Monday, March 27, 2017

Speed Limit Reduction Bill Advances

Do you believe your state lawmakers actually drive 20mph? 

A bill which would allow Montgomery County to lower the speed limits on many roads to 20mph has passed the House of Delegates and approaching a vote in the State Senate.

House Bill 332 would allow Montgomery County to decrease the speed limit on any road "outside an urban district" to 20 miles per hour.  This would allow the county to set a different traffic engineering standard for speed limits than elsewhere in the state where this limit is 25mph.  The biggest practical effect of the legislation would be to allow lowering of speed limits on many roads from 25mph to 20mph where speed cameras can currently be used, but cannot be used PROFITABLY, turning more safe drivers into lawbreakers by lowering speed limits would make the cameras far more profitable.

The county delegation originally proposed two bills, one of which would allow lowering the speed limit with no traffic engineering justification at all to 20mph, the other which would permit lowering the speed limit on any road outside an urban district to 15mph.  The house delegation gave the first bill an "unfavorable" vote, but House bill 332 passed with an amendment to apply a 20mph limit rather than 15mph.  [See Environment and Committee Vote Here]  This change to the bill is of little consequence with respect to the impact on speed camera programs since 20mph is the lowest speed limit which can be enforced by a speed camera in Maryland, making it clear the real intent of this legislation is to expand the county's speed camera program by making it profitable to use speed cameras in locations where it is not currently profitable to do so with a 25mph speed limit.

When asked by a member of the House Committee whether they could provide statistics showing that traffic fatalities were caused by the situations addressed by the bills, the sponsors could not produce any such data.  Studies have shown that reducing speed limits does not necessarily reduce accidents.  One study found that a UK effort to reduce speed limits from 30mph to 20mph actually increased traffic accidents.

The legislation was opposed in the House Committee by the Maryland Drivers Alliance, as well as by the Maryland Department of Transportation and by AAA, largely on the grounds that both bills would penalize motorists for driving at the same speeds that would be legal elsewhere in the state.  The fact that one of the bills the originally called for waiving all traffic engineering lays bare Montgomery County officials' true intent: to ignore generally accepted traffic engineering standards for setting speed limits and turn safe drivers into lawbreakers.  Perhaps the most unfair effect of all of the bill however will be that it actually penalizes NON-SPEEDERS, by forcing them to travel at bicycle speeds even though they had done nothing unsafe to begin with.  While this is billed as local legislation, the legislation WILL affect motorists from outside Montgomery County whenever they travel in that county and may apply to roads which receive state funding.

The definition of roads on which HB332 can lower the speed limit to 20mph is EXTREMELY broad, simply defined as any highway "outside an urban district"... thus including basically all of upcountry Montgomery.  No specific criteria for what justifies a 20mph speed limit is given, provided that the county can assign an engineer who will rubber stamp the wishes to lower the speed limit to bicycle speed the county would be able to do so and then enforce that new limit with speed cameras.  The bill would also reduce the carrying capacity of roads, with no plan to replace that capacity... making traffic congestion WORSE.

House Bill 332 is now scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Thursday March 30 before it can be voted on by the state senate.  The members of the Judicial Proceedings Committee are:
bobby.zirkin@senate.state.md.us 
delores.kelley@senate.state.md.us
jim.brochin@senate.state.md.us
bob.cassilly@senate.state.md.us
michael.hough@senate.state.md.us
susan.lee@senate.state.md.us
anthony.muse@senate.state.md.us
wayne.norman@senate.state.md.us
victor.ramirez@senate.state.md.us
justin.ready@senate.state.md.us
will.smith@senate.state.md.us

You can find your OWN state senator here:
http://www.mdelect.net/

See the House of Delegates Voting Record Here

IT IS MORE IMPORTANT TO STOP THE BAD BILLS THAN TO PASS THE GOOD ONES!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Washington Post: Justice takes a turn for the worse with certain roadway cameras

Columnist
Anyone who has been to traffic court knows the chances of beating a traffic-camera citation are slim to none. But those of us who appeared before Prince George’s District Court Judge Mark T. O’Brien a couple of weeks ago caught a rare break.

After noting that 90 percent of the cases that day involved right-turn-on-red citations, O’Brien announced to a nearly packed courtroom that he would reduce the $75 fines to $22.50 in court costs.

“The purpose of red-light cameras is to keep people from running through red lights, for obvious reasons,” O’Brien said. “But using them for right turns on red, I’m not so sure.”

Entire article at:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/justice-takes-a-turn-for-the-worse-with-certain-roadway-cameras/2017/03/05/6c31a29c-01ca-11e7-b9fa-ed727b644a0b_story.html?hpid=hp_regional-hp-cards_rhp-card-columnists%3Ahomepage%2Fcard&utm_term=.acb7c2b33ab7

Our challenge to Montgomery County, Prince George's county, and the City of Rockville:  Deploy signs stating "Right Turn on Red AFTER STOP" at three of the six RLC locations with the highest red light running rates, and provide the results after six months.  If this photo enforcement policy is about safety, it would be irresponsible NOT to do this.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Green Means Stop? Legislature Near Passage of "Blocking The Box" Bill

The Maryland Legislature is near passage of a bill with the claimed purpose of combating "blocking the box" by making is a crime to enter an intersection on a green or yellow light if the vehicle cannot "safely and completely" clear the intersection before a light turns red, according to an article on WTOP.

The bill has been submitted as House Bill-0237 and Senate Bill-0779.  The bill has already passed the House of Delegates and is pending a vote in the state Senate.  The legislation is "a monument change in the right of way at intersections", according to supporters of the bill, requiring motorist to stop on green or yellow lights if they cannot be 100% certain of clearing the intersection before the light turns red.

If HB237/SB0779 passes, it would prohibit a vehicle at a green signal, green arrow signal, or steady yellow signal from entering an intersection "if the vehicle is unable to safely and completely proceed through the intersection".  The vehicle would thus be required to stop on a green light if it was uncertain whether it could "completely" clear the intersection.  Violation of this statute  would be a misdemeanor offense with a $500 fine.  Current Maryland law simply permits motorists to enter an intersection on a green light, and also permits entry into intersections on yellow lights because cars cannot stop instantaneously.  In many cases it is physically impossible for all vehicle to either clear an intersection or stop when a light turns yellow, which is why traffic standards create what is called an "all red' clearance interval, where nobody has the green light, after a light turns red.

The house version of the bill makes an exception for cases where "A vehicle making a left turn can enter an intersection while yielding the right of way to any other vehicle approaching from the opposite direction, and a vehicle making a right turn can enter the intersection while yielding the right of way to a pedestrian or bicyclist."  However  it does not make any exception for cases when the vehicle in front of you stops and you are forced to stop rather than "completely" clear the intersection in order to prevent a collision.  The legislation also makes no exception for not stopping on a green light for the purpose of avoiding being rear ended by motorists who expect vehicles to continue moving when a light is green.   The bill does not state how long motorists have to "completely" clear the intersection or whether this means "by the time the light turns red" or "eventually".  If strictly interpreted, motorists would either need to be able to predict the future, or else would need to wait until the car in front of them completely clears an intersection, in order to be 100% sure they can clear an intersection.

The legislation is being supported by the WABA (The Washington Area Bike Association) which has in the past pushed for various legislation which increases liability for motorists.  It is unclear how the liability issue would be affected by this legislation in a case where a cyclist runs a red light at the same time a motorist with a green light begins to enter the intersection.

The legislation does not explicitly state that it would authorize red light camera citations to be issued for such violations, but neither does it explicitly state that it would not.  In the past the District of Columbia has proposed introducing "blocking the box" cameras, which would enforce similar violations there, and this issue is frequently raised as a goal of that city.  In Maryland, the legislature never explicitly stated that red light cameras would be used to ticket for making slow moving right turns on red, or coming to a full stop slightly ahead of the white line, but some jurisdictions simply began doing so after concluded they could enforce those tickets, and now both of those practices have become increasingly common, in some cases accounting for far more than the number of straight through violations.

The legislation could be construed as changing this, making it a violation to enter an intersection on
The house sponsor of the bill, Delegate Al Carr (who is possibly the most anti-motorist lawmaker in the House of Delegates), also sponsored legislation this year that would have created a new photo ticketing system called "Vehicle Presence Monitoring Systems", which was withdrawn after an unfavorable public reaction.  The legislation is also being supported by the head of Montgomery County's speed and red light camera program, Captain Tom Didone.

Captain Didone, who runs the largest photo enforcement program in the state, said he wants to discourage the behavior of cars rushing into an intersection on a yellow light to avoid waiting another light cycle. “(It will be) a monument change of the right of way for light intersections,” Didone said.  Thus it apparently is in fact the deliberate intention of this legislation to shift liability to motorists with a green/yellow light AND to make it a violation for not stopping for YELLOW unless you can be CERTAIN the light won't change red (which might be physically impossible for a motorist to guarantee).

The bill also does not explicitly require that local governments do their part to avoid "blocking the box" conflicts by ensuring that "all red clearance intervals" be set according to standards.  Many motorists are unaware that traffic engineers are supposed to set an "all red" phase after a light changes from yellow to red, in order to permit adequate time for all vehicles to safely clear the intersection.

A recent investigation by the Maryland Drivers Alliance discovered that Montgomery County had not been following SHA standards for the timing of yellow lights and red clearance intervals at some intersections, producing yellow lights and red clearance intervals shorter than the formulas specified by the SHA.  In the case of Georgia Avenue at Seminary Road, one yellow light had only a 3 second yellow time and a 1 second all clearance red before a complaint was made by the Maryland Drivers Alliance about this noncompliance.  SHA standards called for a 4 second yellow on a 35mph road, and red clearance intervals of longer than 1 second would be required based on the width of an intersection of that type.  Even after the light was re-timed, it is not apparent that the methodology specified by the SHA is actually being used by Montgomery County on this state highway.  Given that we only investigated traffic signal timing at a limited number of locations with red light cameras, it is likely there are many other traffic signals where red light cameras are not currently placed where SHA practices are not being used by the county.

We found it particularly interesting that according to a report on WTOP, one of the bill sponsors and the head of Montgomery County's speed camera program spoke of intersections which had problems: "Both Carr and Capt. Thomas Didone, director of the traffic division of the Montgomery County police, pointed out a handful of intersections in Montgomery County where blocking the box affects the flow of traffic, including Georgia Avenue and Seminary Road; "   The Maryland Drivers Alliance does NOT consider this to be a coincidence that this specific intersection was named out of 600+ traffic signals in the county, at, as officials in Montgomery County are well aware that there has been a dispute over the timing of traffic signals at Georgia Avenue at Seminary road and other locations.  The Maryland Drivers Alliance suspects that Montgomery County and other jurisdictions may be seeking a way to to transfer the county's potential liability for failing to properly time lights onto motorists as a way of justifying non-compliance with SHA standards.  The Maryland Department of Transportation had not weighted in on the legislation at the time of the WTOP article.

The bill was already rushed through the House and is near passage in the Senate.  The Judicial Proceedings Committee has already heard this legislation, but can still be contacted.  The members of the Judicial Proceedings Committee are:
bobby.zirkin@senate.state.md.us 
delores.kelley@senate.state.md.us
jim.brochin@senate.state.md.us
bob.cassilly@senate.state.md.us
michael.hough@senate.state.md.us
susan.lee@senate.state.md.us
anthony.muse@senate.state.md.us
wayne.norman@senate.state.md.us
victor.ramirez@senate.state.md.us
justin.ready@senate.state.md.us
will.smith@senate.state.md.us

Find your OWN state lawmakers on www.mdelect.net.

IT IS MORE IMPORTANT TO STOP THE BAD BILLS THAN TO PASS THE GOOD ONES.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Delegate Al Carr Wants Photo Tickets for "Vehicle Presence"

Delegate Al Carr(D, Montgomery County), is seeking to create a brand new type of photo enforcement which will issue citations for the mere presence of a vehicle.

You have probably already heard of "Speed Monitoring Systems" (more commonly called "Speed Cameras") and "Traffic Control Signal Monitoring System" (more commonly called Red light cameras).   House Bill 947 would allow local jurisdictions to deploy a new network of devices called (we are NOT making this up) "Vehicle PRESENCE Monitoring Systems".  Those devices are more commonly called.... NOTHING... because most people who don't stand to profit from photo enforcement would never even have thought an idea like this could exist or that it was even vaguely necessary.

The devices would be used to enforce "a state or local law restricting the presence of certain motor vehicles".  The legislation does not state WHICH state or local laws, or what "CERTAIN" motor vehicles means, or where this would apply, leaving it wide open to any such restriction any local jurisdiction might choose to create.  Would it be all vehicles?  Trucks?  Blue cars?  SUVs?  We have NO IDEA!  And there is no way that any of the lawmakers who would vote on this could possibly know either, because as written this could be ANY vehicle restriction which ANY local municipality comes up with at any time in the future.

Were a local government to misuse this legislation in some what, such as coming up with a restriction that motorists would not understand, that would be just tough on you.  The adjudication would be done in the same manner as speed camera citations, which is to say you won't stand a chance because the burden of proof has been explicitly lowered and dozens of cases might be assigned to a single judge in a 1-2 hour court session in assembly line fashion.  Citations would be issued to the owner, not the driver, and the only defense explicitly permitted under the statute is if you can prove your car is stolen.  The legislation states that citations can be mailed as much as 30 days after the violation, meaning a person could run up 29 more violations after the first one before even realizing the local restriction was in place.  Or they might get issued two citations in a row when the proceed down a street, realize there's a restriction, and then too late turn around.

There's no specific requirement in HB0947 that the local vehicle restrictions make any rational sense, or that it be related to any particular safety consideration.  The legislation does not even state whether the vehicles need to be moving.

An example of how deceptively written this legislation is can be seen in a portion of the bill which states "If a contractor operates a vehicle presence monitoring system on behalf of a local jurisdiction, the contractor's fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid."  This is intended to give the false impression of preventing any conflict of interest on the part of the vendor by not paying them per ticket.  In fact, this exact language was included in Maryland's original speed camera law, and almost every speed camera program in the state effectively circumvented that language simply by not using the word "operate" to describe what contractors do (even though they basically controlled the entire program and the hardware).  Of course Delegate Carr would absolutely have known this fact, and yet he deliberately included that specific wording in the bill just because he figured the public was too stupid to realize this.

It is more important to stop the bad laws from getting passed than to try to pass the good ones!   

The legislation is scheduled for a hearing before the Environment and Transportation Committee.
The members of that committee are:
kumar.barve@house.state.md.us
dana.stein@house.state.md.us
carl.anderton@house.state.md.us
pamela.beidle@house.state.md.us
alfred.carr@house.state.md.us
andrew.cassilly@house.state.md.us
jerry.clark@house.state.md.us
bob.flanagan@house.state.md.us
david.fraser.hidalgo@house.state.md.us
barbara.frush@house.state.md.us
jim.gilchrist@house.state.md.us
anne.healey@house.state.md.us
marvin.holmes@house.state.md.us
jay.jacobs@house.state.md.us
jay.jalisi@house.state.md.us
tony.knotts@house.state.md.us
stephen.lafferty@house.state.md.us
robbyn.lewis@house.state.md.us
cory.mccray@house.state.md.us
charles.otto@house.state.md.us
shane.robinson@house.state.md.us
william.wivell@house.state.md.us
 

Full Text of HB947

Update 2/26/17: Delegate Carr has withdrawn his "Vehicle Presence Monitoring System" bill after receiving negative feedback.  Good work!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Speed Camera Repeal Legislation

A bill repealing the authority to use speed cameras and red light cameras (House Bill 536) is scheduled for a hearing on February 23rd in the the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

The bill SPONSORS who are pushing to end Maryland's corrupt and broken speed camera law, are:
Warren miller, Christopher Adams, Steven Arentz Jerry Clark, Mark Fisher, William Folden, Robin Grammer, Kevin Hornberger, Seth Howard, Susan Krebs, Susan Mccomas, Tony Mcconkey, Matt Morgan, Charles Otto, April Rose, Sid Saab, and Haven Shoemaker.  These lawmakers are the ones who want to REPEAL speed cameras.

House Bill 536 would ban both speed cameras and red light cameras.  Speed cameras have been particularly criticized since 2012 when it was discovered that Baltimore City has erroneously cited thousands of innocent motorists for speeding.   The city's own audit found that as many as 10% of all citations were due to errors, meaning 1 in 10 motorists cited were actually innocent of what they were accused of.  Cases included documented examples of "speeding" vehicles that were not even moving, and large trucks falsely cited for traveling twice their actual speed.  Local governments and speed camera contractors had previously lied, telling the public that their equipment could not be wrong because it was "tested and calibrated", and that "if you don't speed you won't get a ticket", even though speed camera vendor Xerox later needed to acknowledge that even properly calibrated equipment could be subject to what they called "radar effects".   Similar errors have been reported elsewhere in the state, including in College Park, Brentwood, New Carrollton, Forest Heights, Cheverly, and Montgomery County.

In other cases, in 2010 Montgomery County was caught systematically failing to perform required calibration tests on many days citations were issued, affecting many thousands of citations.  Montgomery County refused to refund any of those citations.  A promised review of this practice by the program's so called ombudsman was never provided.

By design, speed and red light cameras are issued to the owner rather than the driver of the vehicle.  This means that it is literally possible for someone to be found guilty in court even though there is no evidence that the person committed the violation, something which absolutely does happen even in many cases where there is evidence the person was NOT driving.

Legislation passed in 2014 failed to solve many such problems.  Just in the last year, we discovered that the City of Rockville had falsely accused the county's own school bus of speeding... a complaint only taken seriously because it was a county flagged vehicle that was falsely accused.  Records retrieve from Rockville showed other cases where cameras had fired showing "no progression".

In one a recent case, the city of College Park erroneously issued hundreds of citations from a speed camera which was configured to enforce the wrong speed limit.

In another recent case, Baltimore County issued a speed camera citation to a STATIONARY vehicle.  Even after the ticket recipient contacted the so called "ombudsman" for the program directly, .  Baltimore County has acknowledged to us that they are currently using the same model of speed camera which previously produced erroneous citations in Baltimore City, despite this history of errors.  They furthermore admitted that they have no review procedures in place for identifying speed measurement errors.

In Montgomery County, the District court hold only a single day to hear all speed camera cases, often piling 50, 60 or more cases.  In one documented example, a district court judge flew threw a "rocket docket" of 60 cases in only one hour, finding every single person guilty except a few police officers whom the judge gave a pass for speeding.  Defendants in those hearings are PRESUMED GUILTY.  All evidence the prosecution presents is accepted with no authentication, something normally required for court evidence, whereas defendants often have their evidence tossed out as "hearsay", creating an entirely imbalanced proceeding in which it is almost impossible for defendants to prevail regardless of their innocence.

The concepts of "presumed innocent" and "beyond reasonable doubt" totally DO NOT EXIST in this proceeding.  "Speed Camera Day" Judges almost never accept any evidence or argument that equipment could have been incorrect, even though NUMEROUS examples of erroneous speed readings by speed cameras have been documented judges simply accept as given that the speed measurement cannot be wrong.  Some judges have openly stated that they only defense they will accept is evidence that a car was stolen, and even in those cases the burden of proof is on the vehicle owner.  Defendant found guilty are charged court costs... paid into the District Court's budget ONLY for finding defendants guilty, meaning the court has a direct financial incentive to find as many defendants guilty as quickly as possible.

In the case of red light cameras, Montgomery County was recently found using yellow lights shorter than standards set by the SHA.  Short yellow lights can greatly increase the number of red light violations.  Montgomery County refused to refund any citations after this was discovered, and has opposed efforts by the Maryland Drivers Alliance to obtain public records showing exactly how many violations this might have cause.  This is completely consistent with Montgomery County's culture of secrecy surrounding their speed camera program.



HOW TO SHOW YOUR SUPPORT
In order for the speed camera repeal legislation to get a vote in the House, HB536 must pass the Environment and Transportation Committee... a legislative body which is largely dominated by jurisdictions which profit from speed cameras.  Tell the Members of the Environment and Transportation Committee to REPEAL speed cameras.  Tell them you want them to give House Bill 536 a FAVORABLE VOTE.

Environment and Transportation Committee Members:
kumar.barve@house.state.md.us
dana.stein@house.state.md.us
carl.anderton@house.state.md.us
pamela.beidle@house.state.md.us
alfred.carr@house.state.md.us
andrew.cassilly@house.state.md.us
jerry.clark@house.state.md.us
bob.flanagan@house.state.md.us
david.fraser.hidalgo@house.state.md.us
barbara.frush@house.state.md.us
jim.gilchrist@house.state.md.us
anne.healey@house.state.md.us
marvin.holmes@house.state.md.us
jay.jacobs@house.state.md.us
jay.jalisi@house.state.md.us
tony.knotts@house.state.md.us
stephen.lafferty@house.state.md.us
robbyn.lewis@house.state.md.us
cory.mccray@house.state.md.us
charles.otto@house.state.md.us
shane.robinson@house.state.md.us
william.wivell@house.state.md.us

Tell these lawmakers that speed cameras represent a TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE.  Tell them that if they truly support speed cameras, they should attend a Montgomery County "speed camera day" hearing in person and see for themselves the "meat-grinder justice" which the Maryland State Legislature has created.  Tell them that the concerns about speed cameras have NOT been solved. 

You can also find your own state lawmakers here.  Tell them that they should oppose ANY expansion of photo enforcement, including Montgomery County's SNEAKY BACK DOOR PLAN to expand speed cameras BY GREATLY REDUCING SPEED LIMITS.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Washington County Officials Say Speed Cameras Should be Used to Generate Revenue

Apparently missing the memo that they should never (publicly) acknowledge that cameras are about revenue, some officials in Washington County openly stated that speed cameras should be used for the specific purpose of raising money.

Washington County Sheriff Doug Mullendore argued to the Washington County Board of Commissioners that the county should add speed cameras for the purpose of generating revenue, according to an article in HeraldMailMedia.com.  Mullendore said speed-camera revenue will remove the "need for doing any kind of a fire tax currently".   Mullendore had previously pitched speed cameras in April 2013 as a way to support what was then a proposal to fund a day-reporting center, according to the article.

Chief Financial Officer Debra Murray said after the meeting that the proposed operating budget includes $2 million in projected speed-camera revenue.  County Administrator Greg Murray said people will say a speed-camera program is used to generate revenue, "and there is no denying that".

Mullendore said that the government gets 60 percent of the revenue, while the contractor gets 40 percent.  (Despite legislation passed in 2014 was suposed to "end the bounty system" which paid the vendors a specific cut of each ticket.)

Read complete Article in HeraldMailMedia.com

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Open Letter To Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett: Your Short Yellow Lights

Dear Ike Leggett,

The Montgomery County Executive website lists among the guiding principals of your staff "Adhering to the highest ethical standards", "Being open, accessible, and responsive" and "Being Accountable".  If this is truly the case, how can you possibly condone the county's photo enforcement program profiting from red light cameras where yellow lights were set shorter than SHA standards for the past 13 years?

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the Montgomery County Government did have some red light cameras where yellow lights were shorter than standards set by the Maryland SHA.  So I hope you will do the right thing and insist on setting matters right by refunding the money to motorists who were wrongfully ticketed by your red light cameras which did not meet those standards.
In 2003, the traffic engineers at the SHA set a policy stating that the minimum time for yellow lights in Maryland should be no less than 3.5 seconds and they specified how the ITE formula for computing yellow times should be applied. That policy, as described in Appendix B of the SHA Signal Timing Manual, explicitly states that this was meant to apply to red light cameras.  The tables and formulas in the Signal Timing manual make it 100% clear that a yellow light on a 35mph road on level grade (such as the intersection at Georgia Avenue at Seminary Road) should have a FOUR second yellow time, not 3 seconds, and that ALL intersections should have yellow times of no less than 3.5 seconds.

References:
That policy clearly states that a certain formula is to be used in computing yellow light times, and states that under no circumstances should a speed lower than the speed limit be used when applying that formula.  It furthermore documents that it was the intent of Maryland's red light camera law to apply this specific standard where red light cameras were used.

After I first became aware of traffic signals which had been set shorter than this back in October, the Montgomery County DOT stated that this 3.5 second minimum was only recently "implemented" in 2015.  Members of the press accepted this statement on faith that the policy was only recently created.  When I later learned this standard had in fact been set in 2003, not 2015, the SHA told me I would need to ask the county to explain this discrepancy.  I did ask the county, but neither county DOT nor the MCPD would provide an explanation for this.

The fact is Montgomery County was putting safety at risk by failing to meet SHA signal timing standards.  The SHA signal timing manual states "the yellow change interval should be long enough so motorists can see the indication change from green to yellow and then decide whether to stop or enter the intersection."  To make that determination, drivers need some idea of how long yellow lights will be, they need lights to be timed consistently to a level that gives ALL motorists --- not just those with the fastest reflexes under ideal conditions but ALL motorists under ALL conditions -- adequate time to either stop or go.  Setting a yellow light too short can literally CAUSE a red light running violation.  Short yellow lights increase the rate of red light running, this has been proven in study after study.  A study by the Texas Transportation Institute found that "An increase of 0.5 to 1.5 s in yellow duration will decrease the frequency of red-light-running by at least 50 percent." If Montgomery County could cut red light running at a traffic light by FIFTY PERCENT simply by making yellow lights longer, why exactly would you not do so immediately?

Your Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit has argued this policy did not need to be implemented until the next time the traffic lights were maintained or calibrated.  I don't see why that is the case based on the documents I have read, but the SHA has confirmed to me that the policy was adopted in 2003, over 13 years ago.  Between 2003 and 2015 several yellow lights had been retimed to 3 seconds by the Montgomery County DOT.  These lights did not meet the bare minimum of 3.5 seconds the SHA standard requires, nor did they meet the 4 or more seconds the table in the signal timing manuals call for.


Montgomery County, as a matter of policy, says that they can issue red light camera citations for as little as one tenth of a second after a light turns red, literally a "blink of an eye".  That policy IS intentional.  The images and telemetry from an alleged violation showed a yellow light time, as recorded by your ATEU's equipment, of 2.9 seconds.  Frankly it really shouldn't matter if that time is 2.9 or 2.997 or 3 seconds when the standard set by the SHA is a minimum of 3.5 seconds, when the ITE formula computes a yellow time of over 3.5 seconds at 35mph, and when the table in the Signal Timing Manual calls for 4 seconds.

The fact is that before motorists complained and before the press got involved, Montgomery County had decided to take its good sweet time complying with this standard.   They might NEVER have complied and continued putting safety at risk for years if they hadn't been caught.  When a reporter from WJLA asked the county to speak about this,  NOBODY from the county would speak on camera.  All the county offered were various forms of "we admit nothing".  No tickets were refunded or voided.  The county has accepted no responsibility for this whatsoever.  The reward for the motorist who was the first to have enough courage to speak out about this was simply arrogant statements to not run red lights, followed by lies, followed by having the ATEU manager to tell her that she should not have talked to the press.

The county's refusal to refund or void the tickets is outrageous enough, but their refusal to accept responsibility for failing to comply with safety standards is absolutely infuriating.  Perhaps the scariest thing of all was that engineers at the Montgomery County DOT were completely unaware of other standards in the Signal Timing Manual, such as making allowances for heavy vehicles like buses and trucks.  If the use of "bare minimum" yellow times was being applied across the board for 13 years, one wonders how many other deviations from traffic engineering standards a thorough investigation would reveal.

I asked your Automated Traffic Unit to provide records of yellow light times and related data for violations captured by one of the cameras in questions.  That MPIA request was initially denied, and a second attempt at obtaining the documents was met with a fee for $19,000.  In response to my complaint about this to the MPIA compliance board, a member of your staff gave the compliance board false and misleading information that certain records I requested did not exist.  That kind of obstruction and lack of transparency isn't what people should expect from the Montgomery County Government

Even if the County's failure to apply the SHA standard to these lights was accidental, the Montgomery County Government's decision to "keep the loot" was NOT.  This was a matter of policy, a policy I have seen applied by Montgomery County in the past.
Other jurisdictions in the state have issued refunds when they made mistakes.  College Park did so very recently, when they erroneously issued tickets from a camera where the wrong speed limit was posted and were confronted about this by the press.  College Park didn't bring in a big team of taxpayer funded attorneys to circle the wagons and invent legal fictions so they could avoid returning the money.   They admitted their mistake, refunded the tickets, and moved on.  People accept that mistakes happen.  However failing to admit mistakes and then make things right is something the public should not need to accept from their local government.

Montgomery claims to run a "model" photo enforcement program.  But the measure of a  "Model" photo enforcement program is not their ability to maximize the number of tickets they issue, nor is it measured by the program's determination to prosecute every single citation even when the county failed to hold up its own obligations in the process.  It is measured by how fairly, transparently, and ethically that program is run.

The ethical thing for a "Model" photo enforcement camera program to do is refund or void these tickets.  The ethical thing is not to hide behind the Office of the County Attorney's huge team of over 40+ lawyers who will "make things legal" for you after the fact, and allow the county to keep the ill-gotten revenues these short yellow lights brought in.  The ethical thing isn't to assume the county government can get away with whatever they do simply because private citizens cannot afford to match the resources of the county's taxpayer funded legal machine.  The ethical and fair thing is not to rest assured that defendants going to district court will be unable to afford an attorney who understands the district court's "speed camera day" rules... rules which have been heavily weighted against those defendants.  The ethical and fair thing isn't to say "they admitted guilt by paying the tickets" to those who already paid, when the truth is they simply didn't know about this issue, or were frightened away by horror stories of the kind of "justice" photo enforcement defendants receive in district court.   If you have never watched those hearings in progress, where judges sometimes blow through 50-60 cases in just one hour, then you cannot truly understand how this program you helped to create actually works.

I make no money running the Maryland Drivers Alliance website and never have, and I have no financial stake in whether or not these tickets are refunded.  But as a Montgomery County resident, I DO have a stake in whether or not the County government is committed to following the traffic engineering standards.  I DO have a stake in whether or not the County is committed to running itself in a transparent and ethical manner.  I DO have a stake in whether or not that includes setting things right when the county government has done something wrong, rather than just saying "admit nothing" and circling the wagons with attorneys.

I have tried over and over again since last October to persuade your automated traffic enforcement unit to do the ethical thing in this matter, to no avail.  I am asking YOU, our elected representative, one more time... 


Mr Leggett, please do the ethical thing and refund these tickets.

Sincerely,
      Ron Ely
      Editor, Maryland Drivers Alliance Website
      Montgomery County Maryland
===========================================
===========================================

Contact Ike Leggett and the County Council and tell them to do the right thing and REFUND THE TICKETS!!! 
ocemail@montgomerycountymd.gov
county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov

Monday, January 30, 2017

Montgomery County Pushes To Remove Traffic Engineers from Speed Limit Decisions

Annoyed by stubborn engineers who insist on using traffic engineering standards to set speed limits, the Montgomery County Delegation is seeking to remove traffic engineers from the decision process with legislation that which would allow the county to arbitrarily lower speed limits to 20mph without any traffic engineering justification at all for doing so.

House Bill 0337, would allow Montgomery County to lower the speed limit "on all highways in a business district and undivided highways in a residential district" from 30mph to as low as 20mph.  This includes a vast number of roads in the county.  It specifically includes most speed camera locations where the speed limit is currently 30 or 35mph, meaning the speed limit at many existing speed camera sites could be dropped by 5 or 10MPH overnight!  The most significant change in bill however is that it specifically states that Montgomery County would have no requirement to provide any traffic engineering study to justify the reduced speed limits.

Current state law permits speed limits to be lowered to 25mph if traffic engineers perform an engineering study and determine the speed is justified.  The new bill would eliminate this requirement in these locations, allowing politicians or political appointees to make this decision without the burden of actually having a traffic engineer look at the road to determine whether a 20mph speed limit makes any sense.  Lowering a 30mph speed limit to 20mph would make it cost effective for Montgomery County to use speed cameras in locations where traffic engineers had previously determined 30mph was safe, and since safe previously law abiding motorists would now be "speeding", speed cameras would now issue enough citations to be cost effective.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Montgomery County Lied To State Public Information Act Compliance Board

Documents obtained by the Maryland Drivers Alliance reveal that the Montgomery County Government has made false and highly misleading statements to a state compliance board in response to a complaint filed by the editor of this website.

The Montgomery County Police Department repeated stated to the Maryland Public Information Act Compliance board that certain records sought by the editor of the Maryland Drivers Alliance website did not exist and were not located within a database, and thus could not be produced without performing a manual search costing tens of thousands of dollars and requiring months of time.  These statements was made repeatedly to the board by Montgomery County, however the vendor has clearly stated in writing that the requested data does exist in a database and is retrievable in a searchable electronic format.
 
The records were requested to investigate a concern about the duration of yellow lights at an intersection on a state highway in Montgomery County where red light cameras were used.  The editor of the Maryland Drivers Alliance website (Ron Ely), filed a Maryland Public Information Act request for a small set of records revealing the Yellow Time, "Red Time", speed limit, and other information which is recorded by red light cameras and which is available to recipients of red light camera tickets on a website (public.cite-web.com).  The county denied the request, stating that the data existed only on citation images and this was not disclosable.  We repeated our request, this time clarifying that the data was located on a website, not images, and also agreeing to remove some data from out request.  Montgomery County Automated Enforcement Manager Richard Hetherington again denied our request.

Screen shot showing where requested information
is displayed in a digital format
We submitted a new request, this time specifically requesting the data from a database and referencing a specific portion of the Public Information Act, GP §4-205(c)(5) which states : "If a public record exists in a searchable and analyzable electronic format, the act of a custodian providing a portion of the public record in a searchable and analyzable electronic format does not constitute creating a new public record."  This provision was added to the MPIA in 2011 for the specific purpose of allowing public access to records stored in a database.   The county responded that they would only produce the documents in the form of printing over 5000 individual citations and redacting all information EXCEPT the requested information, that this would require over 700 hours of time and that the fee for doing so would be $19,310.24. 

The county responded that they would only produce the requested records
by printing over 5000 individual citations and redacting everything
except small unreadable print... for a fee of over $19,000
The requested information does appears on citations underneath "thumbnail" images on citations, in font so small that it is barely visible on original citations and would likely not be readable at all after citations were redacted and re-copied.  The agency furthermore stated that the request would not be satisfied for 18 weeks, despite the fact that the MPIA requires documents to be produced within 30 days, or up to 60 days only if the requester agrees to a request for an extension.

Ely filed a complaint with the Maryland Public Information Act Compliance Board, which has authority to review "excessive fees" over $350.  In their written response to Compliance Board, Montgomery County stated: "The information that Mr Ely is seeking is embedded in a photograph as a type of time stamp" and "The third allegation that Mr Ely makes it the amount of time required to complete the task he is requesting....What he has failed to acknowledge, in both our written and oral conversations, is that the information he is seeking is not stored in a database format."  The county furthermore stated that they lacked the "capacity" to extract data from databases.

In our reply to this, we specifically pointed out that our request was specifically NOT for the production of citations, and that the data we requested was located on a website in a tabular format rather than as an "image" or embedded document.  We provided technical details which demonstrated that it was impossible for this data to be stored only in citation images given the way it was rendered, including providing the output HTML of the website and describing the technology used to render the data and that this could only be done if the data was stored in a searchable and analyzable format such as a database.   
Portion of the analysis showing requested data is NOT displayed on the website as an embedded image

However Montgomery County repeated their claim that the data did not exist in a database: "Therefore, once again, the citations that were generated by violations that occurred during the window that he is requesting are the records he is seeking" (despite the fact we had clearly stated they were not)  "Neither the County nor Xerox State and Local Solutions has a need to shore this information in a data base that can be queried or searched as it is not", a statement they made despite the fact that the ww.public.cite-web.com website is included on citations as the means by which ticket recipients can view the data we requested.

The requested data would reveal significant information relevant to public safety, such as whether or not the county's failure to conform to a State Highway Administration policy requiring all yellow lights to be set to a minimum of 3.5 seconds resulted in a higher rate of red light running.   However in their filings Montgomery County repeatedly argued there was no "public interest" in the disclosure of this information, casting aspersions against Mr Ely's character and professional abilities and against a reporter who had separately investigated the issue of these yellow light times in the process.

In a teleconference meeting of the MPIA compliance on January 9th, Montgomery County repeated their assertion that the citations were the only format in which the requested data was maintained and that the data did not exist in a database, and claimed that the raw information used to generate citations was not retained after citations were issued.  Mr Ely referred back to another statement made by the County in their filing to the board: "Our system, on the citation in question, registers a time of 2.997".  The "yellow time" as shown on the citation being discussed was 2.9, with only 2 decimal places of precision.  It is technically impossible for a value with 4 digits of precision to be read from the citations which only showed 2 digits. When confronted by a board member about when the vendor gave them this information, ATEU manager Mr Hetherington eventually acknowledged that this was after they had received the public information act request... a request which had been sent weeks after the citation was issued.

The board requested that the County ask their vendor whether the requested data existed in a database.  The Vendor responded : "In response to the letter dated Jan 11th, 2017, in which there was a request on if the information pertaining to the Yellow Time, Speed Limit, and Red Time data is stored in a database, the answer is we do have access to this information".  The vendor furthermore stated that it would take 18 hours to extract the information, far less than the over 700 hours the agency proposed in their response to our request, indicating that the vendor clearly has the "capacity" to extract records.

However the Montgomery County Government remained unapologetic and adamant in their position despite the fact that their false statements that the data was not retrievable from a database had been proven.  The county continues to assert that they had no obligation to extract the electronic records and disclose them despite any decision the board might make.  Associate County Attorney Hayley Roberts wrote "First, the creation of this database is the creation of a record, which the MPIA specifically says the County does not have to do." (a statement made the fact that the vendor acknowledge already having access to the information in a database.) "Secondly, the creation of this record would be completely outside the scope of the issue before the Board, as the issue before them is whether the $19,000.00 fee is reasonable. Third, neither the vendor nor the County have any use for this record, and the only reason that the County inquired with the vendor was due to a request by the Board. However, that inquiry should not in any way act as an agreement by the County that we are going to create a new record to comply with this MPIA request. " (despite the fact that the MPIA explicitly says that extracting records from a searchable and analyzable format is NOT "creating a new record").

The matter is still pending a decision by the Public Information Act Compliance Board.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Toll Rate Cuts Cost Less Than Expected

New data released by the MDTA showed that toll rates cuts introduced last year reduced overall revenues by only one percent, according to a report in the Baltimore Sun.

Between 2006 and 2014, Maryland saw large increases in toll rates at every facility, averaging close to 75%, including large toll rate increases in 2012 and 2014.  After Governor Hogan took office, the MDTA cut toll rates at most facilities.  While some facilities saw large decreases in revenues as a result, on the whole traffic at toll facilities increased and the total drop in toll revenue was only $5.1million, or one percent.  Toll revenues slated to finance new construction projects had been projected to decline, but data now shows the decreases were mostly offset by increased usage of toll facilities.  Only two toll facilities, The Bay Bridge and the Nice Bridge, saw revenues decline.  All other facilities, including the Inter County Connector and the Fort McHenry Tunnel, saw overall revenues increase despite the toll rate decreases.

Complete Coverage in the Baltimore Sun.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Maryland Considers Autonomous Car Legislation

Legislation has been submitted to the State Senate which allow the Motor Vehicle Administration to create regulations for registering and testing autonomous vehicles in Maryland.

SB-009 as initially submitted is very simple, and authorizes the administration, in consultation with State Police, to adopt regulations governing 1)  The inspection, registration, and safe testing and operation of autonomous and connected vehicles; and 2) the safe testing and operation of autonomous technologies on highways in the state.  However the effects of the technology could eventually be complex and profound.

Proponents of autonomous vehicles say the technology will ultimately be safer than human drivers and will enable people who cannot drive to have more mobility.  Dozens of companies are working on the technology, including well known efforts by Google and Tesla.  Some companies are investigating creating self driving trucks for shipping.  However there still exist many regulatory, liability, and technical constraints.  For example Google cars are deliberately limited to traveling at 25mph, and most autonomous cars still require a human driver to take over under certain circumstances.  There are also concerns about how well autonomous vehicles and human drivers will interact.

The fiscal policy notes for the bill recognize that there are different level of autonomy between full driver control and full autonomy.  About 20 states are currently considering legislation with respect to self driving cars.  The bill fiscal policy notes state "According  to  NCSL,  several  issues  that  states  are  considering include  liability,  appropriate  levels  of  insurance,  cybersecurity,  and the  application  of distracted driving laws for the individual who engages the autonomous vehicle."

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Baltimore County Cites Stopped Car for Speeding

Baltimore County issued a speed camera citation to a car which had stopped to allow an ambulance to pass for speeding, and then failed to identify the obvious error after the motorists requested the citation be reviewed.

The camera, located near the 2700 block of Putty Hill Avenue, snapped the photo in the evening of December 16 as the motorist had moved over to allow an ambulance to pass.  A short time later the motorist received a citation in the mail.

The photos clearly showed that while the ambulance progressed significantly in the 0.4 seconds between photos, and is significantly farther from the camera in the second image, the car which was cited had barely moved at all.
Citation Images have been redacted to protect the innocent
Baltimore County requires anyone who wants their citation review to fill out a form and send it to their citation review email address, which she did on December 28th.  She politely wrote to the County "Ombudsman":
"I explicitly remember that I slowed down from approximately 30mph and pulled over to allow an ambulance to pass.  I believe that the speed captured was that of the ambulance and not of my vehicle."..."the two images captured show that my vehicle has barely moved, but that the ambulance has moved a distance consistent with 45mph.  I ask that you please review all information you have, including any speed violation captured by the motion of the ambulance. I thank you for your time."

Despite the fact that the request pointed out the presence of the ambulance and the fact that her vehicle had barely moved, Baltimore County upheld the citation.  She contacted the Maryland Drivers Alliance, and then contacted the county again by email... this time copying members of the press, county council, and state legislature on her complaint.

A day later she received a response from Cpl Charles Schruhl, supervisor of Baltimore County's automated traffic enforcement unit, acknowledging the error and stating the citation would be voided.

Despite the fact that the citation was issued in error, and despite the fact that the citation was not identified as erroneous when it was supposedly reviewed by their "Ombudsman" after the nature of the error had been specifically pointed out, Cpl Schruhl defended both the accuracy of their equipment and their "Ombudsman's" citation review procedures:
"The “Ombudsman” request was handled properly based on their procedures and the requirements under the statute.  The system was operating properly.  However, you are correct in your statement regarding radar not being able to distinguish between the vehicles.  That has nothing to do with the “radar effects”.    This was not an error on the part of the radar, Xerox or the system itself but a limitation of radar in general."
While the county claimed that the "Ombudsman request was handled properly", neither the presence of a large bright red and yellow ambulance in the photos nor the fact that the motorist specifically referenced this in her review request raised any red flag for the reviewer.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Red Light Camera Company Settles Bribery Case With Feds

Red Light Camera Company Redflex has reached a settlement in a bribery case with the US Department of Justice.  

Under the terms of the agreement, Redflex must pay the city of Columbus Ohio a fine of $100,000 and whatever amount a Chicago judge decides, where Redflex is facing a $382 million suit.  Redflex must also cooperate with the Justice Department in any investigation into Redflex activities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Tennessee, Virginia, where the company's former executive vice president admitted he bribed public officials.  Redflex must also cooperate with Australian authorities investigating the company's activities. 

By agreeing to the deal, Redflex avoids being criminally prosecuted for bribery actions in Chicago and Columbus.  

The bribery case had already resulted in criminal prosecutions.  Former Redflex CEO Karen Finley was convicted for bribes paid to elected officials in an attempt to win or expand contracts with Chicago and Columbus.  Finley was sentenced to 30 months in jail,  but won a reprieve after claiming she was suffering from medial issues.  The investigations also resulted in the convictions of John Bills, a former Chicago assistant transportation commissioner, who was convicted of accepting cash and benefits from Redflex.  Lobbyist John Raphael plead guilty to extorting cash from Redflex to pass on as bribes to elected officials in Ohio.

Monday, December 26, 2016

PG County Speed Camera Involved in "Life Threatening" Collision

A speed camera in Upper Marlboro was hit in a collision which resulted in serious injury, according to a report on Patch.com.

According to the report, Prince George's County Fire/EMS reported on 12/19/2016 that rescue personnel responded too a crash where the "vehicle hit [a] speed camera in front of Riverdale Baptist Church", located at 1177 Largo Road in Upper Marlboro.


One person was trapped in the vehicle and needed to be extracted, and was transported to a trauma center with life-threatening injuries.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Hogan Spars With Democrats Over Transportation Law

Governor Larry has stated his "top priority" next year will be to seek the repeal of legislation which he says will require him to stop work on dozens of transportation projects in Maryland.

In a statement, Governor Hogan stated that he would submit "emergency legislation" repeal the bill passed by the 2016 General Assembly over Hogan's Veto which requires him to "rank" all transportation projects in the state.  “It will wreak havoc on the entire state transportation system and usurp important authority away from local governments and away from the executive branch of state government, giving authority instead to lobbyists and special interest groups."

The legislation, which Hogan described as a "Road Kill" law, created a "scoring system" for transportation projects and required the State to rank all transportation projects according to that system.  "Under the legislatively mandated scoring system, 66 out of 73 transportation projects are fully canceled"

Democratic lawmakers have argued that the bill does not kill any projects and that the final decision as to what is funded is with the Governor.  Democratic leadership have stated that the purpose of the legislation is to bring more transparency to the process of deciding which state transportation projects receive funding.   Sen. Roger Manno,  (D-Montgomery), argued that "We're just trying to get this done," "I'm from Montgomery County — we can accept it if we don't get a project we want," he said. "We just want to know why."

Hogan and Republican legislators have charged that the law was intended to tie the governor's hands by forcing him to subject each project to the scoring system, and to justify funding for any project that didn't score at the top of the formula.  Republican lawmakers and representatives of some rural counties have claimed that the scoring system is weighted toward mass-transit projects and against projects located in rural areas outside major urban centers.  "The bill says mass transit only," State Sen. Andrew Serafini (R-Washington County) argued "It's messing with all but two jurisdictions. My push is we gotta repeal."

The rankings include factors such as whether projects enhances existing community assets and increase accessibility to jobs.  Speaker of the House Michael Busch argued "The people of Maryland want a transparent government where they understand how politicians are spending their money. The law requires the Governor to simply explain his spending decisions, not hide behind them.

In a letter to the Baltimore Sun, incoming GOP chairman Dick Haire criticized the legislation as "Partisan Overreach", and pointed out that of the 31 "goals and measures" the MDOT was required to use to rank projects "none of those 31 factors is to reduce traffic congestion.", stating "Maryland's new law doesn't even use the term "congestion."

Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn stated "The one-size-fits-all ranking system mandated by this law is wrong for Maryland drivers, wrong for employers relying on needed improvements to local roads and bridges, wrong for tourists and visitors traveling to our state, and wrong for Maryland taxpayers who expect their dollars to be spent in an fair and equitable manner on projects that will improve their daily lives”.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Montgomery County Shuts Off Red Light Camera Over Yellow Light Timing Issue

UPDATED 1/26/2017: With respect to the creation date of the SHA's yellow light timing policy, we previously stated the policy was implemented in 2015, based on statements made to us by the Montgomery County Government.  The SHA has informed us that their policy on setting a minimum yellow light time of 3.5 seconds was created in 2003, 12 years earlier than Montgomery County claimed.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
The Montgomery County Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit has temporarily turned off a red light camera located at Georgia Avenue at Seminary Road after it was revealed that the timing does not meet the current SHA yellow light timing standard, according to a report by WJLA.

Concerns were first raised after a motorist discovered a ticket she received from the camera, a fraction of a second after the light changed, showed a yellow light time of "2.9s".  The minimum yellow light timing permitted by ANY yellow light anywhere is 3 seconds.  The yellow light in question claimed to have been timed at 3 seconds, according to the Montgomery County.  Nevertheless both the Maryland Drivers Alliance and WJLA independently timed the light at slightly less than 3 seconds.




Yellow lights are supposed to be timed according to a formula based on traffic speed.  For a 35mph road, the formula would normally give duration of 3.5s.  However the Montgomery County DOT claims that it is acceptable to use a slower speed than the speed limit due to the fact that the light in question was a left turn signal.  But even using the DOT's stated speed of 27mph, the computed speed based on the ITE formula is still greater than 3 seconds, and the DOT rounded the time down when configuring the yellow light.

But more significantly, in May of 2015 the Maryland SHA increased the minimum yellow light time for all yellow lights to 3.5 seconds.
Excerpt from the Maryland Signal Timing Manual

The traffic light in question is located on a state highway.   Montgomery County failed to increase the yellow light duration for the subsequent 18 months.

Yellow light timing formulas are supposed to take into account the time for humans to perceive and respond to a the signal change and bring a vehicle to a complete stop.  Yellow lights which are too short create a "dilemma zone" where some motorists can neither safely stop nor safely proceed.   The Federal Highway Administration has stated "There is a correlation between the duration of the yellow interval and red light running events. Van der Horst observed a substantial reduction in the number of red-light running events after increasing the duration of the yellow interval from 3 to 4 seconds (in urban areas) and from 4 to 5 seconds (in rural areas).  A small adjustment was observed in the drivers' stopping behavior, which was attributed to the relatively low increase in the duration of the yellow interval."  Some jurisdictions in California which increased yellow light times saw violations drop over 75%.

The Montgomery County Government has defended their right to issue red light camera citations just 0.1 second after a light turns red, making short reductions in yellow light times HIGHLY relevant to the number of potential violations.

WJLA asked several Montgomery County agencies for comment, but no county representative would speak about the matter on camera.  Montgomery County defended the timing of the light by email, claiming it is correctly and legally timed. The county decided to switch the camera off after the media started asking questions until the yellow light is increased to comply with the SHA standard, but no tickets have been refunded.

While the county claims 3 seconds is the correct duration for a left turn signal, it turns out that the left turn signal on Seminary Road at Georgia Avenue, at the same intersection but perpendicular to this yellow light, is set to 4 seconds not 3.  The red light camera only enforces the left turn from Georgia Avenue with a 3(ish) second yellow light, but not the left turn from Seminary road with a 4 second yellow.

The Maryland Drivers Alliance has attempted to conduct our own investigation of the impact of this yellow light duration on red light camera violations.  However Montgomery County denied a Maryland Public Information Act request for the yellow light times their system records for individual violations.  When we requested that they instead provide the portion of the database containing these records, Montgomery County demanded fee of over $19,000 to let us see the records.

(Update 1/26/2017)
We asked the SHA for a copy of their yellow light timing policy and were given a document dated in 2003 stating that the minimum time any yellow light should be set to is 3.5 seconds.  We asked the SHA to explain why this was provided when we had asked for a policy Which Montgomery County told us was implemented in 2015 and the SHA responded: "Our policy states that a 3.5 second was established in 2003. If you have any further questions, please reach out to the County."


Documents provided to us by the Montgomery County DOT shows that some traffic lights with only 3 second yellows had been set after 2003.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Montgomery County Lawmakers Want Speed Limits Lowered to 15-20mph

Montgomery County Council Member Hans Riemer
believes YOU can't safely drive faster
than 20mph
Local and state lawmakers from Montgomery County are proposing legislation which would significantly lower speed limits on a huge number of roads, including lowering the limits on some roads to 15mph and lowering the "default" speed limit where no speed is posted to 20mph.

State Delegates David Moon(D, Takoma Park) and Korman(D, Burtonsville), in partnership with Montgomery County Council Member Hans Reimer, have introduced three bills to lower speed limits.  One proposed a bill would allow Montgomery County to lower the default speed limit to 20mph.  Under the bill, Montgomery County would be exempted from any requirement to conduct a traffic study to justify lowering the speed limit to 20mph.  Police would therefore have probable cause to stop any motorist traveling over 20mph, and the 20mph zones would also presumably be subject to enforcement by speed cameras, without any traffic engineering study being done to affirm that the speed limit.This state legislation is being presented as a county bill, meaning that motorists from other parts of the state visiting Montgomery County would be subject to the very different "default" speed limits than in their home counties.

Another bill would allow lowering any speed limit in an "Urban District" of Montgomery County to 15mph, turning anyone driving a mere 20mph on these roads into a "speeder".  Currently "Urban Districts" may have speed limits of 25mph.  Another bill would allow speed limits to be lowered to 15mph if there is a school anywhere within 1-2 miles.   The definition of a "School Zone" according to state law and standard traffic engineering practices in Maryland  can only apply to roads within 1/2 mile of a school, meaning the new zones are up to 16 times the size of current school zones and could potentially encompass almost the entire county.  Unlike most of the rest of the state, Montgomery County uses speed cameras outside school zones, so if the act were used to lower speed limits to 20mph cameras could be used to enforce the newly lowered limit even though they were not in school zones... potentially increasing county speed camera revenues significantly.  The legislation would also give police probable cause to stop motorists on these roads merely for driving faster than fifteen mile per hour on a road previously designated as 25mph.

Delegate Moon says that lowering speed limits to 15-20mph is aimed at "correcting" speed limits in urbanized parts of the county. 

Hearings are scheduled on the bills on December 5 and 7Contact information for Montgomery County delegates can be found here.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Opinion: Hold the Montgomery Council Accountable

With so much focus in the media on national elections, it is often forgotten that our local and state elected officials have a much more direct impact on our day to day lives, and how much more your vote really matters in determining the outcome of such votes.

Residents of Maryland don't get to choose state lawmakers this year.  Nor do residents of many areas get to pick their elected county officials.  But that does not mean your vote does not count when it comes to local matter.  Who votes and how they vote still has an impact on how seriously the concerns of different constituencies are taken, and local ballot questions are still very important.

In Montgomery County in particular, there are several questions on that ballot which they can decide.  "Question B" would create term limits on the Montgomery County council, to a maximum of three terms.  Not surprisingly, supporters of the county status quo don't want you to vote for this.  In fact, they are so concerned that term limits will pass that "Question C" was added solely for the purpose of preventing one council member from being unable to run if term limits pass, by ensuring a partial term does not count towards the term limit.

The current members of the Montgomery County Council have wavered between total indifference on motorist issues to open hostility towards motorists.   It seems like their answer to motorists who want road infrastructure improvements is that you should take the bus.  This county government has consistently prioritized transit projects over road projects.  Some council members have even supported the lowering of speed limits.

This county government has created the largest photo enforcement programs in the state, and one which operates under fewer restrictions than any other program in the state.  Not one member of the current Montgomery County Council has been the least bit responsive to any of the complaints we have raised about their automated traffic enforcement programs.  When concerns about the culture of secrecy surrounding the County's Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit were raised, the county government had nothing to say and let the situation stand unquestioned.  When questions were raised about the creation of secret "Police Citizens Advisory Boards" that were exempt from the Open Meetings Act, the county government had not a word of concern.  When it was reported that the County had illegally issued thousands of citations without legally required calibration logs, elected officials had nothing to say and did nothing to have those tickets refunded.  And the current county government continuously uses YOUR tax dollars to push for more restrictions on your rights at the state level and against any new protections for your rights.

Motorists living in Montgomery County cannot vote out the current county council this year.  But you can show them that their actions and their indifference have consequences by voting FOR QUESTION B and AGAINST QUESTION C.