City in the Van Guard

Dear Readers,

“There’s going to be a lot of unhappy people”, said the new Takoma Park police chief Ronald Ricucci at the April 4th City Council Meeting.

Some of those unhappy people could be YOU, Dear Readers, if you tend to drive over the speed limit in our law-obeying city. The Speed Van Cam is coming to get you!

To the general delight of the city council and mayor (“This is so exciting!” gushed one), the chief described the new county Safe Speed “automated speed enforcement” program which allows an independent contractor to operate traffic monitoring cameras, and which the city is favorably considering joining.

The mercenary, . . . er, contractor is paid from the proceeds generated by the fines. The city also gets a cut – unlike the usual arrangement in which speeding ticket fines are paid to the state. The $40 ticket would be split: $16.25 to the contractor, $23.75 to the city. Proceeds to the city must be spent on traffic and pedestrian public safety programs.

Proceeds to the contractor would cover the cost of their equipment and the technician operating it. The only local police involvement would be the officer who needs to sign the tickets before they would be mailed to the happy recipients.

The contractor currently in use by other county municipalities (Chevy Chase Village, Rockville, and Gaithersburg) is not Big Brother R Us, but ACS State and Local Solutions, inc. The city may “piggyback” onto the other city’s contracts, as that would be a less expensive option than researching contractors. Councilmember Joy Austin-Lane expressed interest in seeing a comparison of what other companies would charge, however, and Terry Seamens wanted research done on ACS’s track record with local communities.

The city has a choice between a stationary camera or a mobile camera in a van. For the most part, the council thought one camera would be sufficient for now, and that it should be a mobile van camera. Councilmember Seamens preferred a fixed location. The county program stipulates that the cameras must be used in residential areas on streets with a 35 MPH speed limit. This would include sections of N.H. Ave. Carroll Ave., and Piney Branch Road, the streets named by the council as areas of interest.

The Chief reassured the council that the program will not primarily net local residents, but mostly the infamous “cut-through traffic” drivers, the ones many neighborhoods complain about during rush hour. Nobody observed that most of these complaints concern traffic on smaller residential streets where the speed limit is 25 MPH, therefore ineligible for the van cam.

The van cam would also be used in areas around schools, and here the statistics are not so friendly to local residents. In other cities 80% of the tickets issued within school zones went to drivers who lived within a mile of the school. In other words – parents – harried, late parents rushing to drop off or pick up their kids, unaware that the topper to their already stressful day is being digitally processed in the bowels of the unmarked van they just zipped past.

Of course, to put this in perspective, adding to a parent’s stressful day is nothing compared with “injuries and fatalities among pedestrians and motorists”. That’s what the city says the Safe Speed program is designed to prevent. Your Gilbert is unaware of any recent rash of fatalities and injuries around the local schools, but then he might see it differently if he were to pocket $23.75 per ticket.

Think of the additional income that could be generated by domestic violence arrests if cameras were set up in front of local homes due to receive school-zone speeding tickets. In fact, why not set up cameras in front of every home to catch every legal infraction possible? It’s a potential gold mine!

The Chief was charged to investigate further with a study of potential street locations and potential earnings.

– Gilbert.

About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

1 Comment on "City in the Van Guard"

  1. colleen clay | April 24, 2007 at 9:02 pm |

    The cameras must be used on streets with speed limits of 35 MPH or less, so almost every street in the city would be eligible.
    Personally, I only care about recouping the money its costs to operate the system. But I would like the tickets to be expensive enough to be a deterent. I think one reason speeding has not been agressively enforced in the State of Maryland, is because local governments do not collect the fines generated from such tickets. Speeding and a disregard for traffic safety is a serious problem in this state. But enforcement is left to local governments who must pay for traffic enforcement, while the state collects the income. It is a difficult trade off to make to assign police to personell intensive traffic enforcement.
    It is a sad statement that our citizens will disregard the law and endanger others in the absence of enforcement, but that is the reality. Speed cameras are the only enforcement mechaninsm available to us that does not pull valuable police personell off of other duties.

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