Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Enforcement


If you're parking, be especially careful on these blocks

DC has created maps of where parkers get the most tickets downtown and citywide (but it's mostly downtown).

Map by DDOT.

The red lines show places with 4-5½ tickets per foot of curb space, followed by yellow (3-4), gray (2-3), blue (1-2) and green (0-1). Clearly, M Street between Connecticut Avenue and 20th Street is the hotspotany idea why?

What else do you notice in this map?


Topic of the week: You don't have to put on the red light (cameras)

Red light cameras are supposed to improve safety, but in 2013 their use actually went down. Are they on the wane? Our contributors give their insight.

Photo by Wayan Vota on Flickr.

Modesto, California has found that cameras may not be worth the trouble. They don't monitor all the lanes at an intersection, most of the revenue goes to the vendor that operates the system, and the fines are shockingly high. And studies, including one of local Virginia jurisdictions, conclude the red light camera effect on safety is ambiguous. Should we fix the problems with cameras, or focus our efforts elsewhere?

Dan Malouff: Many people don't like cameras because they intrude on our collective sense of entitlement to break traffic laws with impunity. But that entitlement should be intruded upon. Yes, governments should of course strive to get cameras right and deploy them fairly, but laws should be enforced. If it turns out that enforcing these laws is somehow unsafe (a claim I'm skeptical of), then the law should change, not the tactic of enforcing it.

Canaan Merchant: Data I'd seen before had convinced me of a red light camera's effectiveness. This and other studies I've seen recently have cast some of that into doubt. Still, I think the problems that people have with automated traffic enforcement mainly stem from poor management in developing the systems, usually by just selecting a vendor without a clear oversight process, and problems that people have with due process once a ticket is issued.

The former should absolutely be an area of concern while the latter may just be indicative of problems that have always existed but ignored because an individual's likelihood of getting a ticket was lower. If both of those issues are handled competently then I think camera enforcement will generally be a net-positive for a given intersection.

Still the best way to tackle the problem would be to make red lights more irrelevant. That means focusing on solutions that move people without requiring the use of a car.

Neil Flanagan: Traffic cameras, whether they're at red lights or to control speeding, should always be a second choice. Better design of the roadway should always be the priority. Narrower lanes, neck-downs, medians, and shorter distances between intersections can discourage speeding and remind drivers that they're approaching an intersection. Marking the pavement where a driver should brake if they see yellow might also help.

The goal should be to make intersections safe for all users, not uphold the law strictly. Starting from there, you can see another problem. Left out of this article, too, were non-motorists. Cars are engineered to protect drivers. The street is the only protection a pedestrian has.

That said, I'll echo the sense of entitlement to the right-of-way. The top comments on the article are a slew of excuses for traffic violations, like this one by "Biceps:"

Perfect example: a co-worker of mine got a photo of herself from an RLC in the mail - it was *classic*. It was a perfect pic of her driving through the intersection, looking way to her left, mouth wide agape, with a cellphone right up against her head. She didn't even remember running the light. It was a [expletive] awesome photo."
It wasn't her fault, he explains: she wasn't trying to speed through the light, she just wasn't paying attention! The engineer of the recent Metro-North accident was not given the same benefit of the doubt for spacing out, even though railroads are still safer per passenger-mile.

Adam Froehlig: I have always seen red light cameras as a local jurisdiction's attempt to replace traffic enforcement with a revenue generation tool. This is especially apparent in DC, where the revenues the cameras generate is well publicized and leads to much of the public angst against the program. A well-designed program puts this revenue back into safety programs and street improvements, but DC simply adds it to its general fund.

The safety record of red light cameras is a bit mixed. While they do help prevent the more serious right-angle crashes that often result in injuries and the occasional fatality, they can actually increase the overall crash rate due to rear-end crashes caused by the lead driver slamming on their brakes to avoid the red (and the camera ticket) and the driver behind them not stopping in time to avoid the rear-end crash.

Another item to consider: due to legal reasons, the red light camera can only fine the owner of the vehicle, it cannot target the operator. While the vehicle owner is usually the operator, this is not always a case. Compare this with a law enforcement official pulling over a vehicle and issuing the driver a ticket, where the driver (if unsuccessful in their "defense") will not only have to pay a fine, but will also lose points on their license.

While it helps reduce crash severity, it's at best a mediocre replacement for an actual law enforcement official doing traffic enforcement.

Ben Ross: Surely the reason for rear end crashes at red light cameras is that the driver in the first car doesn't expect the camera and then stops suddenly, and the driver in the second car also doesn't expect the camera and is therefore unprepared for the first driver's sudden maneuver. With more cameras these problems would vanish. It's like with cyclists, there's safety in numbers.

Abigail Zenner: Although I wish that red light and speed cameras were not needed, sadly drivers' impatience has a tendency to cause very dangerous situations. We also see that law enforcement either cannot be everywhere all the time or cannot always pull over the driver who runs a red light. Drivers also complain that red light cameras catch legal right turns at some intersections, although I have often wondered if the driver came to a complete stop prior to the right turn.

I would love to see some more awareness campaigns on driver attentiveness and explain to drivers why we have the laws we do. Many times, impatient behavior by drivers actually slows traffic down and creates more hazard.

I am fascinated by some experiments, like the one in Texas that rewards drivers for good driving behavior with cash or prizes. Cameras could also provide these rewards. The winner of the VW Fun Theory contest had this idea to enroll good drivers in a lottery when caught driving at or below the speed limit. Maybe we can come up with more carrots and more education to balance out the stick of a ticket.

Jim Titus: Do you remember what it was like before the red-light cameras?

We had trains on tires. Drivers regularly ran red lights as long as they were within 30 feet of the rear end of another car going through the intersection. Drivers with a green light often had to edge their way into these trains of red-light runners. Most drivers in the District of Columbia stop at red lights now.

Maybe today, some tailgating distracted drivers rear-end cars that stop at yellow lights. But in those days, people who stopped at newly red lights faced the same fate.


Parking ticket notifications are useful, but slow

The DC Department of Motor Vehicles has a system where drivers can register to get email notifications if their car gets a ticket. While useful, it could be far better if the lag time weren't so long.

Photo by John M on Flickr.

You can register for the service here, but only if your car has received a ticket within the last 18 months. The DMV says it's "to ensure confidentiality of data." Once you register, if your car gets a ticket, you'll get an email with the horribly bureaucratic subject line, "Citation Issuance Alert." That can occasionally come the day after you get a ticket, or many days later.

For example, this spring I just forgot to get my car inspected when it was supposed to be. I got a $50 ticket for doing so, which I totally deserved, and then went and got it inspected as soon as I could. On May 17, I got a ticket, and received the email the day after, on May 18.

It was extra helpful to have this system, because the ticket actually wasn't on the windshield. I have no idea what happened to it, but I wouldn't have known about it but for the email.

However, what's less great is that this was actually my second ticket for the offense. I also got one on May 16, as my car was parked for a few days. That notification only showed up on May 24. Had I known about the May 16 ticket before I got the May 17 one, I would have gone to get the inspection sooner, or temporarily moved my car off the street until I could get the inspection.

You could say, well, you broke the law, so you deserve the tickets. Sure, and that's why I paid them. But our objective with parking tickets should be to get people to comply with the law, not to maximize ticket writing.

In this case, people need to get their cars inspected. One ticket probably is enough to get people to comply. Writing two tickets on adjacent days, when the car owner isn't even aware of the infraction in between, doesn't achieve any real objective.

There are almost surely valid technical hurdles to faster notification. The tickets have to go through a few steps to get from the DPW ticket writers to the DMV computers. (Representatives from DPW and DMV did not reply to a request from last week for more information about what causes the delays.) However, these are almost surely surmountable, though perhaps at a cost. DMV ticket writers already have machines that communicate with a central database to find out whether the driver of a car at a parking meter is using ParkMobile to pay for parking, rather than the physical meter, for instance.

The same goes for speed tickets. I've heard from people who got multiple tickets before receiving the first in the mail. Since we really want people to drive slower, not get a lot of tickets, it would be much more effective to tell speeders very quickly that they've broken a law.

At last year's task force on camera tickets, DMV and MPD officials said it was difficult to give people a "grace period" or make fines higher for subsequent speeding tickets, because of the lag times involved. But that shouldn't mean we can't reduce the delay.

In a sense, we should think of every ticket as a failure. Just as our goal for crime is to have none of it, rather than to have more and just assess a lot of fines, so should a long-term goal be to reduce the numbers of tickets while increasing compliance. Faster notifications could be one way of getting there.


Orange jumps on anti-camera bandwagon

Freshman Congressman Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) wants to use Congress' power over DC to ban red light and speed cameras. On Friday, at-large DC Councilmember Vincent Orange said he wants to take action, instead of Congress, to place a moratorium on cameras and other restrictions.

Photo by a simple bag on Flickr.

In his letter to Bentivolio, Orange referred to "problems" with the camera system, but didn't specify what problems. The only evident rationale is the widespread attitude among many elected officials and residents, that speeding is really not a problem and is not a law we need to enforce.

Camera opponents have repeatedly lamented the way camera revenue helps shore up DC's budget. However, Chairman Phil Mendelson actually just made a budget change to weaken the link between cameras and a balanced budget. Instead of making the objection to cameras go away, that may have given Orange an opening to block enforcement.

When cameras aren't about revenue, that's when they get cut?

In the final budget, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson rearranged the way camera revenues factor into the budget. Instead of the money going toward the general fund, Mendelson replaced it with revenue from an Internet sales tax, in the event that Congress lets DC and states tax Internet sales.

Mary Cheh and Jim Graham had hoped to use the sales tax money to fight homelessness. Mendelson used it to remove any budget dependency on cameras. The camera money would instead go into a pot for Metro long-term improvements like 8-car trains and connecting walkways.

Mendelson stated that his reason was to ensure that any changes the council might want to make to cameras has no "fiscal impact"; that it doesn't unbalance the budget. Orange's bill would cause a big budget hole, and DC can't pass bills which unbalance the budget. If the Internet sales tax comes in, however, Mendelson's maneuver would free Orange's bill of this problem.

The big loser would be that Metro money, but since that's in the future and the details are still fuzzy, the council can raid that with impunity. So while having camera revenue plug holes in the budget is not ideal, it kept members like Orange and Mendelson from putting their own lead feet over neighborhood needs. With the barrier gone, so is that obstacle to a bill like Orange's.

Scarcely was the ink dry on the budget before Orange took that next step to block any new enforcement, even where residents have been clamoring for slower speeds and less red light running in their neighborhoods.

Speeding is one of the few laws many people just don't want enforced

Orange said he was going to introduce his bill at the next legislative session, but is announcing now to try to let the council excuse speeding before Congress can. The bill would place a 2-year moratorium on any new cameras, require DC to place signs before each camera, and justify the safety basis for each location.

That last part, which just demands reports on the safety impact of each camera, isn't so terrible, but largely duplicates a budget amendment David Grosso (at-large) already added this year.

In response to the news, Benjamin Cooper tweeted, "guess someone got a ticket." Indeed, it would be fascinating to find out if Bentivolio received a ticket recently.

This is the fundamental problem facing pedestrian safety in DC neighborhoods. A lot of people don't believe speeding in residential areas, even 10 mph over the limit, is a big deal. Most of us who drive do it. But the consequences can be grave.

Lawmakers show little interest in excusing unlawful action in other realms. They don't seek to put limits on the police's ability to stop drivers and search for marijuana, guns, or stolen goods. This despite the fact that studies show black drivers are far more likely to get pulled over and searched than white ones.

Maybe that's because speeding is one crime where the lawmakers see themselves in the role of the hurried driver and far less often as the senior trying to cross a wide street on foot. All other consternation, like about the program serving as a revenue stream, rings quite hollow, especially since the amount of complaining only rose after DC lowered fines last year.

Sure, it would be nice if the counterargument that it's "just about revenue" didn't exist, but in fact, the revenue has prevented lawmakers from deleting cameras before. Ironically, the moment camera revenue and the budget get (at least provisionally) split up, alleviating arguments that DC is dependent on the revenue, that's the very time lawmakers start taking steps to block the government from curbing dangerous driving behavior.


Tom Sherwood defends speed cameras

WAMU Politics Hour co-host, NBC 4 reporter, and Dream City co-author Tom Sherwood defended the District's speed camera enforcement program during a brief exchange with host Kojo Nnamdi on last Friday's show.

Photo by mdmarkus66 on Flickr.

Sherwood said he felt "irritated" by the May 29 Washington Post article by Ashley Halsey III on speed cameras. That story led off with the fact that one camera in the K Street underpass below Washington Circle wrote $8.1 million in tickets in 7 months.

The story did not talk about the effect of speeding on residents of Foggy Bottom, including seniors and families, or people walking to or from GW hospital, Sherwood said. From the Politics Hour transcript:

Kojo Nnamdi: Speaking of crowds, there seem to be a lot of crowds driving down K Street Northwest at rapid speeds or going through traffic lights because one camera on K Street Northwest has brought in more than $8 million into the District of Columbia's coffers during the course of the current fiscal year.

There was a camera on New York Avenue that used to come in first, but apparently, that has been surpassed by the camera on K Street. But we have to say that the District of Columbia government said, "This is not about the revenue. This is not about the money. This is about controlling traffic. The money means nothing to us."

Tom Sherwood: You know, I hear the skepticism in your voice. I hear the derision, the...

Kojo Nnamdi: Nothing.

Tom Sherwood: Well, let me say this, that'sthe Post storyI was irritated by the Post story. I think there's a story there about how the city is doing camera money, but to say that the city is getting a windfall from that one camera, ... [crosstalk deleted]

I was irritated the way other people play this story. On that K Street, the 2200 block or whatever it is, the cameras there, about 32,000 cars, vehicles go through there each day. The camera gives out about 300 tickets. Now, just math-wise, I think that's maybe 1 percent of the cars. The amount of money the city gets from ticket revenue is one-half of 1 percent of the city's entire budget.

And the Post story also didn't point out that since the city has been using speed cameras because citizens who live there, there's a hospital over there, there are senior citizens, there are families with children, they don't want those commuters rushing to get up onto the freeway going over into Virginia or in coming back. Since 2001, fatalities on the streets of the city from vehicular accidents has dropped 76 percent in part, Chief Lanier says, because we have speed cameras. Now, I can go on, but I think the point is made. There's ...

Kojo Nnamdi: Mayor Sherwood has spoken.

Tom Sherwood: So, yes, you know, ifI don't know that 25 miles an hour is the right speed limit for that tunnel. I think probably it sounds low. But if you move it up to 30 or 35, then you can only write a ticket for someone going 45, and then you're getting up close to 50. So, anyway, that's the issue. It's more than just the city taking in money. It's not raking in money. It's not squeezing people unfairly. No one says the cameras don't operate correctly. And as Chief Lanier always says, you can't get a ticket if you're not speeding.

[Crosstalk deleted]

Kojo Nnamdi: It's just that to the average person, $8 million does seem like a lot of money. But moving on...

Tom Sherwood: Maybe.


Cyclists are special and do have their own rules

Sarah Goodyear of the Atlantic has an article for Bike to Work Week entitled "Cyclists Aren't 'Special', and They Shouldn't Play by Their Own Rules." The thesis seems to be that now that cycling is mainstream, cyclists need to behave better.

Photo by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious on Flickr.

I would argue that whether or not cycling is mainstream you need to ride safely and courteously. In fact, an increase or decrease in cycling mode share shouldn't change the way you ride one iota.

Goodyear is asking cyclists to become footdroppers and thinks that more enforcement of cycling laws is what is needed for cycling to "get to the next level." I disagree which is easy to do since Goodyear offers no evidence, no data and no defense of her position. It appears to be 100% emotion-based opinion.

When I look at great cycling cities in Europe it doesn't appear to me that there is some point where increased enforcement is needed to keep growth going. Growth is fueled by better designed streets, laws that protect cyclists, and increasing the costs of driving. If anything, what I've read about Amsterdam and Copenhagen is that they don't tolerate the kinds of bad driving that are considered normal here. I don't read about ticketing blitzes.

She makes the point that many cyclists are rude or ride dangerously and that she'd like to see such behavior ticketed. I have no problem with ticketing dangerous behavior - though if we're really going to focus on the MOST dangerous behavior, that will rarely mean ticketing cyclists. And if law enforcement were to blitz cyclsits, it would likely not be for their most dangerous behavior (riding at night without lights or too fast on the sidewalk or against traffic) but rather not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign during a charity ride or at some out-of-the way intersection.

Writing about wrong-way cycling she adds,

It makes all of us look terrible and it's a real hazard. Same goes for blowing through a stop sign or red light, or blocking the crosswalk when you're impatiently waiting for the light to change. Not to mention shouting at pedestrians to get out of the way when they are crossing legally. I saw someone yell at an old lady the other day.
I again assert that few cyclists actually "blow through" stop signs and lights. Yes, cyclists run them - even Goodyear - but not blowing through them.

She sees herself as an ambassador. But does anyone see themselves as a pedestrian ambassador when walking or as a driving ambassador when driving? No. Biking is not foreign, and maybe to "get to the next level" we need to stop presenting it as though it is. It is funny that she sees it this way, that she has to behave hyper-legally and as a role model only to follow it up with.

You're going to have to give up your identity as a special person who does some special activity known as cycling.

You're not so special any longer.

Ok, if I'm not so special any longer, then how come I have to behave differently - squeaky clean - than everyone else?

I agree that cyclists should be safe and courteous (because I think EVERYONE should be), but not that they need to be hyper-legal in the hope that it will soothe everyone else. Because it won't. And it won't take cycling to the next level.

What will help is changing the law where it currently doesn't make sense, such as with the Idaho Stop - exactly the kind of "Special Treatment" and "own rules" that Goodyear seems to be arguing against. What will help is treating cycling as special by creating special facilities to help them get around - like bi-directional cycletracks on one-way streets or cycle-tracks. What will help is bike sharing, on street bike parking, unique zoning regulations related to bike parking, special commuter benefits for bike commuters, etc...

We're going to have to treat cyclists better and let them play by their own rules if we want to "get ot the next level."

Is it fair if bikers get benefits when motorists don't? Nope. You know what else isn't fair? Everything. Deal with it.

Cross-posted at the WashCycle.


Pedestrian "sting" finds frequent driver lawlessness

So many drivers don't yield to pedestrians that catching them is "like shooting fish in a barrel," a surprised Montgomery County police officer remarked Wednesday. The police ticketed 72 violators in 2½ hoursone every two minutesat a single crosswalk on Veirs Mill Road.

Photo by Montgomery County police.

The operation, a first for the county, was advertised as a sting. But it was not very covert. The police announced in advance that their plainclothes officers would ticket between 11 am and 3 pm while wearing brightly-colored outfits.

Capt. Thomas Didone, head of the police traffic enforcement division, explained the reasoning behind the "sting" to the Patch. "Officers would typically attempt to enforce that kind of law by driving around a high-traffic area and looking for drivers not following the rules," he said. "That's not very efficient."

Inefficiency is the least of the problems with this style of law enforcement. Police who drive all day don't understand the reality of walking on the county's roadways. When you get out of the squad car and join the thousands who cross Veirs Mill every day (it's among the county's busiest bus corridors), you suddenly learn that "it's kind of scary."

All of this raises the question: in an increasingly urbanized county, where is the cop on the beat? Downtown Bethesda throngs with people on weekend evenings, and the police sit in parked squad cars behind rolled-up windows. If they were on foot, they would have plenty to doespecially in the late evening when drivers often zoom through the emptying streets.

Foot patrols succeeded in calming downtown Silver Spring after a series of brawls in 2010. But they ended once the brawls went away.

Street fighting is hardly Montgomery County's biggest law enforcement problem. Driver violations of pedestrian rights are ubiquitous, and they do far more harm. There are as many pedestrian deaths per year in the county as homicides.

Where people walk, we need police on foot. Not just on a few not-so-secret "stings"Capt. Didone said these operations will continue only through the end of the monthand not just in response to occasional outbreaks of crime.

Police should be walking every day, in Aspen Hill and Germantown as well as Bethesda and Silver Spring, protecting the rights of pedestrians as a routine element of law enforcement. Drivers need to understand that they can be ticketed any time they break the law, not just between 11:00 and 3:00 during the month of May.

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