With the recent installation of 12 roadside speed cameras at various sites in the city – but mostly in the Southeast area – District officials are showing just how serious they are about getting motorists to slow down.
At the same time, the city is poised to bring in even more revenue this year from the devices that detect speeds in excess of posted limits.
To date, more than 40 cameras have been installed in photo radar enforcement zones, and for the most part, placement has been in areas with the highest number of crashes, police calls and high-speed volumes.
But according to John Townsend, spokesman for the District of Columbia AAA, the cameras are nothing more than a lucrative money-making venture for the city.
Townsend also said that being handed a ticket amounts to a slap on the wrist for offenders and that more rear-end crashes have actually occurred with the cameras in use.
“What the mayor has done is incorporate into the budget, plans to increase traffic fines to help balance the District’s shrinking ,” Townsend, adding that in the first eight months of the current fiscal year, the District beefed up its coffers by nearly $25 million from the cameras, and that figure, last year, was $34 million.
“So motorists are beginning to suspect that the cameras have little to do with public safety,” said Townsend. “It’s all about lip service. It’s really all about revenue.”
Police Chief Cathy Lanier said she found Townsend’s assertions frustrating.
“We are not doing this for revenue, but to modify driving behavior, “ Lanier said, “and we attribute much of the success we’ve had in reducing traffic fatalities to our photo enforcement initiatives. “
Lanier added that for the past two years, the District has had it lowest number of traffic fatalities “since we’ve been keeping record .” Lanier revealed, for instance, that last year in the District, 33 traffic deaths were recorded. That number, she said, was 40 fewer than in 2008.
At-large City Councilman Kwame Brown said he’s yet to receive any complaints about the additional installations. “At least no one’s called or e-mailed me about them,” Brown said. “There are some areas that are asking for them, and then there are areas where they’re not asking for them.”
He said overall, he believes the latest additions have been reasonable. “Particularly where speeding has gotten out of control,” Brown said.
As for just having police hand out traffic tickets instead, Brown responded that most people don’t want them sitting on the streets all day. “They’d rather have the officers policing the neighborhoods,” said Brown.
Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry concurred, saying the fact is that most of the cameras – eight, so far –have been installed in his community and that’s a good thing. “I get the impression that we’ve been left out of this thing for too long and we need all the services we can get in Southeast,” said Barry.
“The cameras help improve neighborhood safety,” he continued. “We need every device we can to stop speeders. We need cameras in the community to stop illegal activity – and most of all; people wouldn’t have to worry about getting tickets if they aren’t speeding.”
Meanwhile, ticketing for the new devices won’t start until next month. Until Aug. 11, speedsters will merely receive warnings.
The newest cameras were installed July 12 at these locations:
Southeast Washington: 5200 block of Southern Ave.; both directions of the 3500 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.; 1400 block of Alabama Ave.; and on Suitland Parkway near Stanton Road.
Southwest Washington: Interstate 295 at Exit 1 in the southbound lane.
Northeast Washington: 3100 block of North Capitol St.; 4100 block of South Dakota Ave., as well as two devices in the construction zone in both directions of Interstate 295 at Eastern Ave.