Greater Greater Washington

Roads


Frequent enforcement, better data needed for road safety

Today at noon, DC Councilmember Phil Mendelson is holding a hearing on bicycle and pedestrian safety enforcement. Here is my draft testimony. Comments are welcome.


Photo by mrflip on Flickr.

Mr. Chairman,

Last April, Constance Holden was bicycling home from her job at the journal Science when a military truck backed over her while setting up for a motorcade, killing her. The National Guard said that they are sorry, but that's all that ever happened, at least as far as has been reported. Has anything even been done to try to prevent this from happening again?

In July, 10-year-old Zachary Hodges, a visitor to Washington with his family, was killed crossing a street in Georgetown. Initial reports said the incident was "under investigation," but as far as I can tell from searching, no further information was ever released nor any other steps taken.

No other kind of human death seems to yield so little concern and action. Children choking lead to product recalls. Children caught in the crossfire of drug wars lead to increased police presence and debates over how to fight gangs. But children killed in the streets are too often simply dismissed as inevitable and disregarded.

It doesn't have to be this way. We know what behavior is dangerous. Speeding is dangerous. Making hasty turns, trying to beat a light, without looking for people on bikes or on foot is dangerous. People can still reach their destinations fairly quickly without resorting to these behaviors.

Our goal must not be to exact crippling revenge on people who honestly make mistakes, but neither can we simply throw up our hands and say, "it was an accident," and write off these fatalities as inevitable. They are entirely avoidable through better behavior by all road users, enforcement against dangerous behavior, and better road design.

I want to discuss two specific ways we can take immediate steps toward solving this problem: deploying more traffic cameras and releasing better data.

Psychologically, facing a very severe penalty for a crime, but a very low chance of being caught, doesn't change people's behavior. That's why cranking up sentence lengths hasn't stopped crime. Instead, if someone knows there's a good chance they'll get caught but may not be as severely punished if they are, they're much less likely to break that law.

This applies to traffic just as it does to street crime. A recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study found that traffic cameras, even with small penalties, are very effective at reducing fatal traffic crashes, far more than police sitting on the rare street corner to pull over drivers.

Therefore, I hope you will fully support MPD's current effort to deploy more cameras that detect a wider range of dangerous driving behavior.

Secondly, we need better information about these incidents. Where are these crashes occurring? Why? What have the consequences been?

Greater Greater Washington, Struck in DC, TBD On Foot, and other blogs and news outlets have been trying to report on the crashes that take place every day. The purpose is to raise awareness among all road users, and to help residents and policymakers better understand the problem so we may better find fair and equitable solutions.

However, while serious crashes draw press reports of the initial incident, we have been unable to reliably get reports of more minor incidents, besides the DDOT data which comes out only yearly. For a time, a public information officer for DC Fire and EMS was reporting via Twitter most incidents where a pedestrian or cyclist was struck. However, more recently these reports have slowed dramatically, and they never encompassed all crashes.

Likewise, it is very difficult if not impossible to get copies of police reports of a crash, and to find out how the issue was ultimately disposed of.

Just as many DC agencies have created feeds of downloadable data for 311 requests, reported crimes, building permit applications, and more, I'd like to see Fire and EMS publish a feed of incidents to which they respond. Then, MPD should devise a process to release the reports from crash investigations, along with whether those investigations led to a ticket, a referral to prosecutors, or no action at all.

A number of countries have adopted "Vision Zero" initiatives which set concrete targets for reducing fatalities on the roadways. We can and should do the same. We can't eliminate every crash, but we can stop many of them, and effective enforcement is key. With better data, residents can better understand the causes and policy analysts can determine the easiest and best ways of reducing fatalities. Thank you.

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. 

Comments

Add a comment »

This is a very well written and persuasive letter. Bravo.

by jcm on Feb 4, 2011 11:09 am • linkreport

I wish I could be there today. I would push for MPD to study which traffic violations cause the most crashes/injuries/deaths. Then enforce those. The fact is that more is done to enforce proper automobile registration than speeding or biking at night without lights. We need to make goals (fewer deaths, injuries and crashes) and then target our enforcement resources toward achieving those goals.

by David C on Feb 4, 2011 11:20 am • linkreport

If you referring the Feb 1 IIHS report, I didn't see anything about red light cameras reducing the number of traffic violations.

They did find a reduction in the number of fatal accidents, but you have to balance that against the increase in number of non-fatal accidents.

by charlie on Feb 4, 2011 11:42 am • linkreport

David,

I would encourage you to report on the multiple incidents where bicyclists and pedestrians have been discouraged or prevented from filing police reports for traffic incidents (I'm thinking specifically of Metropolitan Branch Trail incidents, but there are a lot to choose from.)

Making procedure clear to police officers through retraining, making sure they know how to support bicyclists and pedestrians and actively ticketing reckless drivers (and bicyclists, too, when necessary) are key elements to improving pedestrian safety in DC.

I personally think this is a bigger issue than red light cameras, though those are key as well.

Thank you for testifying!

by Allison on Feb 4, 2011 11:47 am • linkreport

Well the moral of the story is use a car if you want to murder someone as you won't even get a ticket.

by Curious George on Feb 4, 2011 11:58 am • linkreport

Thanks for speaking David. I couldn't agree with the sentiment more.

by Geof Gee on Feb 4, 2011 12:32 pm • linkreport

If you use your car to someone you might not be ticketed. You will, however, be charged with murder if caught.

If you use a gun to kill someone, you will not be ticketed. You will not be charged for murder if it was an accident.

If I beat you to death in front of a crowd of 100 people, you will not be ticketed. Apparently in DC you won't be charged with murder and/or manslaughter either.

Not sure what all the proves....other than remedial Crim Law classes might be a good idea.

by charlie on Feb 4, 2011 12:35 pm • linkreport

I agree with the concept and the argument, but cameras are not the solution. Such automated traffic enforcement denies the person being charged (the car owner, who may or may not have even been driving) the ability to make a reasonable case to living human being at the time the charge is made. Cameras also fail when it comes making a reasonable judgment about who to ticket and who not to ticket. More enforcement is needed, but this isn't the right way to do it. Please stop advocating for a poor solution. Let's come up with an idea that preserves everyone's rights, keeps everyone safe, and makes rational sense instead.

by Hill Guy on Feb 4, 2011 12:38 pm • linkreport

Such automated traffic enforcement denies the person being charged (the car owner, who may or may not have even been driving) the ability to make a reasonable case to living human being at the time the charge is made.

You haven't come close to making that case, though. No one's rights are being violated. Why on Earth does this right to "make a reasonable case to a living human being at the time the charge is made"?

Red light cameras document that your car had not yet entered the intersection after the light had turned red, and that your car subsequently entered the intersection while the light was red. We don't care if you were fiddling with the radio, or if you were late for a meeting, or if you were a cute blonde who can cry on command.

Same with speed limit cameras. Everybody's got a great excuse for why they can't obey the speed limit in residential areas with lots of foot traffic, schools, kids, etc... Not sure why you can't mail it in after the fact.

If these cameras can document drivers who violate pedestrian ROW in crosswalks, we should install one every ten yards.

by oboe on Feb 4, 2011 12:56 pm • linkreport

"Psychologically, facing a very severe penalty for a crime, but a very low chance of being caught, doesn't change people's behavior. That's why cranking up sentence lengths hasn't stopped crime. "

I agree that evidence is mounting that this perspective is correct, but I believe it missing the point. I believe penalties for causing accidents must be significantly higher.

You might not get caught if you speed or run a red light, but if you get in an accident, you will be caught. We just don't prosecute these people. These slaps on the wrist aren't doing anything. When you drive a car, you are operating a deadly weapon. You should be as responsible as if you were wielding a machete on the Metro. As @charlie says, we're not prosecuting a wide variety of crimes, but we should be.

A rigid rules-based society like in present-day Germany is not the answer.

by movement on Feb 4, 2011 12:57 pm • linkreport

"Such automated traffic enforcement denies the person being charged (the car owner, who may or may not have even been driving) the ability to make a reasonable case to living human being at the time the charge is made"

OK - I'll bite on this one. What's an example of a reasonable case for speeding? And why is it impossible to challenge the ticket and make that case in court?

"Cameras also fail when it comes making a reasonable judgment about who to ticket and who not to ticket."

Sure - all cameras do is simply ticket those who speed and not ticket those who don't. Unlike a patrol officer who may only ticket motorists with out of state plates or with a certain racial profile.

by JeffB on Feb 4, 2011 12:58 pm • linkreport

"Likewise, it is very difficult if not impossible to get copies of police reports of a crash, and to find out how the issue was ultimately disposed of."

"Then, MPD should devise a process to release the reports from crash investigations, along with whether those investigations led to a ticket, a referral to prosecutors, or no action at all."

I'm not sure what you're talking about when you're discussing the difficulty of obtaining accident reports. It also appears that you've never looked at a D.C. accident report. The basic accident report (PD-10) is publicly available and can obtained for free from any police station if you're involved or for a small fee if you're not. It takes about a minute to pull up any report. All PD-10s have a section indicating what, if any, enforcement action was taken.

What I think you're asking for is the investigatory reports from Major Crash. Major Crash only gets involved in certain kinds of accidents including fatalities. They're more akin to Detectives and I know that their reports are not publicly available outside of FOIA requests. I'm not sure if there's a compelling need for the public to have the investigatory report over the PD-10.

As for data collection, there's going to be flaws in the underlying data collection when it comes to accidents. In D.C., unless the vehicle is disabled, there's injury, the vehicle is a taxi cab or a diplomat, and some other factors, no report is taken. Minor fender benders don't generate any sort of report and are cleared with an exchange of information. Any data generated from reports will has a bias towards more serious accidents.

by Boomhauer on Feb 4, 2011 1:04 pm • linkreport

I agree on all points in this post. There is a lot that can and should be done to increase driver accountability and eliminate reckless driving.

However, as both a driver and as a pedestrian who has been struck, something has to be done about enforcing pedestrian laws as well. It makes it extremely difficult to be a safe driver that legitimately cares about pedestrian safety when pedestrians themselves don't seem to care. Jaywalking in the middle of the street and ignoring crosswalk signals are both dangerous and ticket-able offense, but I encounter people doing these things every time I drive. I have even seen jaywalking right in front of cops, who don't seem to blink.

When I was hit by a car, I was jaywalking. As physically and emotionally damaging as that incident was for me, I feel terrible for the driver as well, because he wasn't doing anything wrong, and I know it was a terrible experience for him as well. Even for the most cautious and conscientious driver, only so much can be done when others are breaking the rules around you. Road safety is an issue for EVERYONE who uses the roads.

by AS on Feb 4, 2011 1:23 pm • linkreport

To the comments by JeffB and oboe I'll just add that in most cases, we do not really need to know who the driver was either. These are strict liability offenses, and as long as we know which car committed the violation, we know which car to impound if the owner does not pay the fine. (If the car was stolen, that's a special case.) If two or three different people use the same car, they can sort out among themselves who (if anyone) should reimburse the owner for the fine.

The suggestion that minor but voluminous traffic violations require the time of a police offer is laughable, little more than a smokescreen from people who either (a) really do not want to see the enforcement, (b) want to see the city triple the number of police officers, or (c) are failing to think through the fact that actual enforcement requires either automation or a trebling of the number of officers.

by JimT on Feb 4, 2011 1:29 pm • linkreport

Cameras everywhere. Sure sounds Orwellian to me.

by Lance on Feb 4, 2011 1:45 pm • linkreport

As I recall, the penalties in 1984 were somewhat greater than a traffic ticket.

by JimT on Feb 4, 2011 1:52 pm • linkreport

@oboe Same with speed limit cameras. Everybody's got a great excuse for why they can't obey the speed limit in residential areas with lots of foot traffic, schools, kids, etc... Not sure why you can't mail it in after the fact.

Actually, I like to hear all the bicyclists chime in on this. We've heard ad nauseum from bicyclists why its sometimes justifiable to 'bend' the law. And I've actually heard it so much that I'm buying in on it. I.e., Laws are only meant to portray what you do under very defined circumstances and reason comes in to play in adapting them under circumstances where logic tells you that situation meant to be covered by that law aren't really in place in a given circumstance.

For example, ... traffic is moving along fine through an intersection ... then suddenly on the other side of the intersection a pedestrian decides to walk across (despite a 'don't walk' signal) and the car at the far end must stop ... and you having already entered the intersection --- not anticipating that the pedestrian would bring all traffic to a standstill --- get stuck in that intersection. A cop could use reason to know that you're not in their 'trying to beat the light' ... a red light camera can't.

Punishing people when they shouldn't be being punished is one problem with trying to mechanize enforcement. The other is the opposite ... Once the enforcement and criteria for enforcement leaves the sphere of human judgement, it becomes easier for malfeasants to 'game' the system and be 'technically' within the letter of the law ... but be outside of it. For example, automate all enforcement ... and what's to keep that driver from not stopping for the pedestrian illegally running out in front of them? I mean, now they'll have recorded proof that they were within there right to proceed ... they had the green light ...and can prove it.

There's a reason why leaving enforcement to people capable of making human judgements is far far preferable to mechanising enforcement. We're humans and not machines. For the same human reason that that driver should stop anyways for the pedestrian, even if he/she has the right of way, there are equally valid reasons why drivers should always get a ticket if they get stuck 'blocking the box' and 'exceeding the speed limit' or whatever. Just like there are valid reasons and times that a bicyclist doesn't need to stop at a red light. And we can't possibly model all the possible reasons and circumstances into 'laws' that can be applied without reason and without thought.

by Lance on Feb 4, 2011 1:59 pm • linkreport

Lance speeding on Connecticut Avenue: sure sounds dangerous to me.........

by rg on Feb 4, 2011 2:00 pm • linkreport

*but be outside of the spirit it.

by Lance on Feb 4, 2011 2:01 pm • linkreport

* are equally valid reasons why drivers should NOT always get a ticket

by Lance on Feb 4, 2011 2:02 pm • linkreport

Those bashing the red light cameras realize that each and every potential ticket is reviewed by human eyes before the ticket is issued, right?

by Alex B. on Feb 4, 2011 2:07 pm • linkreport

For example, ... traffic is moving along fine through an intersection ... then suddenly on the other side of the intersection a pedestrian decides to walk across (despite a 'don't walk' signal) and the car at the far end must stop ... and you having already entered the intersection --- not anticipating that the pedestrian would bring all traffic to a standstill --- get stuck in that intersection. A cop could use reason to know that you're not in their 'trying to beat the light' ... a red light camera can't

This is an excellent example. The red light tickets I've received have shown to photos: the first one has my car not yet having entered the intersection, but also the traffic light, and the traffic light is red. The second one shows my car *in* the intersection, and the traffic light is still red. So, yes, in the case of red-light cameras, the system does "know" if you're in the intersection because one of those deuced scofflaw pedestrians.

by oboe on Feb 4, 2011 2:11 pm • linkreport

Lance has got more footnotes than David Foster Wallace.

by oboe on Feb 4, 2011 2:12 pm • linkreport

automate all enforcement ... and what's to keep that driver from not stopping for the pedestrian illegally running out in front of them? I mean, now they'll have recorded proof that they were within there right to proceed ... they had the green light ...and can prove it.

I think that argument is usually (mistakenly) attributed to Dostoevsky. (i.e. "without God, all is permitted"). I think generally the answer is the same for why we don't roast and eat our children: that most of us aren't moral monsters. Heh.

by oboe on Feb 4, 2011 2:18 pm • linkreport

"For example, ... traffic is moving along fine through an intersection ... then suddenly on the other side of the intersection a pedestrian decides to walk across (despite a 'don't walk' signal) and the car at the far end must stop ... and you having already entered the intersection --- not anticipating that the pedestrian would bring all traffic to a standstill --- get stuck in that intersection. A cop could use reason to know that you're not in their 'trying to beat the light' ... a red light camera can't."

I think this is wrong. I believe red light cameras are only triggered if you ENTER the intersection AFTER the red light. If you entered before the red light an happened to get stuck the camera will not record that as a violation.

by JeffB on Feb 4, 2011 2:19 pm • linkreport

Lance: It's a question of balance--but I think we are already there anyway. Take bank fees, and the cascading set of fees you get from other agencies and merchants if a bank mistake means an underpayment.

There we are getting fees for extremely minor mistakes where one is essentially tripped up, and then faces a choice between several hours of bureaucracy or just letting it go.

The proposed automatic fines are of the same magnitude, but with a greater social purpose to discourage traffic infractions which almost always involve greater culpability than what one does to get dinged for a bank fees.

But note: some of your hypotheticals can be avoided with correct design. Several photos on where you were throughout the progression can identify whether you ran a light or stopped in the intersection.

Ultimately, let's remember that these are essentially civil fines even if they are characterized as strict liability criminal. For a serious felonyt, it may be better to let 100 guilty go free than to send one innocent person to prison. But for a $50 fine, we can accept a higher error rate. All of life has a certain amount of error, we just learn to accept it and try to minimize it. (And I am not sure that the error rate of auto traffic enforcement really is higher than the error rate of juries looking at felonies, even if it is a higher rate than error rate of a cop who saw it happen). Letting the guilty drive badly without punishment wreaks a certain cost that is probably greater than a few unfair $50 fines.

The notion that government should never harm anyone is admirable, but always falls by the wayside when we decide to actually accomplish something. I would gladly take 1 un-deserved traffic ticket per year in return for seeing a general compliance of all traffic laws by everybody (though I am not convinced that the error rate is so high that I would get that many).

by JimT on Feb 4, 2011 2:26 pm • linkreport

"Those bashing the red light cameras realize that each and every potential ticket is reviewed by human eyes before the ticket is issued, right?"

And you realize that the photo is a snapshot of the event, right, that may or may not explain the whole situation?

I am with the camp that's against increased automated enforcement. From my experience as someone who bikes to work but occasionally drives to further destinations, I think the single biggest cause for speeding and cutting lights close is the knowledge that if I miss one light, I'll have to stop at every one for the next two miles. If I knew that I would stop for a light with less frequency, and each light was not a full minute of idling, I'd feel less inclined to beat the yellow.

Of course that would require the transit-focused commerati to accept the fact that all drivers are not the enemy, and that while reducing vehicular traffic is a laudable goal, it should not mean the constant focus on discouraging penalties. There are already disincentives such as the overall cost of owning a vehicle, our #1 worst traffic in the nation, parking, etc., without also being the only method of transportation that is under constant surveillance for fines.

I understand that cars can cause more damage than a pedestrian, but other people have also brought up the fact that the rules are being broken, consistently, by all classes of travel.

And why should I do the government's work for them by determining liability for a civil violation? If you lend your neighbor paint, and he proceeds to vandalize a building, would you like the police to mail you a ticket and let you spend time either collecting, fighting, or paying?

by mtpdc on Feb 4, 2011 2:27 pm • linkreport

@JeffB; "If you entered before the red light an happened to get stuck the camera will not record that as a violation."

AlexB is correct; it isn't the camera system, this would come out on human review.

How much is Phil Mendleson getting from the red light camera companies? anyone give me a quick primer on searching DC campaign finance reports?

by charlie on Feb 4, 2011 2:28 pm • linkreport

each and every potential ticket is reviewed by human eyes before the ticket is issued
...which is not the same as have a hearing where you can present a defense.

by goldfish on Feb 4, 2011 2:30 pm • linkreport

@mtpdc

I think many of your objections stem from a misunderstanding of the system.

The system is not triggered until a car passes over the sensors when the light is already red:

http://mpdc.dc.gov/mpdc/cwp/view,a,1240,q,547914,mpdcNav_GID,1552,mpdcNav,|31885|.asp

Two photos are taken - one showing the car crossing the sensor, placed before the intersection, while the light is red. The second will show the car in the intersection, also while the light is red.

After the cameras have been triggered, each potential violation is then reviewed by a human to determine if a violation actually occurred, and they then send out the fine and notice.

Explanations of the scenario are welcome, but that does not change the fact that this is an obvious violation. This isn't someone that just barely got through a yellow light, this is someone entering an intersection on red. Period.

Running red lights is against the law.

by Alex B. on Feb 4, 2011 2:36 pm • linkreport

@Goldfish

Of course you can get a hearing to dispute the ticket. Why would you possibly think that you could not?

A ticket issued through the District of Columbia's Automated Traffic Enforcement Program is the same as any other moving ticket issued within the city limits. You may pay the fine, which is an admission of guilt, adjudicate the citation via mail or request a hearing. Adjudication for photo-enforced violations is handled at the Department of Motor Vehicles, Adjudication Services, located at 301 C Street, NW. Specific instructions are included on the back of each NOI that is mailed. Failure to respond to the ticket, either by paying the fine or requesting a hearing within the specified time frame, can result in additional fees and penalties.

http://mpdc.dc.gov/mpdc/cwp/view,a,1240,Q,547900,mpdcNav_GID,1552,mpdcNav,|31885|,.asp

by Alex B. on Feb 4, 2011 2:38 pm • linkreport

AlexB is correct; it isn't the camera system, this would come out on human review.

Both AlexB and JeffB are correct. Each violation is reviewed by a human being, *and* the system can determine if you entered the intersection before the light changed:

http://mpdc.dc.gov/mpdc/cwp/view,a,1240,q,547914,mpdcNav_GID,1552,mpdcNav,%7C31885%7C.asp

by oboe on Feb 4, 2011 2:45 pm • linkreport

I think another benefit from having plenty of camera coverage would be to stop drivers from accelerating when the light turns yellow.

It's been awhile but I recall that driving manuals all say that when you see a yellow light you should SLOW AND PREPARE TO STOP. Unfortunately the typical reaction to any Yellow light has become to SPEED UP and run through the intersection as quick as you can.

by JeffB on Feb 4, 2011 3:01 pm • linkreport

WABA and bike testimony at the Public Safety Committee is pretty entertaining:

http://octt.dc.gov/services/video/channel_13.shtm

by oboe on Feb 4, 2011 3:04 pm • linkreport

"It's been awhile but I recall that driving manuals all say that when you see a yellow light you should SLOW AND PREPARE TO STOP. Unfortunately the typical reaction to any Yellow light has become to SPEED UP and run through the intersection as quick as you can."

Amen.

by charlie on Feb 4, 2011 3:05 pm • linkreport

It's been awhile but I recall that driving manuals all say that when you see a yellow light you should SLOW AND PREPARE TO STOP. Unfortunately the typical reaction to any Yellow light has become to SPEED UP and run through the intersection as quick as you can.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YT7VETA6sk#t=00m36s

by MLD on Feb 4, 2011 3:13 pm • linkreport

@alex -- never said you could not get a hearing. OTOH, I am sure you know that disputing a ticket generally requires taking time off work. The calculus for a ticket is, is it worth my time to fight this?

That is what rankles about these things -- when a human write you a ticket, and appears opposite you in a hearing, you know that you are being met with somebody else's valuable time (regardless if that person is paid to do so). A person ticket writer more than likely would not waste his/her time writing a ticket that will not stand up. These red light boxes cheapen your time, and so they can go after anything, whether or not it will hold up. The poor guy at the other end then gets to decide if the $100 is worth the trouble, given that the odds are against him, regardless of whether the ticket was deserved.

Ah! you say -- that is the point of these boxes, it makes it cheaper to enforce the law. When does it become too cheap? As everybody 'round here joins the "more enforcement" chorus, it seams clear that most of you never fought a ticket you did not deserve.

by goldfish on Feb 4, 2011 3:20 pm • linkreport

I don't have much of a problem with additional speeding and/or red light cameras. I think using the cameras to try to enforce failure to yield or blocking the box is a mistake though, as there's much more room for shades of gray with those types of violations, and DC's appeals process is inadequate.

If you want to appeal, you are discouraged from seeking an in-person hearing. Hearings by mail can drag on for months with no reply, during which time you have to continue to keep the full cost of the infraction in reserve in case you end up having to pay it. DMV answers email followups sporadically if at all, and telephone calls are routed to individuals who are unable to answer your questions. If DMV wants to create a functioning appeals process, then maybe we can consider adding infractions to the automatic monitoring list.

by Nate on Feb 4, 2011 3:21 pm • linkreport

Thanks, Alex B. Red light cameras have been around for a few years now, and I'm fully aware of how they work.

They still does nothing to address the points that 1. violation enforcement is only geared to autos, 2. there's a huge incentive to break the law that could be considered, and 3. increasing photo enforcement pushes administrative costs (in time and effort to deal with violations that you yourself didn't commit) onto citizens.

It's easy to say more cameras for more offenses, but I'd rather look into ways other than having a camera on every corner to entice people to obey traffic rules.

by mtpdc on Feb 4, 2011 3:25 pm • linkreport

@goldfish:

C'mon. The reason scofflaw drivers love human enforcement is that a) they know it almost never happens, and that if it does b) they can often talk their way out of it, or c) show up in traffic court and hope the ticketing officer doesn't show up.

by oboe on Feb 4, 2011 3:33 pm • linkreport

@mtpdc:

I think Alex B assumed you didn't know how they worked since you said, "you realize that the photo is a snapshot of the event, right, that may or may not explain the whole situation?" That's not the case. The violation notice is *two* photos, and generally explains the situation quite well.

by oboe on Feb 4, 2011 3:35 pm • linkreport

@oboe -- ever had a hearing? I guess not -- it is not easy to win. And will consume 3-4 hours of your leave, all told, not including your preparation.

by goldfish on Feb 4, 2011 3:36 pm • linkreport

@goldfish,

@oboe -- ever had a hearing? I guess not -- it is not easy to win. And will consume 3-4 hours of your leave, all told, not including your preparation.

Generally speaking, I take responsibility for my transgressions: pay my penalty, and move on. Rare in this day and age, I know, but generally I think wasting taxpayer money via frivolous challenges is anti-social behavior. We should keep those resources available for people that have a legitimate grievance.

by oboe on Feb 4, 2011 3:41 pm • linkreport

What about this scenario?
You're in gridlock but you're near the end, maybe going southbound on Rt. 1 approaching Franklin St. in Alexandria. The quicker cars get through that intersection, the quicker the gridlock in Old Town will alleviate. However, there is a traffic light. Speeds are slow and there are almost no pedestrians there so it is not a traffic safety issue. But you had better stop at that light before it turns red or you'll get an unfriendly letter in the mail. And if someone in a MetroAccess van rear ends you because he thought you would go through the yellow light well too bad. Hope you have good insurance.

Remember that most laws allow prosecution, they don't require prosecution. Adjudication should be at the discretion of law enforcement officials.

by movement on Feb 4, 2011 3:46 pm • linkreport

@oboe: And when you are innocent, how does it feel to eat the $100 fine? Well, you say, then it is worth it to get the hearing. But that will cost you too, so either way you lose.

That (well-meaning) person that reviews the photo is actually the judge. But you are not there to defend yourself. That is not justice.

by goldfish on Feb 4, 2011 3:53 pm • linkreport

What about this scenario?
You're in gridlock but you're near the end, maybe going southbound on Rt. 1 approaching Franklin St. in Alexandria. The quicker cars get through that intersection, the quicker the gridlock in Old Town will alleviate. However, there is a traffic light. Speeds are slow and there are almost no pedestrians there so it is not a traffic safety issue. But you had better stop at that light before it turns red or you'll get an unfriendly letter in the mail. And if someone in a MetroAccess van rear ends you because he thought you would go through the yellow light well too bad. Hope you have good insurance.

Sure, I'll take a stab at it: let's see. If the light is yellow, you may cross the "stop" line. If it's red, you may not. The presence of the angry MetroAccess van driver is irrelevant. Your not entering the intersection in this scenario has the added benefit of you being less likely to "block the box."

Do I need to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk if I'm being followed by a van full of angry meth-heads

by oboe on Feb 4, 2011 3:57 pm • linkreport

From: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2011/02/the-hook.html

"Two people have died in the last 10 years from drinking unpasteurized milk. Twelve states have banned it. By comparison, between two and twelve children die every year playing high school football. When will high school football be banned?"

by Jasper on Feb 4, 2011 3:57 pm • linkreport

@goldfish:

And when you are innocent, how does it feel to eat the $100 fine?

I'll let you know if I'm ever in that situation. Since I'm a grown-up--and don't spend much time complaining about how nothing that ever happens to me is my fault--it's never come up.

by oboe on Feb 4, 2011 4:01 pm • linkreport

The same people that call for human beings to enforce the laws probably cried about speed traps in the years before cameras went up. The problem with having the police enforce traffic is that it's enforced unfairly. Someone already mentioned racial profiling, but it goes beyond that. How fair is it that you get caught and while the cop is writing up your ticket everyone "speeds" by you. The camera catches everyone, not just one person. It's the fairest "tax" there is, if you call it a tax. You actually don't have to pay if you choose to not speed.

I think this discussion goes well beyond this rabbit-hole conversion about situations that everyone is writing about...it's about the culture of driving we've had in this country for decades, a culture of pride at evading traffic laws. People glee about how they can beat the speed limit or how they can get out of tickets, etc. I have a friend who romanticizes the "good old days" when everyone had "a friend" at the DMV who fixed their tickets for them. It was a game and drivers prided themselves and how they can win at the game, get their double-parking, speeding, parking tickets fixed. Now the law is catching up and the culture is changing, drivers are getting upset. They can't beat the camera, they can't get their tickets fixed, they're getting busted for double-parking, the world is caving in on them. The car is no longer the king in DC...

by dc denizen on Feb 4, 2011 4:04 pm • linkreport

The implication here that beating tickets is a game but actually such people deserved the ticket, misses the reason for the justice system. Without a hearing the police are unchecked, which I hope we all realize is pernicious. Automated enforcement means an guilty until proven innocent.

by goldfish on Feb 4, 2011 4:21 pm • linkreport

People getting their tickets fixed could've gone to court and vindicated themselves there. Instead they chose to take care of things in a shady manner...I hardly think that's some noble act in the face of an oppressive government.

by dc denizen on Feb 4, 2011 4:30 pm • linkreport

The implication here that beating tickets is a game but actually such people deserved the ticket, misses the reason for the justice system. Without a hearing the police are unchecked, which I hope we all realize is pernicious. Automated enforcement means an guilty until proven innocent.

You know, you hear this a lot from the Freedom and Privacy brigade, but operating a motor vehicle on the public roadways is a privilege, not a right. Collectively, our society has the right to set reasonable rules of behavior, and reasonable penalties for breaking those rules. By getting a license, registering your car, and driving around on the roads, you consent to that behavior. Getting a fine for speeding or red-light running, you have as much a natural "right" to countless, expensive uses of the legal system as you have if you owed fines on overdue library books. The funny thing is, for all this talk about unchecked police power and the iron fist of the state polluting our precious bodily fluids, no one has yet come up with a compelling scenario under which this type of photo enforcement is *unfair*. It's all just hand-waving about Freedom & Privacy. The bottom line is, photo enforcement provides conclusive proof that you did, in fact, violate the rules of the road.

Heck, the system as it is is already hypersensitive to the concerns of the Lawlessness & Disorder crowd: if the photo is inconclusive, they're generally thrown out. If you want to challenge it, you can. Try that with your outstanding library fines.

by oboe on Feb 4, 2011 4:38 pm • linkreport

@oboe -- try this: you are waiting at the red at the NY Ave and Bladensburg Road intersection, and all the cars around you are stopped. An ambulance approaches at speed, lights on, siren wailing, and driver gesticulating. You move forward to make room for it to get through the intersection; Click! goes the red light camera.

You appeal the ticket. Hearing officer: "what proof do you have that there was an ambulance?" You: "Sorry sir, I did not have time to activate my cell phone camera (which would have been illegal in any case)." Hearing officer: "we all know you are trying to get away with this; pay the fine."

And BTW, you owe $125 for that book you did not return two years ago. You did return it? Prove it.

by goldfish on Feb 4, 2011 4:55 pm • linkreport

Seems to me like a bunch of this thread is anti-red light camera people making up hypothetical situations without any evidence that you could get a ticket in that case or that anyone ever has.

Personally I prefer the cold logic of the single-purpose red light camera to some network of CCTVs watched by human beings for activity 24/7.

by MLD on Feb 4, 2011 4:59 pm • linkreport

By getting a license, registering your car, and driving around on the roads, you consent to that behavior. You left off getting mandatory insurance coverage!

@goldfish-did that happen to you? You can get the public record of ambulance runs for the nearest fire station for the date and time with destination and standardized route.

by Tina on Feb 4, 2011 5:05 pm • linkreport

@MLD

I hope you don't think a majority of this thread is anti-red light camera people. I hope that I, and a few other people that seem to be taking a similar position as mine, aren't coming across as purely anti-red light camera. I know a few people are talking about various scenarios that COULD happen, but ultimately that's what needs to happen when you're discussing the validity of shifting to photo enforcement for various traffic offenses.

A few of the commenters and I have also tried to bring up not just "what if this happened" scenarios, but a broader question of does it make sense to deploy a system to catch all violators of the law? Where do you draw the line between automated and manual enforcement? Should car drivers be the only ones subject to automated enforcement?

by mtpdc on Feb 4, 2011 5:14 pm • linkreport

@goldfish:

An interesting scenario. The fact that not one single human being can be found to whom this has happened makes me tend to think the administrative review is pretty good at throwing tickets out in these rare extenuating circumstances. Though folks who live in fear of this sort of thing happening to them are absolutely free to take alternative forms of transportation.

by oboe on Feb 4, 2011 5:15 pm • linkreport

@Tina

Does this not sound like a lot of time and effort to prove innocence?

by mtpdc on Feb 4, 2011 5:15 pm • linkreport

"what proof do you have that there was an ambulance?"

Wouldn't the ambulance also trigger the red light camera?

by Michael on Feb 4, 2011 5:15 pm • linkreport

@mtpdc- all you need to do is call the station and tell whoever answers what happened and why you want the record, then go pick it up, or ask it to be faxed.

by Tina on Feb 4, 2011 5:30 pm • linkreport

@mtpdc

No, I don't think a majority of this thread are anti-red light camera people.

But there's this underlying current to the discussion that you bring up:
A few of the commenters and I have also tried to bring up not just "what if this happened" scenarios, but a broader question of does it make sense to deploy a system to catch all violators of the law? Where do you draw the line between automated and manual enforcement? Should car drivers be the only ones subject to automated enforcement?

The sense I get from this post is that there's a feeling that drivers are being unfairly targeted.

Car drivers should be the only ones subject to automated enforcement for several reasons:

1. Motorized vehicles like cars, trucks, tractor trailers, etc. are inherently more dangerous than other modes of travel, and in collisions with other modes are the party able to inflict the most damage. Therefore the impetus to encourage them specifically (as opposed to other users) to not engage in risky behavior is higher than for other users.

2. These vehicles already have a registration system (license plates) that enables them and their users to be easily identified with the automated camera system. Were we to develop a system to catch bicyclists, jaywalkers, or others, we would have to develop some kind of technology to identify those users in order to be able to ticket them.

3. The fact that motorized vehicles make up a higher percentage of traffic and violators means that targeting them specifically is more cost-effective than targeting other modes.

The reality is that red light cameras and speed cameras make things safer. They are also money generators for their jurisdiction. I see no problem with these two goals.

Again, I challenge any of you to come up with an article talking about a crazy red-light camera story. One would think that if someone had one, the same people who write that red-light cameras are "big brother" would want to write about that, correct?

I'll even send you a cookie if you find one.

by MLD on Feb 4, 2011 5:34 pm • linkreport

Wouldn't the ambulance also trigger the red light camera? -doh! Bet there's a record of that too.

by Tina on Feb 4, 2011 5:42 pm • linkreport

@mtpdc

A few of the commenters and I have also tried to bring up not just "what if this happened" scenarios, but a broader question of does it make sense to deploy a system to catch all violators of the law? Where do you draw the line between automated and manual enforcement? Should car drivers be the only ones subject to automated enforcement?

So far, none of the skeptics have shown that there's actually a problem with automated enforcement. Their complaints come off as being upset that the law is actually being enforced.

The hypotheticals are all trying to come up with some case of the system issuing a false positive. The entire design of the system, however, is set up to prevent false positives.

As noted, car drivers are subject to automated enforcement because the means exist to do so. Likewise, at a fundamental level, driving is a privilege, not a right. That makes driving a car different than just walking down a street, for example.

What I haven't heard is a good reason not to do automated enforcement. These are people breaking the law, are they not? If you run the red light, you should get a ticket - that ticket should not be dependent on whether a cop just happens to be watching the intersection or not. A tree that falls in the forest still makes a sound even if no one is there to hear it.

by Alex B. on Feb 4, 2011 6:23 pm • linkreport

"You're breaking the law."

I'm so sick of hearing this. Laws are not meant to be black and white, they are meant to be tools to act in the public good. They aren't perfect - there are plenty of times when strict adherence to the law is not in the public good. We don't want a situation where everyone rigidly adheres to the law. Fortunately we allow law enforcement personnel the ability to use common sense and most of the time they do. But what happens when they don't or when you have an automated mechanism incapable of deep thought)?

Here's a real life example. I was stuck at the light coming off of the inner loop of the beltway Beltway at Van Dorn St. This happens all the time in rush hour because invariably the people coming from the inner loop want to go south and the people coming from the outer loop want to go north. When people are paying attention, you get a decent zipper action and it is no problem. Sometimes the drivers are not paying attention and pull all the way forward, blocking the way across. Anyway it was one of those days where everyone was pulled up so to get across I had to...wait for it...cross the solid white line. Some dumbass cop pulls over me and another guy who did the same thing. Are you kidding me? This is not what our laws are for.

http://bit.ly/fTF3UA

Did I break the letter of the law? Yes. Was it a traffic safety issue? Absolutely not. The cop let us go but it was enough to make me late for work. This was my reward for doing the right thing so that I could get across a poorly designed interchange and get to work.

Whenever I hear one of you guys talk about "breaking the law" I hope your job keeps you far away from anything having to do with the law.

by movement on Feb 4, 2011 7:04 pm • linkreport

@Alex B The entire design of the system, however, is set up to prevent false positives.

That may be the intent, but can a photo or two really capture the whole situation. When these things were first put up I got a citation in the mail. The fine wasn't all that much and I was going to pay it ... but then I read the address and thought "I don't think I've ever driven down that street" ... It was street clear across town by the Maryland border. Then I took a closer look at the black and white picture of my car and started to wonder if that was really my car. BUT the fuzzy picture of the blown up license plate looked like my plate number ... 'cept the positioning of it on the car didn't look quite right. I deliberated between just paying it or having to take a day off from work to challenge it. I even drove out to the address ... and didn't recognie the place. Since my job at the time required a security clearance, I reluctantly decided to challenge it. (Whether or not you get socked with 'points' doesn't matter for security clearances ... Just having the ticket means it needs to be reported ... and could cost you your job. And btw, credit bureaus use these things too ... to lower your credit rating. The 'points' issue only affects your insurance.)

Well, I went in, and waited a couple hours for my group to be called in. Then about 10 of us got called into a room by some lady who asked us to wait there for a judge to come in. (It was informal at a big table with a tape recorder in the middle). I mentioned to the lady that I thought there was a problem in that I didn't think it was my car. She went to get the real paperwork .... and walked back to say that yes, they'd messed up. That the 'human' viewing the pictures had mistaken a "D" for a "0" and thus misidentified the car. However, she said I'd have to wait my turn with the judge. Long story short, I waited another few hours while getting to hear all these people contesting the tickets. So, it cost me almost a full day of work ... And while most folks may not have the security clearance to contend with, everyone has to worry about how their credit gete affected.

Now do I think people should be ticketed for going through red lights. Absolutely. Or making a left turn where there is a solid stripe in the middle of the street? Or people who make U turns at 4 way stops? Of course. There are really a lot of very bad drivers in this area. And they really should be getting ticketed. But why don't we start with getting the cops to do it first ... and see if that works. I know other parts of the country where there isn't the problem there is here. And what do these other places have in common? They have a police force that really will pull over people for these infractions. I don't see why we can't just get our cops to do this ...

by Lance on Feb 4, 2011 7:42 pm • linkreport

@Tina

Verses having a cop present and avoiding the whole situation. My point isn't that it's overly difficult or impossible, it's that I have to come up with evidence to prove that I'm innocent.

@MLD
"3. The fact that motorized vehicles make up a higher percentage of traffic and violators means that targeting them specifically is more cost-effective than targeting other modes."

Citation please. Motor vehicles make up more violations than bikers, who frequently comment (or even write posts) on this blog about how stop signs are treated as yield and red lights are treated as stop? Think most pedestrians at non-major intersections wait for the light?

@Alex B.
"As noted, car drivers are subject to automated enforcement because the means exist to do so. Likewise, at a fundamental level, driving is a privilege, not a right. That makes driving a car different than just walking down a street, for example."

So if your goal is to save lives, and you're such a proponent of photo enforcement, shouldn't there be discussion of how to increase the scope to include other methods of transportation? You can go on and on about how going 35 in a 25 kills, but the fact is if cars aren't running red lights, and pedestrians aren't jaywalking, there should be no opportunity for a walker to be hit by a car.

Shouldn't jaywalkers be ticketed for contributing to an unsafe environment? Oh, I get it, the means to do so doesn't exist, so we'll focus on cars.

The problem I have with photo enforcement is that people start to drive distracted worrying about cameras. Your response will be, "Well just follow the rules!" but by driving 10 MPH lower than everyone else, or stopping at a just-turned yellow unexpectedly, you disrupt the natural flow of traffic around you. Am I breaking the law? Yes. Am I creating a safety hazard? No, you'd be making creating a safety hazard if you're acting against the other cars around you.

by mtpdc on Feb 4, 2011 7:59 pm • linkreport

@mtpdc: Most of your commentary here seems to be guided by an earlier set of questions in which you said: They still do nothing to address the points that 1. violation enforcement is only geared to autos, 2. there's a huge incentive to break the law that could be considered, and 3. increasing photo enforcement pushes administrative costs (in time and effort to deal with violations that you yourself didn't commit) onto citizens.

Your final concern is reasonable. Photo enforcement does push a set of costs on to a class of drivers, some of whom have done nothing wrong. That must be balanced against the current system, in which rule violations push costs onto pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers who have done nothing wrong.

Even if you never have an accident, the traffic delays and aggravation are a real cost. Would you dispute that the average DC rush hour driver loses 5 minutes a day as a result the cumulative effect of illegal/selfish driving that makes the overall system less efficient? Would you be willing to pay $1/day to rid yourself of that problem alone, leaving aside any safety issues?

What would aggravate you more: 1 erroneous ticket a year or 3 additional selfish idiots a day? By the way, as a measure of your rationality, what would bother you more:
(a) committing 10 minor infractions in a week and getting 2 tickets in the mail for them
(b) committing 10 minor infractions and not getting any tickets for them--but getting a ticket for a violation that you did not commit?

I do not understand your middle question.

I agree with you that someone should look for a way to get better compliance of traffic laws by modes other than automobiles. Motorboats failing to yield to sailboats is a pet pieve of mine, but I realize that you are probably more concerned about bikes and peds. If you have any ideas for how to better enforce those laws, please let us know. And if you want to spend some of your time helping an academic to draft a grant proposal to develop such measures, more power to you.

But our inability to enforce against one class ought not prevent us from doing a better job where we can. Most peds and cyclists are drivers. Moreover, in this area the contributory negligence doctrine means that when accidents occur and both are to blame, the cyclist and walker often are stuck with a disproportionate share of the costs. That should be fixed too. If you will make a concerted effort to improve bike-ped enforcement, I will make a concerted effort to eviscerate the contributory negligence doctrine as it applies to bike-ped.

by Jim TItus on Feb 4, 2011 10:35 pm • linkreport

Your response will be, "Well just follow the rules!" but by driving 10 MPH lower than everyone else, or stopping at a just-turned yellow unexpectedly, you disrupt the natural flow of traffic around you.

With all due respect, and I realize we sound like a broken record here on GGW, but as a pedestrian, cyclist, and parent who walks my kid to school in the morning, fuck "the natural flow of traffic." That we've made a fetish of the "natural flow of traffic" is the problem.

by oboe on Feb 4, 2011 10:51 pm • linkreport

Just to put things in perspective, this is the "natural flow of traffic":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64AOuabJyMw

by oboe on Feb 4, 2011 10:57 pm • linkreport

good testimony. simple. straightforward. you can't, imo (not that i have any basis for this), say too much -- the message gets muddled -- so this testimony is good.

as far as red light cameras, they're problematic for many reasons, but they are being introduced to combat some of the myriad, and serious, ills introduced to the City when cars were introduced to the city. the red light cameras will be used for all sorts of nefarious activities, of course, but it may be that the ongoing damage the cars are doing to the City warrants this drastic measure. i'd rather we just got rid of cars, but while we're in the process of making that happen, we probably need to do the red light camera thing.

as for children getting run down (one of the myriad ill effects of cars), i agree that it's shameful that DC and other cities act as if it's unavoidable/inevitable. some events -- whether actual prosecutable crimes or not -- just should not be -- we should never allow them to happen -- and if they do happen, we owe it to the victims/survivors and ourselves to make sure it never happens again.

so i appreciate this call-out. and i like that it's about taking a systematic approach to traffic safety, not just a one-off in these particular incident sites. and introducing Vision Zero is smart. we should eventually extend it to homelessness, poverty, etc. -- i.e. eliminate traffic deaths, homelessness, poverty, etc. it's absolutely possible -- we're going to have to raise taxes on rich people, but these are achievable goals, and we should make them happen.

i remember reading about German drivers having the responsibility to 'expect the unexpected' from pedestrians and bikers (strict liability, oh noes!), but particularly children:

Whenever a child or an elderly or handicapped person is near the road, drivers are required to remove their foot from the accelerator and be prepared to stop. German courts have upheld that the driver is ultimately responsible for preventing accidents in these situations no matter the actions of the other person.
and that rule should go for all road users -- cyclists vs. pedestrians, cars vs. everyone, etc.

for all the exception-finders -- lame. even though there are exceptions, there are still rules. like, you should tell the truth. always. except when your significant other asks you if they look fat in a particular outfit. :)

and, we're talking about a traffic ticket -- not the death penalty. a traffic ticket won't be the end of your world -- and if it will be, take it to court. done and done.

You know, you hear this a lot from the Freedom and Privacy brigade, but operating a motor vehicle on the public roadways is a privilege, not a right.

i have one quibble with this -- by introducing cars into the City and allowing them to run roughshod over the city, making it dangerous for all non-drivers, and by deploying an inadequate public transit system -- the government essentially requires people to own or have access to a car to live a full/productive life -- so people have the right to drive -- imo -- it's not a privilege. if and when it ever becomes remotely possible to live a full-ish, dignified life without the use of a car, then we can talk about the operating of a motor vehicle being a privilege and not a right. and the courts, apparently, agree with this sentiment at least somewhat -- often arranging for DUI convicts to keep their licenses, to have provisional 'work-only' licenses, etc. -- essentially, to retain the 'privilege' of driving, regardless of how dangerous they may be to other human beings.

just one of the myriad reasons we need real bicycle infrastructure -- make it easier for judges to say, "No, drunkie flunkie, you can't legally drive anymore. We don't want you killing anyone. Get yourself a Cabi membership and a Metro card. And check out Google Maps -- it'll help you plan your routes. Consider yourself very fortunate that you're not in front of me under much more grave circumstances. No drama from you for five years, and we might let you have your license back."

so, in the interest of democracy -- true, substantive democracy -- i say we start thinking about some folks we want to nominate for Mayor of DC in the next go-round or two. or maybe a person we want to start out as a Councilperson. we don't have to have people appointed for us -- we can choose them -- assuming they're willing to run.

by Peter Smith on Feb 5, 2011 7:40 am • linkreport

I support camera-based enforcement, but I agree that false positives undermine the system. Unfortunately they're still common enough for writers to find and highlight them. There are some steps that can be taken to improve this.

I once got a ticket that I thought was incorrect, so I went to dispute it - which was an inconvenience. Once there, and after waiting for my hearing, I pleaded not guilty and the judge immediately dismissed my ticket. Turns out the equipment had not been calibrated correctly the morning of my ticket.

What is disturbing is that they knew this. They knew this before I walked into court. They should have been able to save me a trip by dismissing my ticket when I disputed it. Better yet they should have never sent me a ticket. Even though it will cost them some revenue and let some people get away with speeding, the default should be to never send out a ticket that they know will not stand up in court. The policy seems to be (or was then) to send out the tickets anyway and see who disputes and who doesn't. But we know that some innocent people will pay tickets to avoid the inconvenience. So this needs to be avoided.

The top priority (besides public safety) should be zero false positives. I think that can be done, and certainly they can improve it by not sending out tickets they know won't stand up. So I'm for camera enforcement, but they should improve it.

by David C on Feb 5, 2011 10:10 am • linkreport

Of course, if the purpose of these people monitoring devices is really just to enforce current laws, perhaps limiting the penality to 'ponts only' would ensure a fairer and not revenue-motivated use of them. I've noticed as it stands, the current red light cameras as situated such to 'catch' Maryland commuters by and large, and not DC residents. That of course gives you a clue as to some of the motivation behind these for our politicians.

Overall, it's still Orwellian no matter how you slice it. And I guess I shouldn't be surprised that it's greatest supporters are the same folks who think they know best on how we should shop (i.e., we MUST use recyclable bags) and what we should eat (i.e., tax people who drink soda), and all those other good things for which they are the self-appointed experts for the rest of us. (And I don't mean the Councilmembers, I mean the folks out there pushing these Orwellian measures ... as evidenced by David's testimony).

by Lance on Feb 5, 2011 11:14 am • linkreport

It's true that George Orwell loved traffic cameras. But it's not true that they were used in his novel 1984. The cameras there invaded your private space.

When you're driving, you don't have any right to privacy about the way you drive. Anyone can watch you and anyone can photograph you and anyone can film you: even the state. So unless you think the police can not observe you running a stop sign and give you a ticket because that's an invasion of your privacy, then it isn't an invasion to film or photography you doing it. So that is a BS argument and one the courts have repeatedly denied.

Also, no one is telling you how to shop or eat. You are free to use plastic bags and drink soda until your blood is a syrupy confection and the paramedics can reach you because your house is stuffed to the ceiling with plastic Giant bags. You just have to pay a tax to pay for the negative externalities associated with it. Same as for smokiing and drinking. Personally I would rather be taxed to cover the negative externalities of what I do than be taxed for doing something good like working or saving. How do you propose we pay to clean up the Anacostia? Who should we tax and how or what should DC spend less money on?

by David C on Feb 5, 2011 12:40 pm • linkreport

@David ... Let's not turn this into a bag-fee forum ... Let's just suffice it to say that (1) this bag tax won't be paying for any cleanup (irrespective of what you were led to believe) and (2) just catching and fining the people who are littering the Anacostia with paper bags would do the trick. (Just look at the Potomac upstream from DC to see what better enforcement and respect of EXISTING laws does with respect to the littering problem that you're expecting the rest of us to pay for remediating.)

by Lance on Feb 5, 2011 12:54 pm • linkreport

@Lance, OK I won't make it a bag fee forum, but I will respond that the bag fee has raised something like $2M for river clean-up, that paper bags were not determined to be a major cause of river pollution, and that "just catching" the people who are littering the Anacostia is not as simple as you make it sound since much of the trash is carried there by wind and rain.

by David C on Feb 5, 2011 1:43 pm • linkreport

@David, since much of the trash is carried there by wind and rain.

And yet the Anacostia which runs a far far longer path, doesn't seem to be as affected by the wind and rain. Let's wake up and smell the roses. The Anacostia is being used as a dumping ground somewhere along the way ... just like all other rivers used to be back when that's how you got rid of trash and the like. Let's just catch the culprits and shut them down ... And yes, it's probably not just litter. Though that is a cause of the problem. And you're seeing the plastic bags because they're floating. What about all the dumping that's sinking?

by Lance on Feb 5, 2011 2:13 pm • linkreport

@Lance, I thought we weren't making this a bag tax discussion?

I assume you meant the Potomac. The Anacostia doesn't flow as fast as the Potomac. The portion in DC is the tidal portion and it has an average estimated water residence time on the order of 23 to 28 days. So once trash gets washed or blown in it takes weeks to wash out to the Potomac.

your claim that someone is dumping trash in the river is not supported by the experts. But I suppose we can add this to the very very very long list of cases where lance knows more than the experts.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A58131-2004Jan28.html

by David C on Feb 5, 2011 3:04 pm • linkreport

@David, Dumping was discussed on GGW itself. Apparently, some of DC storm water drains into the Anacostia .. and with it plastic bags from areas within its water shed. There are probably more, but WASA is one dumper here for sure.

by Lance on Feb 5, 2011 3:58 pm • linkreport

Good testimony but I do not agree with this:

"Psychologically, facing a very severe penalty for a crime, but a very low chance of being caught, doesn't change people's behavior."

by Jazzy on Feb 5, 2011 5:38 pm • linkreport

That's what the research shows. You can agree or disagree, but simple personal opinion isn't likely to affect whether it's true or not. If you know of some countervailing research, I'd be very interested to see it.

by David Alpert on Feb 5, 2011 5:44 pm • linkreport

No other kind of human death seems to yield so little concern and action. Children choking lead to product recalls. Children caught in the crossfire of drug wars lead to increased police presence and debates over how to fight gangs. But children killed in the streets are too often simply dismissed as inevitable and disregarded.
well, at least, thanks to the FDA, they will now be safe from those killer cheeses ... (never mind that they'll never know what real cheese tastes like without leaving US soil ... )

www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/05/AR2011020502210.html?hpid=topnews

by Lance on Feb 5, 2011 7:33 pm • linkreport

This video is excellent -- covers what type of media attention (unbelievably large amounts of it) was garnered when a nutcase driver ran into four bikers somewhere in Den Bosch, Netherlands, injuring one of them slightly.

This is where DC is going, and where America is going, but we gotta insist on it happening.

One of the best ways to do this, imo, is to get cops on bikes, and get them on bikes in plainclothes, or clothes that are not so obviously 'cop-y' -- they need to be able to experience what's it like to be a normal citizen on a bike in DC. Once they're riding, they'll be sensitized to the terrors cyclists usually face, and be more capable of empathizing, and treating attacks on cyclists, and collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists, more seriously.

And that'll be fewer people as part of the L&OB -- cops know it's stupid to try and enforce stupid laws -- once they start riding bikes, they'll see how stupid and annoying it is to make cyclists stop for stop signs and red lights. If you've ever seen a bike cop, you'll know they run stop signs and red lights just as readily as the rest of us do.

And if you need highly effective coverage of an area as inexpensively as possible -- more bike cops.

We're gonna need rich people to pay more taxes. Let's go, rich people, the free ride is over!

by Peter Smith on Feb 6, 2011 7:11 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or

Support Us

How can our region be greater?

DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC