia, where there are almost no speed humps and lots of unreasonably low speed limits.

There's an easy way to figure out where the speed limit is too low: it's the place where the cameras make the most money (in DC) or where the police regularly sits to check speeds (in Virginia). It's usually called a 'speed trap'...

by Nino on Jun 2, 2013 1:44 pm • linkreport

There's an easy way to figure out where the speed limit is too low: it's the place where the cameras make the most money (in DC)

Sometimes the speed limit is too low given the design of the road but are nevertheless valid speed limits for pedestrian safety purposes. In this case, the city should redesign the road rather than rely solely on enforcement, because it is more effective to protect pedestrians that way.

It is the locations where the speed limits are BOTH too low AND there is no compelling pedestrian safety justification that they should be raised.

by Tyro on Jun 2, 2013 2:35 pm • linkreport

@Chuck, I just have to say, you picked the wrong example for your first post. The intersection of NY Ave. and Bladensburg Rd. is less than a mile from my house. With all of the new development in that area, and more to come, I would ABSOLUTELY cross that road to get to the development (most across NY Ave. from me), if it weren't so dangerous. I'm certainly not the only unique snowflake who lives in Brentwood, Ivy City, or Langdon who might want to visit the existing, new, and upcoming stores on foot. Just because it's a *major* road doesn't mean there shouldn't be enforcement. Given my experience, it's not that there isn't DEMAND for pedestrian traffic, just that most of us who *would* do it recognize the danger that exists - even with some light enforcement - is too extreme to justify trying it.

Sure, re-designing roads to calm traffic is a long term goal, but there is NO excuse for a driver not to control their speed. I tend to agree that speed limits on some of the freeways are too low at LOW-VOLUME times, and variable speed limits controlled by congestion should be instituted. There is no reason why my friend who was driving should not have been able to drive 55 or 60 on center-leg this morning at 9:15...there was next-to-no traffic. But he somehow managed to just cruise along at approximately the speed limit, costing us - what - maybe 30 seconds in transit and NO ticket? There is not some invisible force demanding that drivers ignore the speedometer if the road is wider than it should be. If you can't stand up to the bullies who try to push you faster, maybe you need some confidence-building exercises. I'll admit, I'm a pretty tough lady, but how hard is it to glance at the speedometer from time-to-time - to keep it less than 12 over to avoid a ticket - and not let someone bully you into breaking the law? Many of the residential streets in my hometown are 4 lanes wide to accomodate parking, but with few-to-no vehicles parked on them (since most people have off-street parking), few stop signs, and light traffic, and the "speeding monster" STILL doesn't force me to drive faster than 30 (or less, 30 is 5 over) on them. If someone has a problem with that, let them pass me (illegally). At least it's not on me for being a law-breaking jerk.

by Ms. D on Jun 2, 2013 4:12 pm • linkreport

@Ms. D: thanks for your post. I agree that there is a certain amount of bullying going on -- the GTFOOMW push by tailgators -- and they get away with it.

by goldfish on Jun 2, 2013 7:06 pm • linkreport

"Look to MoCo, where Connecticut Ave in Chevy Chase is now thoroughly tamed."

B-b-but...that road was *meant* to be driven at a greater speed!

Heh..,

by oboe on Jun 3, 2013 7:24 am • linkreport

@Falls Church,

"It's a cash grab by the city when the fine is disproportionate to the crime. The fine is by definition disproportionate when it's set higher than what's a reasonable deterrent for commitihe crime. The premium over this "deterrent level" is the cash grab."

That sounds reasonable, but falls apart on even cursory inspection. We have crushingly punitive fines for drunk driving, yet people still drink and drive. Despite the "excessive" fines for speeding, speeding is still near-universal among area drivers.

By your metric, fines should be radically increased, not decreased.

by oboe on Jun 3, 2013 7:32 am • linkreport

"We have crushingly punitive fines for drunk driving"

If by crushing you mean blowing a .12 (50% above legal) after rear ending someone at a stoplight (no one seriously hurt and it was a first offense), paying a $250 fine, $75 in court fees and $180 for 6 classes while never losing your liscense, then sure...it is "crushing".

This is in Arlington County, 6 months ago by the way.

$500 bucks and keeping your license isn't exactly what one would call crushing. Thats 5 speed tickets going 6 mph above the limit.

I agree with what some here and many at the Wapo indicated. This is heavy on drama and low on data. One would wonder why that is.

How many pedestrians and cyclists died in the District last year being hit by a car that WASN'T their own fault? Now I know the folks here excuse any and all biker or pedestrian transgression, but the rest of the world doesn't, and if you run your red or stop sign, or dart across the road midblock against the light and get hit, it isn't the drivers fault.

Back to the question. How many? 5, 10, 20?

Ok, now how many vehicle trips occured on DC streets last year? 100 million? (400K a day, 5 days a week, we will ignore weekends). Not exactly carnage.

3 times as many people died of gunshot wounds and we don't have 400K people a day walking DC streets strapped with a gun.

by DUI on Jun 3, 2013 8:49 am • linkreport

"Say it ain't so, Phil."

I've been a strong supporter of Phil Mendelson, but his proposals to use taxes to reduce speeding fines and to make it more difficult for MPD to do traffic enforcement, are just misguided. And it's not like MPD has been very strong in enforcing traffic/safety laws anyway.

by James on Jun 3, 2013 9:23 am • linkreport

It is the locations where the speed limits are BOTH too low AND there is no compelling pedestrian safety justification that they should be raised.

There are few places in DC where one can reasonably expect to find no pedestrians (hint: and they all have 95 in their name). Now I know people LOVE to complain about speed cameras on 395 for this reason but rarely do they offer actual evidence that the speed limit there isn't justified. And I've known about cameras there outside the tunnel since 2006/07 so you figure that most people should have just learned to adapt.

by drumz on Jun 3, 2013 9:44 am • linkreport

@James,

I've been a strong supporter of Phil Mendelson, but his proposals to use taxes to reduce speeding fines and to make it more difficult for MPD to do traffic enforcement, are just misguided.

Mendelson must maintain his reputation for impartiality. He has never failed to support DC's criminals in their endeavors, regardless of their crime, and he's not going to start discriminating now.

As the Police Union Spokesperson put it, "there's soft on crime, there's softer on crime, and then there's Phil Mendelson."

by oboe on Jun 3, 2013 10:01 am • linkreport

@Nino,

"There's an easy way to figure out where the speed limit is too low: it's the place where the cameras make the most money (in DC) or where the police regularly sits to check speeds (in Virginia). It's usually called a 'speed trap'..."

This argument is one of my pet peeves. If you're talking about rural Wyoming, or on I-66, then you may have a point. Look at "driver behavior" as an indicator of what "safe speed" should be.

But anywhere where there are (or are potential) pedestrians, that should absolutely not be the standard. Personally, I don't give a flying fig what speed drivers feel comfortable driving in residential neighborhoods around town. If they're wrong about what's "safe" they won't be the ones to pay the price.

It's a mindset that needs serious training to change: when you're in the city, and driving a car, your safety and comfort is not the singular factor that needs to be considered. And a lot of folks who spend all their time driving in the car-dependent suburbs have a really hard time getting that into their heads.

Which is also why we *should* have speed cameras at the various "gateways" to the city. It sends a message that the District takes protecting pedestrians and cyclists seriously.

by oboe on Jun 3, 2013 10:11 am • linkreport

@Oboe

That sounds reasonable, but falls apart on even cursory inspection. We have crushingly punitive fines for drunk driving, yet people still drink and drive. Despite the "excessive" fines for speeding, speeding is still near-universal among area drivers.

A big reason why people still speed is that there is hardly any enforcement of the existing laws - radars, cameras, patrols, whatever. Speeding is tolerated by police even though it is illegal, and it is not generally seen as dangerous among the people who do it. In places where the law is enforced more consistently, incidences of speeding have gone down. This really has very little to do with the dollar amount of the fine. But you already knew that.

by Scoot on Jun 3, 2013 10:13 am • linkreport

How many pedestrians and cyclists died in the District last year being hit by a car that WASN'T their own fault? Now I know the folks here excuse any and all biker or pedestrian transgression, but the rest of the world doesn't, and if you run your red or stop sign, or dart across the road midblock against the light and get hit, it isn't the drivers fault.

Good question. Would you care to answer it? Otherwise it sounds like you're just making stuff up.

In any case, your argument is somewhat tautological. So long as we tolerate wide-spread speeding in DC, any minor mistake made by a pedestrian or cyclist or child walking to school is likely to result in death or serious injury. That's why we should force drivers to slow to 20 mph in all residential neighborhoods. And 25 everywhere else in the city that's not a separated-grade highway.

If that means road redesigns, so be it. Though I'm not sure how you redesign the narrow one-way streets of my neighborhood to prevent the speeding that still occurs. Until we get road diets and the like, we should make enforcement universal.

by oboe on Jun 3, 2013 10:21 am • linkreport

Which is also why we *should* have speed cameras at the various "gateways" to the city. It sends a message that the District takes protecting pedestrians and cyclists seriously.

I think there is a good point here, to remind suburban drivers to slow down. But the reminder is fumbled because if comes in a letter some 3-4 weeks later, not when it is needed. Hence it does nothing to modify driving speeds in the residential neighborhoods. The cars STILL bomb down MY street, years after the speed cams were first installed.

by goldfish on Jun 3, 2013 10:53 am • linkreport

I have to wonder if those cars that are bombing down your street are even breaking the 11 MPH threshold needed to earn a ticket.

by MLD on Jun 3, 2013 11:07 am • linkreport

"There are few places in DC where one can reasonably expect to find no pedestrian"

"But anywhere where there are (or are potential) pedestrians, that should absolutely not be the standard."

Even if we give the district the benefit of the doubt regarding "revenue generation," supporters of camera enforcement are doing our selves a disservice by dismissing the issue out of hand with the above arguments. Arguing that cameras are justified just to enforce speed limits is only reasonable if we have unlimited resources to deploy all the cameras we want to deploy (or the political will to place them on every block). In the real world, we are resource constrained, and the limited number of cameras we deploy should absolutely be placed where the highest accident rates occur, not where the largest numbers of speeders occur. There is a difference, and that difference not only exacerbates the anti-camera sentiment, it also lessens the impact (the safety impact) of the camera enforcement program.

Will cameras on NY Ave result in a more safe and walkable avenue? probably. Will the camera in the tunnel on K street result in a more safe and walkable tunnel? probably not.

by CJ on Jun 3, 2013 11:07 am • linkreport

Will the camera in the tunnel on K street result in a more safe and walkable tunnel? probably not.

Those K street cameras certainly result in a safer environment at either end of that tunnel. There's a speed limit sign right there to tell you how fast you can go. I can't say I see the reason why we should let cars come screaming out of the end of that tunnel onto regular surface streets at whatever speed they want.

by MLD on Jun 3, 2013 11:10 am • linkreport

Is "John215" John Towsend? Some of his comments on the WaPo site sound like classic Townsend. If so, the Post should name and shame: you should not have lobbyists hiding behind anonymity.

by SJE on Jun 3, 2013 11:11 am • linkreport

I have to wonder if those cars that are bombing down your street are even breaking the 11 MPH threshold needed to earn a ticket.

There never has been a speed camera on my street, so the question is moot.

by goldfish on Jun 3, 2013 11:13 am • linkreport

@Falls Church: Now you can also say that we should not add a premium to fines for say jaywalking because increasing walking rates is a strategic goal of the city. I can agree with that too but that still leaves a lot of other laws. How about a $1000 fine for public drunkenness? That would generate a lot of revenue.

The difference here being that the drunk or the jaywalker are not a threat to anyone. Great big speeding hunks of metal, on the hand, are indeed a deadly weapon and the laws regulating them must be enforced accordingly.

by MetroDerp on Jun 3, 2013 11:18 am • linkreport

There never has been a speed camera on my street, so the question is moot.

But you said:
The cars STILL bomb down MY street, years after the speed cams were first installed.

Huh? Certainly you made it sound like speed cameras were installed yet did nothing. Or are you said that speed cameras in other places don't do anything to slow down people in general? What is your solution then?

You seem to want to just take potshots at speed cameras from every angle, even when what you're saying is contradictory.

by MLD on Jun 3, 2013 11:23 am • linkreport

@oboe It's a mindset that needs serious training to change: when you're in the city, and driving a car, your safety and comfort is not the singular factor that needs to be considered. And a lot of folks who spend all their time driving in the car-dependent suburbs have a really hard time getting that into their heads.

No, please. There are pedestrians in the car-dependent suburbs, too. The mindset also needs to change there (here).

by Miriam on Jun 3, 2013 11:28 am • linkreport

"I have to wonder if those cars that are bombing down your street are even breaking the 11 MPH threshold needed to earn a ticket."

There never has been a speed camera on my street, so the question is moot.

I think it's very relevant. I've argued here before that the greatest blocker to putting photo enforcement is the ridiculously high neighborhood speed limit. You're not breaking the law unless you're doing 36 mph. While 90% of drivers are speeding at any given point, they're rarely doing 35+ mph on a narrow residential street. But 30 is too damned fast. On some of these streets, 25 is too fast.

by oboe on Jun 3, 2013 11:29 am • linkreport

How many pedestrians and cyclists died in the District last year being hit by a car that WASN'T their own fault?

And how does that number compare with the number of pedestrians and cyclists who died in the District last year after being hit by a driver who WAS breaking the speed limit or some other traffic law?

by cminus on Jun 3, 2013 11:36 am • linkreport

oboe: I think it's very relevant. I've argued here before that the greatest blocker to putting photo enforcement is the ridiculously high neighborhood speed limit.

Yes 36 on my street is way too fast; 30 mph is too fast. Both are speeding, and there is nothing preventing the installation of speed cams set at 4 mph above the speed limit. And I agree, on my crowded street with a lot of little kids, 20 mph should be the limit.

So where are the neighborhood speed cams? And again, the current practice of sprinkling them around on the arteries than then mailing the tickets weeks later, do not cause the speeds to go down in the residential areas.

by goldfish on Jun 3, 2013 11:41 am • linkreport

@ MLD

That camera absolutely DOES NOT result in a safer and more walkable K street at each end of the tunnel. It does the opposite. If you want a safer and more walkable K street on each side of the tunnel, place the camera there, where the pedestrians are. Right now, the drivers I ssee there each morning and evening on my commute are speeding up as they exit the tunnel, after the camera, thereby introducing an extra safety hazard where none existed before.

by CJ on Jun 3, 2013 11:48 am • linkreport

To be clear, I'm neither advocating removal of the camera, nor a lower fine. I'm just saying that it is placed optimally for revenue generation, but not for decreased speeds at the zebra crossing a few hundred yards away. That's more than suspicious, and the crossing would be safer if the camera was proximally located. Right now, there's very sedate traffic in the tunnel, where no pedestrians are located, but a significant percentage of traffic has already sped up by the time they get to the heavy pedestrian area.

by CJ on Jun 3, 2013 11:52 am • linkreport

@CJ
The camera is at the end of the tunnel approximately 200 feet from a crosswalk. I believe it is still there.

https://www.google.com/maps?ll=38.870721,-77.011414&spn=0.360852,0.837021&cbp=12,86.79,,0,4.55&layer=c&panoid=KzIbAm3Y0ZGDyBQwtyShZA&cbll=38.902562,-77.052691&dg=opt&t=m&z=11

by MLD on Jun 3, 2013 12:22 pm • linkreport

Let's see: there's no sign that there is a significant national or local increase in pedestrian fatalities or accidents. NHTSA data shows that a large part are children and very elderly -- not a sign necessarily that speed and poor driving are the problem. One-third of pedestrians had blood-alcohol levels of 0.8 or higher vs 14% of the drivers.
(http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811625.pdf)
And then there is the fact that more ticketing and speed bumps all over the country have actually improved the situation, slowing drivers.
But here Alpert has declared a DC area emergency, that police and legislators must react and we must have a conscience-and-shame movement like that against drunk driving, divert major resources, to solve a problem caused by evil bad drivers.

Come off it. Compared to the deaths by murder and suicide, pedestrian traffic deaths of 4-5,000 a year nationally are not a "major challenge." I wonder which experts said that?

by polo on Jun 3, 2013 12:29 pm • linkreport

@polo Compared to 9/11, 4-5000 deaths _per_year_ is quite a major challenge.

Comparisons are pointless, solvable deaths ought be prevented, especially when there is little economic cost. All drivers need do is _follow_the_law_ and they won't be charged a dime. If they simply refuse to, well, the government can put the resulting fines to good use.

Recall, the criminals, the offenders, the ones at wrong here _are_the_drivers_ who use roads but ignore the speed restrictions.

by Rahul Mereand-Sinha on Jun 3, 2013 12:42 pm • linkreport

4000 to 5000 deaths a year, despite many people avoiding walking in many places due to its dangers. And yes, children and the elderly being frequent victims does not necessarily mean speed is not an issue. It could mean speed is a contributing factor. Or it could just mean that in many places children and the elderly are a disproportionate share of walkers.

But yes, murders and suicides are more numerous, and are challenges. Are you suggesting the internet sales tax revenue should be used for suicide prevention, rather than for lowering fines for traffic infractions?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 3, 2013 12:43 pm • linkreport

@ MLD. Yes, I know where it is. I do not believe the placement is optimal for reduced speed at the intersection. I base that observation on daily personal experience. I don't know how to say it any more clearly.

Drivers slow to 25 directly underneath the circle, as they approach the camera, and then speed up to make the light on the incline following the camera. Those 200 yards make a hell of a difference for the safety of the pedestrians at the intersection, and they also optimize the speed violations for cars under the circle.

by CJ on Jun 3, 2013 12:46 pm • linkreport

"Drivers slow to 25 directly underneath the circle, as they approach the camera, and then speed up to make the light on the incline following the camera. "

I guess they don't have the econ button on then, huh?

by EveryoneShouldDriveaCivic on Jun 3, 2013 12:51 pm • linkreport

CJ,

There are limits to where you can place the cameras. They have certain requirements for line of sight, measurement, etc. You likely can't move the camera too much further to the west without substantial visual interference from some of those trees with relatively low-hanging branches.

by Alex B. on Jun 3, 2013 12:55 pm • linkreport

@CJ

The camera is at the end of the incline around 200 feet from the crosswalk and can't catch you until you have passed the camera; I'm not sure where you could possibly place this camera that would get the enforcement zone any closer.

by MLD on Jun 3, 2013 12:55 pm • linkreport

@CJ

Personal experience eh?

Reminds me of this:

http://xkcd.com/277/

by Owen on Jun 3, 2013 12:59 pm • linkreport

@ Alex
The camera for this placement is in the median and could be at any point along the median. As a matter of fact, due to the incline, the current placement was probably the most technically challenging in comparison to the placements further up the incline and closer to the crosswalk.

@ MLD The camera in the picture you have posted is the red light camera, not the speed camera. The speed camera is set at the bottom of the incline, at the tunnel entrance, facing outward, in the median.

by CJ on Jun 3, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

We have crushingly punitive fines for drunk driving, yet people still drink and drive. Despite the "excessive" fines for speeding, speeding is still near-universal among area drivers.

By your metric, fines should be radically increased, not decreased.

First, I'll note that your argument does not justify setting fines at a level in excess of what's needed as a deterrent in order to generate revenue. You're arguing that the fine is not a sufficient deterrent. That's debatable. What I'm saying is that it's unfair to set fines/punishments -- for any crime -- over and above what's needed as a deterrent.

Now, you've introduced a new question. How severe do fines/punishments need to be to act as a deterrent? If people still drink and drive, is that evidence that the punishment is not reasonably severe enough? That's like asking that if muggings still happen, is that evidence that the punishment is not severe enough? Clearly, muggings and burglaries are still a big problem, so would you agree that punishments for those crimes should be radically increased?

That gets to an entire philosophical debate about how "tough on crime" we should be as a society. There's an argument to be made that we should radically increase the punishment for all crimes with the potential for physical harm until their frequency is sufficiently low.

The difference here being that the drunk or the jaywalker are not a threat to anyone. Great big speeding hunks of metal, on the hand, are indeed a deadly weapon and the laws regulating them must be enforced accordingly.

Which is why there is much more enforcement for speeding than jaywalking or public drunkenness. What you're saying doesn't affect my point that the punishment/fine should be proportional to the crime and no premium should be added merely to raise revenue.

by Falls Church on Jun 3, 2013 1:10 pm • linkreport

@ Owen

My personal experience was a warning during the trial period for the camera. love xkcd, that one pretty much applies to everyone here, no?

Look, I'm not interested in arguing this to death. I support camera enforcement. I even support camera enforcement at this location. I do not believe that the city is placing cameras for revenue generation. I do believe that they are preferencing speed reduction over pedestrian safety. I think that this camera in particular is a good example of how a camera placed for maximum citations is not the best placement for calming at the pedestrian exposure point. That, to me, is a waste of a camera.

by CJ on Jun 3, 2013 1:11 pm • linkreport

Certainty of punishment works in the other direction. Anyone who obeys the speed limit can count on being hassled for it. As Dr. Gridlock has written, if you obey the limit, you are almost certain to be tailgated. You also might get high-beams, honking, cursing, and the finger. The punishment for obeying the speed limit is vastly more certain than for disobeying.

by Steve Dunham on Jun 3, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

So where are the neighborhood speed cams?

Two things have to happen: First, MPD has to change the policy of giving drivers a 10 mph cushion. Until that happens there's never going to be any neighborhood speed cameras.

Secondly, the "lowest legal speed limit" in DC needs to be reduced from 25 to 20 mph. Currently, the law doesn't permit that. I believe Mary Cheh introduced legislation to do that last year but it was killed by the AAA and the pro-speeding lobby.

by oboe on Jun 3, 2013 1:39 pm • linkreport

The camera for this placement is in the median and could be at any point along the median.

No, it cannot. There are some specific requirements for the speed cameras; they need a certain amount of space and clear lines of sight into the measuring zone where the actual speeding is assessed. These are physical, geometric requirements.

MPD's site has a diagram showing some of the site requirements:

http://mpdc.dc.gov/page/photo-radar-operation

All of this is to say that you might be right, a location closer to the crosswalk might be better - but what I am saying is that location may not be technically feasible.

by Alex B. on Jun 3, 2013 1:41 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church wrote:

The fine is by definition disproportionate when it's set higher than what's a reasonable deterrent for commitihe crime.

...then wrote...

You're arguing that the fine is not a sufficient deterrent. That's debatable. What I'm saying is that it's unfair to set fines/punishments -- for any crime -- over and above what's needed as a deterrent.

Aren't we just engaging in sophistry at this point? I assumed when you said we needed to reduce speed tickets because they're excessive to what's needed as a deterrent you meant a "sufficient deterrent" not an "insufficient deterrent" or some such thing.

by oboe on Jun 3, 2013 1:46 pm • linkreport

oboe: I believe the speed limit in alleys is 15 mph.

by goldfish on Jun 3, 2013 2:12 pm • linkreport

@goldfish,

yeah, I think school zones and alleys are specifically exempted from the "25 mph or higher" regs.

Earlier this month, council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), proposed lowering the speed limits on residential streets, with some exceptions, to 15 miles per hour. It would have lowered limits by 10 miles on most of those streets, bringing them into line with school zones and alleys.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-parenting/post/dc-council-members-propose-lower-speed-limits-on-residential-streets/2011/11/23/gIQAKlep9N_blog.html

by oboe on Jun 3, 2013 3:00 pm • linkreport

It would have lowered limits by 10 miles on most of those streets, bringing them into line with school zones and alleys.

Oh, and I don't think I've ever seen a car doing 15 mph when dropping my kid off at school in the morning. Usually they're accelerating to make the light as they race by the "15 mph" sign.

by oboe on Jun 3, 2013 3:34 pm • linkreport

Nino: There is shockingly poor logic at work here. Cameras making money don't determine overly-low speed limits, and neither do the related intuitions of drivers.

We have to determine what speed and number of driving lanes, transit lanes, and width of sidewalks accommodates sufficient travellers safely (and that means safely for all modes of travel). Sufficiency is defined by the needs of this community.

Speaking of automotive commuters, extra-jurisdictional commuters matter to District policy only to the extent that they provide District citizens more value than they cost. It's nice to have a tax base, but with the Congressional mandate that the District not tax the income of non-residents (a restriction no state has), the value of suburbanites to the city is very limited, and so accommodation for them will be equally limited, confined to the needs of District-located nongovernmental businesses. Certainly, their preferred driving style is of no interest, given the transit alternatives open to them.

by Rahul Mereand-Sinha on Jun 3, 2013 4:55 pm • linkreport

I'd like to see higher fines in areas with lower speed limits. Doing 35 in a 25 zone is not the same as 65 in a 55 zone.

by SJE on Jun 3, 2013 8:31 pm • linkreport

@MLD: Huh? Certainly you made it sound like speed cameras were installed yet did nothing. Or are you said that speed cameras in other places don't do anything to slow down people in general? What is your solution then?

You seem to want to just take potshots at speed cameras from every angle, even when what you're saying is contradictory.

Not contradictory; you are just having a little trouble following.

1. @oboe (I'm paraphrasing): 'we need speed cameras at the borders, to get people to slow down in residential neighborhoods'
2. me: but have had them a long time now, and the speeds (in my neighborhood at least) are not any slower.
3. me: ... and I agree that the speeds in residential areas should be lower. Here is a suggestion to accomplish that:
  a. actually put the cameras in the neighborhood, and
  b. lower the "tolerance" to 4 mph above the posted limit.

Clear?

by goldfish on Jun 3, 2013 10:50 pm • linkreport

@goldfish, the District would do well to follow in the footsteps of many other jurisdictions and implement an "aggressive driving" law. Sure, automated enforcement can't really catch this and I don't see the cops doing enforcement either, but it would be a nice and effective add-on to certain tickets. FE, in Pittsburgh, they aggressively ticket tailgaters for aggressive driving, and that (large) fine can be tacked on to the other fines in the case of a collision if it's obvious the violating driver should have been able to stop or merge if they weren't being a grade-A jerk.

For now, safe drivers would do well to ignore bullies. I ignore them regularly. Oh, so sorry that you are beeping at me for going something resembling the speed limit...I just don't care what their hurry is. Pass me (at your own risk), beep at me, flash your lights at me...whatever. I understand that this attitude is harder to adopt when you're not in a car with thousands of pounds of steel and technology protecting you, and I AM more defensive when less protected, but when I'm driving, I'm doing so safely and legally. If another driver has a problem with that (and boy do I have some stories), let THEM be the idiot at their own risk. It's not worth risking my life or the lives of others to "give in" to a bully and speed up or carelessly turn or merge.

by Ms. D on Jun 3, 2013 11:22 pm • linkreport

Clear?

Now it's clear, but you posted #3 after my post - impossible to "follow" before something is said. In general it seems like that part of the solution is often left unsaid in order to just complain about cameras.

Most of us think that we need more cameras in neighborhoods. You won't get that by complaining about the ineffectiveness of the cameras that currently exist though - your comments will just be put in the "hates cameras" box, both by the public listening to you and your elected officials.

by MLD on Jun 4, 2013 8:58 am • linkreport

@goldfish
Certainly you've heard the phrase, "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

by MLD on Jun 4, 2013 8:59 am • linkreport

@MLD: Certainly you've heard the phrase, "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

Red light and speed cameras are enforcement tools. Like any other tool, they can be used well, or badly. Pointing out about how these tools do not actually reduce speed in residential areas is nothing to "being the enemy of the good." This is being the enemy of the bad.

by goldfish on Jun 4, 2013 9:21 am • linkreport

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