Tuesday, February 12, 2013

MoCo's Traffic Cameras: Cash Grab or Benefit to Public Safety? Both?

As anyone who drives the streets of Montgomery County has surely noticed, the proliferation of speed cameras has proceeded apace since the devices were legalized seven years ago. Now we welcome Silver Spring's newest speed camera, recently installed on 16th Street just before the 2nd Avenue intersection. I'm not entire sure if it's one of the obvious models that rest atop a pole, or one of those shorter, more devious, droid-looking ones that are much harder to spot (there's one on the 9000 block of Georgia Avenue). No doubt the county's accounts receivable has increased by tens of thousands in the brief time that this device has been in operation.

I've never really been particularly keen on traffic cameras, as I always saw them as more as a revenue-generating mechanism for municipalities rather than a real deterrent. Furthermore, most of the money isn't even collected by the county - it goes into the pockets of the company that operates the camera. I suppose cameras do have the effect of slowing down some drivers, but it tends to often do so in a way that creates erratic driving that is dangerous in a way different from speeding. Drivers spot the camera at the last second and hit their brakes, causing a danger to the vehicle following immediately behind. I've seen this happen countless times on Wayne Avenue and elsewhere.

I imagine that most fines are issued to those who don't regularly use the route on which the camera is placed. Locals know where the speed cameras are and will often temporarily slow down when they approach them, speeding up immediately after the camera's range is cleared. I have to wonder if they are significantly decreasing the number of speeders on a particular route if the offenders don't drive that stretch of road frequently.

Last week it so happened that I had two separate experiences with speed cameras that left me somewhat conflicted on the whole practice. Over the weekend I received a speed camera violation ticket from the City of Greenbelt that stated I was 13 miles over the limit on a certain stretch of road in that municipality. The problem was that I have not been to Greenbelt in years, and the car in the accompanying photos was definitely not my vehicle. WTF? After some research, I determined that the offender was using my old tags, which I had returned to the MVA months ago. They had re-issued the plates to a new driver, but I guess no one ever bothered to update their records to reflect this fact. Of course, I could have challenged the citation in court, but when weighing using a vacation day to sit in a Greenbelt courtroom versus just paying a $40 fine for a crime I didn't commit, I was leaning towards the latter (very bitterly, though). Fortunately, I was able to resolve the whole thing over the phone, though it took four days and really left me wondering how reliable the whole camera system is.

Fast forward to last Friday evening, when I was driving northbound on 16th Street and a white Volvo with DC plates went flying past me and dangerously cut between myself and another car. I immediately recalled the speed camera that had just been installed a couple blocks ahead and made sure to keep pace enough with this clown to fully enjoy the schadenfreude I would experience at the instant he was issued a ticket. I was not disappointed, as I saw the camera's flash pop as he sped by. At least for that moment I had a much more favorable opinion of speed cameras.

I'm a little more accepting of red light cameras, though I don't know what the hell is up with the one at Colesville and Dale Drive. I swear the thing is always snapping photos of my car, even when I come to a standard stop at a red light. I have seen it flashing over and over for cars that have not violated any traffic laws. I guess it may take photos preemptively, though it is very distracting to see the flash constantly going off.


Simon Burke said...

I know what you mean about the ever flashing camera. On Connecticut and Knowles in Kensington this often happens when no-one has committed a violation.

As for safety, i am not sure. They usually put them on long straight patches of road so they can get an accurate reading but they are easier to spot. For safety you probably want them on the bends where its more dangerous to be speeding.

Handsome Ralph said...

The red light cameras on Colesville and University Blvd are pretty bad about flashing all the time as well.

Ben Schumin said...

I see the red light cameras at Norbeck Road and Georgia Avenue (watching southbound Georgia Avenue) firing off on people making left turns onto northbound Georgia Avenue from eastbound Norbeck Road where they have the light. Very disorienting to have an unexpected bright flash go off around you at night.

Anonymous said...

I think it's definitely both, and I'm okay with that. Win-win in my book except, as you note, the current technology and infrastructure lends itself to "slow and go" when approaching a camera and then zooming off afterwards. I think we'll see less and less of this as 1. infrastructure expands and 2. enough slaps on the wrist will naturally cause people like the dbag white Volvo driver to learn how to not put other people at risk.

Bella said...

Both cameras on the stretch near 2nd Avenue (one north bound and one south bound) are the short droid like boxes. They have been pushed over a few times, then they were braced with metal for a few weeks, and then the braces were removed, because I suspect that they have installed cameras to now watch the boxes.

A few comments on this particular stretch about the speed cameras.

When they first installed the one north bound, it was behind a telephone pole at the bottom of the bridge. There was no way to see it as you approached it. They have moved it a few feet so now you can see it as you approach it.

There was also a point when south bound 16th had two droid like speed boxes. If you came off Georgia going 13 mph over (which is easy when going from industrial Georgia to the more residential curve of 16th), you were tagged by a camera. Then if you maintained that speed, you were tagged again at the intersection of 2nd Street and 16th. It seemed almost cruel.

On the upside, at least they aren't like the red light cameras they have in Rockville, which capture when you slam on your brakes for the red light, but end up inches into the crosswalk.

Anonymous said...

My problem with the 16th St. cameras is that they're ostensibly there to protect pedestrians in residential areas. However, the camera is catching people where there's only a guardrail alongside and no houses on that whole street. Also, it's a SIX-lane divided road. Maybe it's just me, but that road seems designed to be a bit faster than 35, especially going downhill.

I'm generally okay with red light cameras, but not as much with speed cameras. Also, the idea that my tax money goes toward building cameras so that I can be fined just irks me on some basic level. Can't we just get some undercover cops to bust the Audis doing 85 in the right lane instead?

Sligo said...

Re: Tax Money

The county doesn't pay anything for the speed cameras. The company who builds and maintains them installs them for free with an agreement that they get to keep a majority of the money that is collected in fines.

I don't know if that makes you feel better or worse.

Anonymous said...

"Also, the idea that my tax money goes toward building cameras so that I can be fined just irks me on some basic level. Can't we just get some undercover cops to bust the Audis doing 85 in the right lane instead?"

That's the entire point. No public money is spent on the cameras and it saves us big $$$ to not have cops sit there and babysit a stretch of road all day.

P.S. people slam on their brakes when they notice a cop car, too, so that argument against cameras doesn't hold water. Unless we're suggesting there should never be enforcement of traffic violations.

Anonymous said...

I'm mixed on the cameras as well, but with regard to 16th Street, there has been at least one fatal crash there recently:


Anonymous said...

I'm anon-10:59...

Good point on who pays for the cameras, although I have some issues with corporations with questionable incentives getting to act with pseudo-police powers.

Does anybody know if there were many/any incidents where they put the cameras? I see way more incidents going up 29 towards the beltway where traffic patterns are much more erratic and residential.

Also, the combination of reckless drivers and clueless drivers when Colesville is lane controlled is terrifying. I'd also be in favor of a camera at the buses-only left turn at Colesvill and Wayne. I see cars turning there 50% of the time.

tl;dr: put cameras where people constantly do dangerous and blatantly illegal things.


Anonymous said...

Complete scam with negligable statistical safety results.

No academic evidence that any of these cameras make anyone more safe (if so please submit links).

I'm shocked that anyone still thinks these things make the roads safer.

Anonymous said...

speed/red light camera's are the greatest invention since the since the air conditioner.

doesnt matter if they are a money getter(even if they are) still doesnt excuse the fact they are catching people breaking the law (i.e speeding)

you go 20mph over the limit? you run a red light? you pay the price..litteraly. Thats why we have such terrible traffic in this area...people don't know how to drive.

Ive been caught before and I deserved it. You don't like the law? TS!

Anonymous said...

Yeah because the law is always just. *rolls eyes*.

I wont even get into how stop and go makes traffic worse, as well as slowing down...clearly pointless

Brandt Hardin said...

Traffic cameras are just another form of Policing for Profit as Capitalism distorts our Justice System. These companies are bottom-feeders and take a 40% cut of the tickets while creating MORE dangerous intersections by fixing the lengths of yellow lights to entrap drivers. You can read about how private companies and crooked politicians have turned our Police forces on their ear in every attempt to squeeze money out of the general public at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-privatized-police-state.html

Anonymous said...

"Fortunately, I was able to resolve the whole thing over the phone, though it took four days and really left me wondering how reliable the whole camera system is."

That the MVA didn't update their records isn't the speed camera system's fault.

I hate it when I get caught by a speed camera, but you know what? If I choose to speed, it's entirely MY fault, not the cop who pulls me over or the camera that snaps my photo.

People who don't like traffic laws need to find a way to change the laws, not waste time attacking a camera.

Sligo said...

"That the MVA didn't update their records isn't the speed camera system's fault."

A camera located in a place I was never at put a record in the system that I violated a law. Had this driver with my old tags been pulled over in a police speed trap, this would never have occurred. Did the speed camera violate my due process? I was prepared to pay a fine for something I didn't do because the alternative costs of using vacation time, paying for gas, etc. to go to court in Greenbelt to fight it was more than the $40 fine.

Craig said...

The stretch of 16th Street from Georgia Ave. to East-West Hwy. is dangerous. I live in the Summit Hills complex and I can't tell you how many times I have heard loud brake screeches followed by the dreadful BOOM! collision noise.

That patch of 16th Street is pretty much a downhill slope and car drivers are going to increase speed thanks to the law of physics. But Georgia Ave. traffic moves VERY SLOWLY because of the congestion. Once drivers turn onto 16th Street, they gun the accelerator because they have open road space in front of them. It's not unusual for people to drive at 55-65 mph down that stretch.

Because of the turns and hills, it's hard to correct your vehicle if you are going well above the speed limit. Accidents happen because the drivers are avoiding stopped vehicles or pedestrians crossing 16th Street. Thus, the brake screeches and then the BOOM! crash sound.

The pedestrian road crossing between the strip mall and the 8600 Apartment complex is exceptionally perilous for drivers and pedestrians alike. There are no street lights or a STOP sign to slow traffic. The walkway is lined near the top of the hill but drivers coming south on 16th Street would have a tough time reacting to pedestrians on the road at higher rates of speed.
It is difficult to pick up people on the street because the driver does not have a good view beyond the top of the hill.

The worst accidents happen at the pedestrian crossing location. Too many drivers have crashed their cars in order to avoid hitting pedestrians.

The county should invest in a pedestrian bridge over 16th Street from the strip mall to the 8600 Apartment building. This will cost serious millions to the county taxpayers but it would save tons of lives in the future.

And for the record, I support the speed cameras on 16th Street. Like I noted already, people slam the gas pedal like they are driving in a Formula One race as soon they break off from Georgia Ave. I hope the cameras work as a deterrent against reckless speeding.

Anonymous said...

Both. Don't speed, and if you do, pay some taxes.

Elysian said...

Craig is right on all accounts. I hate speed cameras as much at the next guy, but something needed to happen to slow things down on 16th street. I don't know that the new speed system (which is more like 50mph until people see the camera, 15 once the camera is in sight, then 50 again, then slam on their brakes for a red light) is any safer, but at least someone recognized that all these people going 50+ down a road with crosswalks and at least one school bus stop was a problem.

The pedestrian crosswalk there is terrible - I know its there, but with the hill/visibility the way it is and the aggression of other drivers in that stop, I rarely stop for pedestrians (and I know better). I'm just concerned for my own safety, and if a person isn't actively in the crosswalk (ie. they're waiting to cross) I will see them at the last minute and I won't stop. I wish I could.

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