GRANOLAPARK: Roll the cameras

Speedcam1New speed camera installed at corner of Carroll and Byod Avenues.


Dear Readers,

No, really, it’s for SAFETY!

Not for revenue, no, no, not that! That’s what the city council says over and over and over again. The city’s traffic speed cameras are for safety, not revenue. Councilmember Terry Seamens brings it up at awkward times, however. Like when they are fretting about the speed cameras bringing in half the expected revenues this year – as happened just three weeks ago.

So despite a qualm or two about how some people might say they were only after more revenue, at their April 1 meeting the council approved more speed cameras. By a vote of 6 – 1, the council passed the city police chief’s proposal to establish a “Safe Speed Corridor” on all of New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard – the sections within the city, that is. They would cover these two broad, heavily-trafficked routes – amounting to around 2.5 miles of roadway, with mobile cameras.

Terry Seamens cast the “nay” vote.

Electronic speed bumps

Currently, the city uses stationary cameras, or cameras that are not easily moved. This has turned them into “electronic speed bumps,” Chief Alan Goldberg said when he presented his proposal. Traffic slows dramatically in the camera zones, but returns to illegal speeds outside them.

Mobile cameras would expand the camera zones to unpredictably cover many points over the entire length of those roads.

Chief Goldberg presented a map showing 2012 traffic accident “hot zones” along those roads. The hottest spot was at the intersection of University Blvd. and New Hampshire Ave. the zone stretches south on New Hampshire Ave. several blocks, roughly as far as Sligo Creek Parkway. A smaller zone is indicated at the intersection of New Hampshire Ave. and Route 410 (Ethan Allen Ave.).

The highest number of 2012 accidents in one spot – 11 – was at the corner of New Hampshire and Holton LA, a short block from the big intersection with University Blvd.

There were 7 at the intersection of New Hampshire Ave. and Route 410.

Behavior modification

True, as watchdog Terry Seamens pointed out, there may be physical restrictions that might prevent cameras from being set up at the worst trouble spot – Holton Lane. It was was also pointed out that the cameras could be set up in locations that are not traffic-accident hot-zones, but are, . . . shall we say “lucrative in speeders?”

The chief defended speed cameras for their positive effects. They change behavior, he said, even if only in range of known cameras. He said the mobile cameras enabled the police to cover a wider area, which would in time slow the corridor’s traffic down as it has in the current camera zones.

Mayor Bruce Williams was worried, however. Not with this plan, but with the state legislature. Because the Baltimore police mismanaged it’s speed camera program, the legislature is considering new speed camera laws. It may become illegal to move cameras without a 30-day waiting period.

The deal between the camera vendor and the city may become void, also. Although there have been no such reported problems with the city’s speed camera program, Baltimore’s has come under criticism for paying the vendor per ticket, instead of a flat fee.

With legislation pending, and no way of knowing what the final legislation will say, the mayor said he’d vote for the chief’s recommendation, but warned that in a few days, it could become moot.

NOT an April Fools joke

Here’s an odd thing.

The council is talking about residency requirements and council involvement in hiring again. How bizarre is that?

You might have noticed the council at war with itself over these issues last fall. The so-called Gang of Four, a slim majority, tried to tweak the city’s form of government. They persisted through the roar of outraged citizens and former councilmembers, until one of them changed his mind, losing them the majority.

They brought it up again at midnight, April 1. This is NOT an April Fools joke.

The idea of residency requirements (for city manager and department heads) has softened – instead they discussed offering “incentives” to live in the city.

But, the idea of council involvement in the department-head hiring process is still alive – in some council member’s minds. Never mind that this would change the city’s form of government. That form is “strong city manager/weak city council,” and it was codified in the city charter not long ago by a city council dealing with serious flaws in the then-system. As far as your Gilbert is aware, there are no serious flaws in the current system.

What’s most alarming is the suggestion that the city set up a committee to review the city charter!

The city charter is the core law, spelling out how the city government works. So changing it is a big deal, especially if the change messes with the balance of power between council and city staff.

 – Gilbert


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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.

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