Sunday, December 20, 2009

Speed Cameras Soon Coming to Delmarva

The small town of Fruitland, Maryland (Wicomico County, near Salisbury) has signed an ordinance authorizing Speed Monitoring systems. This may make them the first town in the Delmarva area to defraud er I mean protect its citizens with the devices. The town council approved a contract with RedSpeed, a company which, in partnership with Brekford only recently set up shop in Maryland. The town council was lured to the agreement by the chance to receive a discounted rate, and of course a portion of the revenues.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cheverly Maryland to Lower Speed Limits after Approving Cameras

The town of Chevery, which recently approved the use of speed cameras, is also now discussing lowering the speed limit on one of the main arteries through the town to 20MPH. In the Minutes of a recent town meeting shows how speed limits and sausages are made in this particular Prince George's County Town, and we suspect many other places as well:

"CM Schachter Cheverly Avenue has been 25 mph for a long time, but it has been a problem with speeding. So, I think we should consider lowering Cheverly Avenue to 20 mph. Mayor is there any reason why that would be a problem. Mr. Warrington not regarding enforcement, but it is a Federal Connector with a designated route. An engineer coming out and doing an evaluation will not result in an analysis recommending 20 mph.

CM Schachter
I think an engineer will tell us you can’t have something slower. We can make a political decision to make it lower. Mr. Warrington that is the key phrase political. The Maryland Uniform Traffic Code is set-up to prevent political decisions to set it at 6 mph. The engineer looks at the capacity, volume and capabilities of the road. If you ignore this and lower it you will have all the tickets thrown out and you will have greater liability.

Mr. Colaresi
State law does not allow it. It says after a study and you are lowering below 25 mph then you must have a really good reason. David is correct in that the engineers follow certain standards. It is not true that lower is safer. Mr. Schachter then we do have the possibility of picking a speed limit that is lower provided we have a good reason. Mr. Colaresi I would rather let the process happen and then look at this issue.

Mayor
we need to see if is there a consensus on the Council that we would like to see Cheverly Avenue as 20 mph and see what the engineering study results are. I am attempting to narrow this discussion so we can logically look at each and every street. Is the Council tonight, for discussion purposes, dropped to 20 mph or defer to the Worksession. CM Watson I would like to see it 20 mph, but only if we aren’t going to lose funding or something else. Mayor we will look for 20 mph and Mr. Warrington will look for the administrative aspects of that issue."


The minutes of that meeting also stated "We will have to look at some 20 mph streets and see whether they should be lowered to 15 mph and why?"

From a previous meeting in May discussing speed camera revenue council member Schachter
"CM Schachter will have questions about how creatively and expansive the Town could be in interpreting the law regarding the expenditure of these funds. Noted that it doesn’t bother him one bit to make money to be used for additional public good. Can we lower speed limits around the schools? "


From the July 9th meeting minutes:
"CM Tevault 12 miles per hour seems like quite a fast clip in going over 25 miles per hour. Can we consider the starting speed when adding 12 miles per hour over?

Mr. Warrington noted that the speed limits are up to the Mayor and Council. Also, that some of the revenue requirements are still somewhat unclear."

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Update 5/2/2010: Cheverly did proceed to lower most speed limits in the town from 25mph to 20mph on March 11, 2010 with ordinance O-2-10 which contains the description 'An Ordinance whereby the Mayor and Council change the maximum speed for residential streets, unless otherwise posted, from 25 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour.' This effectively turned anyone driving 21mph on a road they were previously able to legally and safely drive that speed into a 'lawbreaker'. READ Ordinance

New Carrollton Speed Cams Milk Drivers by the Thousands

New Carrollton's fledgling speed camera program is now in full swing and we have been getting many reports of tickets issued from there. The Gazette reported that in its first month New Carrollton issued 7,653 citations issued for a camera posted at the intersection of Good Luck Road and Cathedral Avenue, and 6,608 at the intersection of Riverdale Road and Lamont Drive[1]. That total (14,261 citations) is more than the number of residents in New Carrollton. Assuming all citations were paid this works out to about $342,000 of net revenue for the City and about $228,000 of income for the contractor, Optotraffic.

Strangely enough the number of Citations issued in November is vastly more than the mere 150 warnings which the city previously stated they had given out during the legally required 30 day warning period in October[2]. This indicates that New Carrollton may not have made a serious effort to issue warnings to drivers during the warning period.

New Carrollton has been using mobile units, apparently trailer based, which can function both as speed and red light cameras (See Company's description).

We have received multiple reports from ticket recipients who were given less than a week to either pay or challenge a citation from New Carrollton after the date it was received, in one case they even reportedly were unable to pay because the payment website was down. It is unclear whether New Carrollton will follow the policy of tacking on late charges immediately after the due date.

We have also received multiple reports from drivers who received citations more than 2 weeks after the date of the alleged violation. The Maryland law governing speed cameras specifies that citations issued to Maryland residents must be mailed within 2 weeks, or 30 days for out of state drivers. We strongly recommend you NOT pay any citations mailed outside of this due date. It is unreasonable to expect a defendant to be able to gather evidence in their defense weeks after an alleged violation has ocurred, especially signs may have been added or changed in that location in the interim. You should insist that these citations be dismissed without your having to go to court. Remember that the burden of proof is on the government: If you receive a citation 18 days later the fact that they deliberately did not include a postmark does not excuse the city's failure to comply with state law!

New Carrolton's program is particularly disturbing given their history of violating state and federal guidelines with their red light camera program resulting in large numbers of citations being mailed to drivers who came to a complete stop at intersections.

If you want to protest this situation, you should always direct criticisms and complaints to the state lawmakers who voted for the cameras, or to the local elected officials in New Carrollton:

Mayor Andrew C. Hanko
Phone: 301-577-0256 ; Fax: 301-459-8172 ;
E-mail: ahanko@new-carrollton.md.us

Councilmember Duane H. Rosenberg
Phone: 301-441-3324; Fax: 301-459-8172 ;
Email: drosenberg@new-carrollton.md.us

Councilmember James A. Wildoner
Phone: 301-577-0992 ; Fax: 301-459-8172 ; Email: jwildoner@new-carrollton.md.us

Councilmember June D. Garrett
Phone: 301-459-6100 ; Fax: 301-459-8172 ; Email: jgarrett@new-carrollton.md.us

Councilmember Katrina R. Dodro
Phone: 301-513-9239 ; Fax: 301-459-8172 ; E-mail: kdodro@new-carrollton.md.us

Councilmember Richard Bechtold
Phone: 240-770-7581 ; Fax: 301-459-8172 ; Email: rbechtold@new-carrollton.md.us

Mailing Address for Mayor and Council Members:
6016 Princess Garden Parkway
New Carrollton, MD 20784

If you are challenging a citation you should contact Police in New Carrollton (or the appropriate jurisdiction) to request information pertaining to the defense of your case, but speed cameras are a political issue and police do not set public policy so you should not send them letters regarding public policy. You should never consider it acceptable for an elected official to have a police officer respond on their behalf (as the County Executive in Montgomery County frequently did for that county's program[ref]).

If you wish to contact the contractor, Optotraffic, they are a division of Sigma Space Corporation is headquartered at 4801 Forbes Boulevard, Lanham, Maryland, 20706; ph# 301-552-6300.

Other towns in Prince George's County are about to follow suit: Bowie, Berwyn Heights, Capitol Heights, Riverdale Park, District Heights, Cheverly, and Brentwood are among the towns which are in the process of adding cameras. Most of the planned locations are in school zones which were recently created specifically for the purpose of adding cameras, in some cases on major state highways which only barely come within 1/2 mile of the grounds of a school. And the county government has asked the County Revenue Authority to select approximately 50 camera locations. That is just for starters. Within a few years Prince George's County may have more ticket cameras per capita than any other part of the country.

It is now up to the people of Prince George's County whether they will allow themselves to be surrounded by so many cameras that even diligent drivers end up paying a monthly bill to every small town which sets their own standards without oversight, or whether The People are going to be patriots and fight back. Every time someone 'just pays the fine', they are saying 'I won't speak up, please add more cameras and send me more tickets'. Every time someone fails to challenge a citation, they say 'I'm willing to surrender my constitutional rights to face my accuser and to be presumed innocent'.

What are YOU going to do?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Red Light Camera Vendors Fight Over Baltimore Contract

As Baltimore rapidly rolls out its new speed camera program, two photo enforcement vendors, two red light camera vendors are fighting it out in court over ownership of the city's red light cameras.

According to Baltimore, Maryland officials, a photo enforcement vendor has threatened to unplug the city's red light camera program unless its financial demands are met. The charges were leveled in a federal lawsuit initially filed by Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) against Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS). Baltimore inserted itself into the lawsuit last month claiming it had more of a stake in the matter.
"The contract between ACS and the city for the operation of the red light camera system generates significant revenues for the city of Baltimore," Baltimore's Chief Solicitor Michael S. Elder explained in court documents. "These revenues are utilized to fund other important governmental functions. Any interruption in the operation of the system will deprive the city of revenues that are desperately needed for essential functions in the current economic climate... The city's interest in its ability to fund vital government functions through its share of the revenue stream derived from the red light traffic camera system program is an interest that is plainly not shared by ACS."

ATS claims that it owns the City's red light cameras, which had been previously installed by Nestor Traffic Solutions (under a subcontract with ACS). Nestor's assets were purchased by ATS. ACS and the city of Baltimore claim that ATS was bound by Nestor's obligation to transfer ownership of the cameras to the City. According to court documents, "threatened to disable and/or remove red light camera devices in the City of Baltimore." ATS has yet to formally answer charges made in the lawsuit.

A similar but reversed dispute over equipment happened in DC when ATS took over control of that city's red light cameras from ACS in 2007. It was found that ACS had left large amounts of city owned equipment in disrepair.

See Story on TheNewspaper.com

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Maryland Lawmaker, DC Parking Scofflaw

In March of this year a poster to the website NowPublic.com caught one state lawmaker, Delegate Craig L Rice (D, Montgomery County, District 15) in the act of illegally parking in DC. When confronted by the Baltimore Sun about it his response was that he had only been there for a few minutes would have moved along if a police or parking enforcement officer had asked him to move.

Well it turns out that someone with Maryland license plate number 46A (the same as Rice's legislative plate number) was issued a DC parking ticket on that day, in the same area where the NowPublic photo was taken, and as of November 29th, 2009 that citation for $60 was still unpaid.
It is unclear why this citation went unpaid. However we do know that Maryland Lawmakers can receive special legislative license plates for which the state of Maryland pays the fees. We also found many other 'low numbered' license plates in the DC parking ticket database, some dating back 9 or 10 years, so it's possible that DC has a hard time enforcing tickets against plates registered to state governments. However since Delegate Rice voted in favor of Senate Bill 277 authorizing statewide speed cameras in Maryland, we assume he is OK with the idea of being hounded by cameras all time time and being presumed guilty. So we suggest that he 'just pay the fine' as local govt officials in Maryland are keen on telling citizens to do.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More Maryland Towns Adopt Speed Cams

Frederick City Aldermen voted 4-1 on November 20th to approve the use of speed cameras. Alderman C. Paul Smith who was the sole vote against the cameras, expressed a concern that he had no idea how many cameras might eventually be installed. Mayor Jeff Holtzinger said that he expects the city would make a "boatload of cash" if it put speed cameras along Key Parkway or Shookstown Road. Some city aldermen previously expressed a concern that limiting the cameras to school zones was too confining, but Police Chief Kim Dine said the half-mile radius and the number of schools in the city would create a large area for cameras to operate... indicating that the city may follow the lead of Baltimore and invent new school zones to install cameras in.

Berwyn Heigths has begun selecting locations for its speed cameras. The council already selected Pontiac Street and Edmonston road. The existing 15mph speed limit on Pontiac Street would mean the city will hand out speed camera tickets to drivers who are traveling at the reckless speed of 27mph. The city is planning to create a new school zone on Edmonston road and and expand the existing school zone on Pontiac Street, "Edmonston Road has a tremendous amount of volume, but it's not currently in a school zone," Mayor Calvo said. The town will also ask the SHA for approval to put the cameras on Greenbelt Road (a 6-lane state highway), running from 62nd to Kenilworth avenues. The town has been in discussions with Optotraffic/Sigma Space about using dual red-light/speed cameras. Optotraffic conducted a study for the town to see which locations could ensure a minimum 616 tickets per month (30 tickets per day), since neither the city nor the contractor are willing to accept an arrangement unless both are assured to make money. Under the deal Optotraffic would keep $16 of every speed camera ticket and the town would keep all of the remaining revenue up to 10% of the town's current total budget. Berwyn Heights residents will have a chance to voice their opinions at the Dec. 9 town meeting.

Sykesville (Carroll County) is conducting a study to see if the cameras are viable. 'The Traffic Group, Inc', a Baltimore-based vendor, will do the study free of charge. Town officials will receive the results of that study in their Monday, Nov. 23th meeting. The City of Laurel has begun discussing speed cameras as well, and is investigating whether they will be cost effective. The city's camera's would be in addition to the freeway speed cameras which the state has set up on 65mph I-95 at the ICC construction site.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Baltimore Speed Cameras Used For Surveillance

Officials and Politicians who support speed cameras have often stated "if you don't speed you won't get your picture taken". But in the case of Baltimore City's speed cameras that is apparently not the case, according to a recent story by WBAL. These speed cameras, in addition to taking still photos, are equipt with video capability which is monitored live 24/7.

The cameras all feed into Baltimore City's Metropolitan Transportation Center where the video feeds can be viewed at any time by city workers. "Now as a side note, because it is a camera, we can on occasions look at the...roadway through the camera, because its there. We are using it for surveillance purposes, not that we're monitoring what the actual speeds are," WBAL quotes Randall Scott, Baltimore Traffic Division Director. "From time to time we can call up to look at the video image of the speed cameras," a city official states in a recorded interview.

City officials state that they are not recording this video. However this could be changed at any time the city police choose, assuming they can acquire the sophisticated equipment needed... such as a VCR.

Baltimore is installing 51 speed cameras in "school zones", many of these school zones were not designated as such prior to the introduction of speed cameras. City officials say "most" of the cameras are already installed (no word on whether all the 'school zone' signs are or not). Baltimore's contractor receives a percentage cut of each citation paid. "Transportation department workers are also trained in how to maintain, and calibrate the cameras, by the company that operates them, ACS State and Local Solutions." states WBAL.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Speed Cam Tickets Now For Real

The 30 day waiting period required by Maryland's new speed camera law has elapsed and it now appears that drivers have been receiving tickets from New Carrollton and Baltimore City. It may be that some drivers -- and perhaps some local governments -- are not aware of all of the restrictions on the use of speed cameras in Maryland. Some drivers pay the fines without questioning, but we urge the recipients of those tickets to examine them closely and ensure the following:
- Citations must be for at less than 12mph over the posted speed limit.
- Citations may be mailed no more than 2 weeks (for Maryland drivers) or 30 days (for out of state drivers) after the alleged violation. A citation dated more than 30 days prior is probably not valid, drivers should not accept the explanation that they attempted to mail it earlier. There have been cases of citations mailed with invalid timestamps.
- Citations must inform you of your right to contest a citation in court. You should always specifically request the operator be present or they are not required to present any witness at all.
- Speed cameras can only be set up in properly marked school zones with standardized signage or in highway work zones. A school zone does not automatically exist within 1/2 mile of a school, and both Baltimore City and New Carrollton have created new school zones simply to install cameras. It may be the case that some cameras were installed before signs were posted, this would not be in compliance with state law and ticket recipients should contest that.
- Locations where the cameras are used must include signs stating that photo enforcement is in use.

If you have recently received a citation which they believe to be in violation of one of the above please contact us.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Camera Company Van Caught Breaking State Law

A visitor to our website has videotaped a red-light camera vendor's van in violation of state law. Maryland law requires all vehicles (with the exception of motorcycles, tractors, and trailers) to have both front and back license plate. But red light camera vendor 'LaserCraft' appears to be operating a vehicle in violation of this statute, a vehicle without a front license plate.

We'd encourage LaserCraft to pay the government the $60 fine they owe. And we'd encourage any of our viewers who see such violations to report them to the proper authorities (that would be us). Yes camera pushers, the people whom you would watch are going to be watching you.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Public Rejects Cameras in Texas, Ohio

On November 3rd three US cities put speed and/or red light cameras to a popular vote, and all three voted them down. The People of Chilliccothe, Ohio passed a total ban on speed and red light cameras. Voters in College Station, Texas and Heath, Ohio voted to ban red light cameras. In each of these cities the camera vendors funded PR campaigns to try to affect the outcome of the vote, and in Chillicothe the Mayor tried to get the Ohio supreme court to block the referendum. So far of the 9 US cities where the public was given a direct vote on speed or red light cameras, and the cameras were rejected every time.

Regrettably referendum power in Maryland is pathetic. Perhaps it is time we get a real referendum process or change our lawmakers.

Sources:
TheNewspaper.com
Washington Times

Thursday, October 29, 2009

School Zones Expanded to Allow Speed Cameras

When Senate Bill 277 was passed this year, supporters frequently pointed to the fact that the cameras would be limited to school and work zones only. In the case of work zones, a loophole was built into the law, permitting their use 'regardless of whether workers were present'. Now StopBigBrotherMD.org has learned that Baltimore City has created new school zones specifically for the purpose of installing school zone speed cameras.

According to state law (TR § 21‐803.1) and Maryland State Highway Administration ASE guidelines, a school zone does not automatically appear within all roads within a 1/2 mile radius of a school, but are defined as follows:
'“School Zone” is a segment of a highway located within a School Area that is (1) routinely used by pupils for access to or egress from school buildings or grounds, (2) established by official action, and (3) designated by appropriate signs."'[...]
and
"A school zone is officially designated as such when the required signs are installed. Designated school zone signs should only be installed where school facilities are in actual use for school activities."
Standard signage is required at the beginning and end of the zones.
After Baltimore City released the locations of 51 planned speed camera sites, a member of StopBigBrotherMD investigated several of these locations. It is possible to view most locations using Google Maps and in Google Street View. Google Street view provides 360 degree scrollable imagery of many roadways, albeit typically one or two years old. It turns out many of the locations had no signs indicating school zones or any 'End School Zone' signs preceding them. A number of the sites also did not appear to be located on roads adjacent to a school, but instead seemed to have been selected merely because there was an existing red light camera which Baltimore's Contractor (ACS) could easily convert into a speed camera. It was noted that some camera sites had been placed on State or US highways, which are not typically under the jurisdiction of or the property of a local municipality. The SHA ASE guidelines indicate that it is the SHA which has authority to establish school zones and authorize speed cameras on state highways.

An inquiry was made to the Baltimore City Transportation department and a little over a week later the following response was received:

"Thank you for your request. In response to your e-mail below:

You asked if the locations for speed cameras were all pre-existing school zones. No they were not.

You asked if the city will ensure that all of these locations have required signage before the speed cameras are installed. The answer is yes.

You asked if the State Highway Administration's approval was, or will be received for designating the locations for the speed cameras. The answer is no. The city maintains the state highways. We do not need SHA's approval."

StopBigBrotherMD.org also examined several roads designated for speed cameras in New Carrollton and could not find 'SCHOOL' or 'End School Zone' signs on any of the designated roads -- both on those designated roads which were not immediately adjacent to a school and on those which did in fact pass right by a school. It is unclear at this time whether the New Carrollton locations were supposed to be school zones but were improperly marked at the time the Street View images were recorded, or whether like Baltimore the school zones were simply added after there was the new motive of adding cameras.

We have created the following videos which document this situation for 4 locations in Baltimore and 2 locations in New Carrollton. Many other locations had similar lack of signage.




StopBigBrotherMD fully believes that safety in school zone is important. However given that these locations were not previously designated as school zones begs the question whether safety concerns was the real motivation for selecting them. Other means besides speed cameras have been proven effective at reducing speeding and/or reducing accidents, but apparently those were not tried in many of these locations. Speaking as a parent of two small children myself, IF these were legitimate locations for school zones we might ask why public officials put the safety of children at risk by not bothering to do the inexpensive bare minimum step of marking the locations as school zones and alerting drivers to the presence of a school nearby... until there was a revenue motive for doing so.

========================================================================

Additional Coverage as of 11/4/2009 : ABC2News has investigated this further. Apparently cameras are being installed before the signs are going up. Referring to a new camera on Norther Parkway "Workers installed speed cameras at the intersection today, the signs formally calling it a school zone will come later. " See TV Story.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Transporation Planning Board Pushes to Track, Tax Area Drivers

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) voted at its October 21rst meeting to seek federal funding to conduct a study of a controversial per-mile tax on drivers throughout the DC metro area, including suburban Maryland and Virginia. The road pricing plan, if implemented, would involve charging tolls on existing roads in DC and suburban Maryland and Virginia. The tolls would be adjusted based on time of day and location in order to discourage less wealthy drivers from using roads during peak periods and to raise up to $4.8 billion per year in new revenue from the pockets of area drivers (compared to $420 billion extracted right now through area gas taxes). In order to accomplish this all cars in the region would need to be fitted with GPS transponders and according to the proposal "This device would record the type of vehicle, the distance traveled, and the time and location of travel."

Road pricing systems are already in use in London and in Stockholm, but a proposal to implement it in New York city was shot down by New York state. The purpose of the study would be not to determine whether the system is a wise choice (the TPB members have already concluded they want the money), but rather to determine how to re-brand or repackage this new tax in a way that would avoid widespread organized opposition. The study will take place in 2010. After it is complete, the next step would be a demonstration of project of tolling via GPS tracking on one or more local roads.

A representative from AAA made a scathing commentary on the proposal : "The charges for driving as proposed in the Brookings paper are so high that they are no longer tolls, they are fines, intended to penalize and discourage driving" and "You know, it's illegal for motorists to drive intoxicated. Apparently no such rule exists concerning consumption while writing grant proposals." However WTOP quoted Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman voiced his support for the new revenue road taxes would generate: "Most of us sitting at the (Virginia) table have voted for every single tax that we have had a chance to vote for, and we still can not get anything done. "

Some local government officials responsible for setting tolls and transportation are often exempt from EZPass tolls since they have been issued free EZPass transponders by their state. According to an article by WTOP last year, Virginia issued a free EZPass to their Transportation Commissioner and 16 members of the VA Commonwealth Transportation board. Maryland issued transponders to citizens appointed to the Maryland Transportation Authority and to the Secretary of Transportation, as well as "vehicles of officials and employees of the executive, legislative and judicial departments of the State" with total of 15,00 free transponders in use by the state of MD. Maryland lawmakers are currently involved in a scuffle regarding their free ezpasses, but regardless of the outcome they will still retain a $500/year travel expense account which can be used to pay tolls.

Because several members of the TPB are local elected officials who are up for re-election on November 3rd 2009, a supporter of StopBigBrotherMD.org and area resident attempted to acquire the TPB's voting record on this issue for the public. After two requests to contacts at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to acquire this information the response was that the TPB does not record individual votes and that, and that the minutes of the meeting would not be made available until shortly before the next TPB meeting (ie after the 2009 elections). Here are the members of the transportation planning board; we suggest our readers contact their area's TPB representative and advise them to make the TPB more transparent and accountable. You may wish to talk to your area's representatives on the MWCOG board of directors, which also approved the study.

Coverage on WTOP
Coverage on TheNewspaper.Com
Text of the Road Pricing Plan Proposal

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Prince George's County asks Revenue Authority to Select Camera Sites

Prince George's County is moving ahead with plans to deploy speed cameras by asking the County Revenue Authority to select 50 speed camera sites. Yes you read that correctly. This Freudian slip caused certain vocal speed camera supporters to have a tizzy fit. I don't understand the problem, at least they're being honest about it.

According to the Gazette article Prince George's will start with a fleet of 10 vans outfitted with cameras to be posted at potential sites, and then a private company will install fixed cameras at a rate of five locations every three months. (and, if they follow the same type of contract arrangement as Montgomery County and Baltimore, that company will likely receive a cut of every ticket).

Prince George's county officials also expressed discontent over restrictions in the law (that the cameras are restricted to within 1/2 mile of schools and in freeway work zones without workers):
"I think we should, maybe next session, be asking the state to modify it," said Councilman Thomas Dernoga (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel, adding that the council should make speed camera expansion a priority with the General Assembly.
Prince George's County had originally asked the council for speed cameras on 'Primary Highways' with lower ticket thresholds, and higher fines[see 2009 bill, 2008 bill]. Frederick City officials have expressed similar wishes. Montgomery County has also recently whined that some of the restrictions in the law (part of the compromise used to sell the idea of statewide cameras and speed cameras on 55 and 65mph freeway workzones-without-workers) would cost them money. Montgomery County had written $13million into their FY10 budget in fines for violations which had not yet been committed (apparently once the county plans on a certain number of violations taking place, it is already their money and they are entitled to have those violations occur and receive the revenue from them), and the county had doubled their number of cameras to reach this quota. No, the the government will not rest on its laurels and accept any restrictions on what it can do. In fact they don't intend to stop until they can bill you for every mile you drive.

====================================
Addendum 0n 11/10/2009
Prince George's County has been trying to convince the public that the 'Revenue' authority is not a money collection organization by stating "the Revenue Authority, despite its name, is not a tax collection agency but the operator of the county's parking facilities. " While that is in fact true, the Revenue Authority's Mission statement on its own website makes it clear that this is a deception, and that it's primary function is in fact revenue collection, and that it does not have responsibility for public safety related functions:
" MISSION
The Revenue Authority is dedicated to promoting the public interest of Prince George's County by:
  • Facilitating economic development and employment growth
  • Owning, operating and maintaining revenue-producing facilities
  • Financing County capital improvement projects
  • Managing a self-supporting public parking program"

Saturday, October 17, 2009

DC Area Agency Wants to Track Every Vehicle

There's a new idea coming which is going to hit every DC-Metro area driver in the pocketbook, not to mention create an Orwellian nightmare which might make speed cameras seem quaint by comparison. The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board(TPB) is considering a pilot study to introduce 'Congestion Pricing' or 'Road Pricing' on existing roads in and around DC.
Congestion Pricing is used in some European cities like London and Stockholm. A plan to implement congestion pricing in New York City was rejected by the state legislature in 2008. However a bill by Oregon Representative Earl Blumenaur to spend $154million of taxpayer dollars to study the introduction of a Vehicle Miles Traveled Tax was met with enthusiasm by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments(MWCOG), which has asked the TPB to request funding for this study in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

According to the proposal the TPB is considering, entitled 'Road-Pricing: How would you like to spend less time in traffic?' (but would have been more appropriately named 'Tolls Everywhere: How would you like to be taxed out of your car?') includes the following description:
"Vehicles would be fitted with a GPS transponder device similar to an E-ZPass, perhaps as part of the registration process. If the program expanded nationally, manufacturers might even integrate transponders into new vehicles, similar to General Motors OnStar system. Insurance companies could also encourage motorists to use transponders as the companies transition to their own VMT-based risk model, as some have already begun to do. This device would record the type of vehicle, the distance traveled, and the time and location of travel. The transponder would sort the data into various toll categories"
Alternative forms of congestion pricing which MWCOG is considering are not much better and would consist of converting most major metro-area roads into toll roads. That would essentially necessitate everyone to use EZPasses to drive anywhere, and coerce them into doing so by charging exorbitant fees or causing additional delays to vehicles without the devices. EZPass malfunctions have resulted in large numbers of drivers being improperly fined with photo tickets or overcharged. The devices can also be used to track people's movements.

If such tolls were implemented the same way the ICC tolls are planned, cameras equipt with Automated Plate recognition technology would be used to photograph non-EZPass users and mail them a bill for their tolls plus a service charge (so much for 'if your not speeding you won't get your picture taken'). This technology has become so annoying to some Europeans that a black market in fake license plates has developed.

MWCOG's plan would first conduct study about how to best dupe the public into accepting the system. Next would come a pilot program on some number of local roads. This would eventually be expanded to all major roads in and out of DC. The theory behind it is that by charging people for each mile of driving, those who cannot afford the new exhorbitant tolls will be forced to ride the bus whether they want to or not, and traffic congestion will improve as a result. Plus the government has a new source of revenue which, after paying the overhead imposed by the vast new bureaucracy the system will create, will generate more money for transportation projects, or whatever else the government decides to quiety divert the money to.

Members of the TPB must still approve this regressive taxation program an request that the Federal Highway Administration to get initial funding for the pilot study out of your tax dollars. The TPB will be meeting on Wed October 21rst, 2009 to discuss this. Maryland and Virginia drivers should fight this plan by anti-car activists to charge the American Taxpayers admission to the nation's capital and force drivers to accept the continuous tracking of their vehicles. Write or call your representative on the TPB, or email the TPB and and tell them where to cram their GPS transponders.
Related News Coverage on: wtop, myfoxdc, bizjournals

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cameras Lied 24,000 Times

Check your scamera tickets boys and girls!

Page 35 of Montgomery County's recent speed camera report revealed that of the thousands of citations which were rejected before being mailed, 24,868 listed the reason as 'No Violation/Operator Error'. That is 24,868 speed camera errors which were discovered, but there is no way to know how many others actually went out and the drivers simply assumed that "pictures don't lie".

The county has asserted that it is conducting a review of every citation, and that such errors are almost always caught. However the fact is that some of these errors are known to have slipped through. Innocent drivers were clocked at 100mph, wrong vehicles have been cited, as well as duplicate citations were mailed months later with incorrect dates. And some those drivers simply paid the invalid tickets without question.

It has also been revealed recently that most of Montgomery County's cameras were not designed to distinguish the speeds of two vehicles close to each other (and are only now being replaced by a new generation of cameras which can). Many citations were apparently discarded because there were multiple vehicles in the photo. However apparently some of those citations still go out. In the case of the citation shown here, three vehicles are in the image. The ticket recipient (who had never received a speeding ticket before in decades of driving) contacted the head of Montgomery County's speed camera program calling attention to the 2nd vehicle in the citation. She was told "I have reviewed your citation and find it in good order." and that she needed to go to court if she wished to challenge it -- this despite the fact that the county's procedures acknowledge that the cameras could not distinguish the speeds of nearby vehicles and that such citations should be discarded. Despite this setback, in this instance the defendant challenged the ticket and was, after spending much more than $40 worth of time and effort preparing her defense, able to get her citation dismissed.

The question is, given the difficulty of remembering and proving what your speed was weeks after the fact, and that out of state drivers have no practical way to challenge a citation in court, will we ever know how many wrongly accused drivers were not so fortunate? Remember that paying a citation is an admission of guilt. If you think you weren't speeding don't just take their word for it, fight it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Don't Taze Me Cam

Chevy Chase Village Police Chief Roy Gordon has requested that the Village spend $30,000 in speed camera revenue to purchase 12 Tasers. Tasers are considered 'less lethal' alternatives to firearms since their use by police has resulted in only about 148 deaths since 1999[ref].

Legally, speed camera funds are supposed to be limited to Public Safety expenditures. Chevy Chase Village has thus far included Cable TV lines, a new office for their police chief, a Segway, and energy saver lightbulbs in the 'public safety' category.

CouncilMember Phil Andrews stated his opposition to the Taser proposal, "I think the public would prefer to see speed camera revenues directly related to traffic safety." However the reality is that very little of Montgomery County's own speed camera funds have been spent on such purposes, instead being spent on items already planned in the County budget. In early 2009 Councilmember Andrews admitted in a council session that "There's not a way to specifically account for how the money is being spent. It goes into the General Fund." Neither the Chevy Chase Village budget nor the County's list of expenditures in its OLO report reveal significant amounts of speed camera funds spent on other types of traffic calming devices, which have been shown to be more effective at reducing average speeds than speed cameras. Since the Village doesn't wish to invest in such devices, perhaps the sight of taser weilding police will reduce accidents?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Frederick City Debating Cameras

Frederick City is considering authorizing speed cameras this year, with the majority of City Aldermen voicing their support for the proposal at an October 7th Meeting. If approved, Frederick would be authorized to collect net revenues equal to 10% of its current budget -- about $11million/year after the contractor's cut, assuming the same % as Montgomery County pays, or about 8 tickets per resident of the city per year --- at the expense of residents' constitutional right to face their accuser and be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Donna Kuzemchak and Marcia Hall were both quoted by the Frederick Post supporting the cameras. One Alderman David Koontz expressed his desire to push the limits of what the law allows and then request the restrictions be lifted by stating 'I think it's ridiculous we can only have them in school zones'. Police Chief Kim Dine said the half-mile radius and the number of schools in the city would create a large area for cameras to operate, indicating this is OK with him.

The schedule of upcoming city meetings can be found HERE. The Board of Alderman's next public meeting is scheduled for October 15th. The Members of the Board of Aldermen are all up for re-election on November 3, 2009.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Baltimore Begins Massive Camera Rollout

The City of Baltimore has begun deployment of the first the city's new speed cameras. Already 51 proposed camera sites have been selected. In addition, the state has begun to deploy workzone cameras to interstate highways I-95 and I-695. We have updated our map of speed camera locations to include current and planned locations in and around Baltimore.

These cameras are nominally limited to school zones and highway work zones. However nearly any street within a 1/2 mile radius of a school can be designated a school zone. By that definition, approximately 80 percent of the city qualifies. Any other road can be designated a 'workzone', regardless of whether any workers are present any actual construction work taking place.

To install the cameras as quickly as possible, Baltimore contracted with ACS State and Local solutions, who runs Montgomery County's speed cameras as well as Baltimore's existing red light cameras. The city's existing red light cameras will apparently be refitted to house the more lucrative speed cameras. The contract pays a percentage cut of every ticket to the contractor, much like the one which Montgomery County is currently being sued over. Baltimore wrote $7million of revenue from the cameras into their FY10 budget back in April of this year, before the required local legislation authorizing the cameras was passed in August, and before the required public hearings were held.

Baltimore has one of the most extensive red light camera programs in the country. In 2003 a city judge discovered that many of Baltimore's red light cameras were installed at intersections with below standard yellow light durations. With that experience, they should have good luck with their speed camera program.

Citizens who want to express their views may wish to contact the Baltimore City Council or perhaps Mayor Dixon (Good luck with those perjury charges Mayor. Perhaps that will give her a better understanding of why the words 'innocent until proven guilty' are important.)

Regardless, with 51 speed camera locations and dozens of existing red light cameras, and a surrounding ring of freeway cameras, Baltimore appears to be well on its way to having one of the most extensive mass surveillance systems in the country.

Montgomery County OLO Report Rebuttal

The Montgomery County Government has recently been touting a glowing report by the Office of Legislative Oversight. To summarize the report: everything about the program is perfect, everyone is happy, everything is wonderful, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Since this is a highly biased report, we will now give you our highly biased rebuttal.

The County has presented this as an objective report, but the OLO is in fact not an independent body, but is directly beholding to the county Council. According to the OLO website, "the OLO Director is a non-merit appointee of the County Council" -- basically a political appointee whose serves at the pleasure of a council whose members have all invested a great deal of political capital in the speed camera program. As such the OLO report is the County Council reporting on itself, so it is not surprisingly that the County Council gave themselves a nearly perfect review.

The report claims a 23% reduction is accidents within 1/2 mile of speed camera sites within a year of the cameras being activated. It mentions that part of the selection criteria for sites was 'Annual number of property damage, personal injury, and fatal automobile collisions (within 1/2 mile)', which indicates that there was a built in 'regression to mean' factor built into the study: if a site was selected because there had been an unusual increase in accidents the year before, that number would tend to return to the average. It is also the case that it was dealing with accident reports, which only take place when the incident is reported to police. If accident reports are not taken in the same way, or with the same frequency, the validity of results becomes questionable. If police were no longer deployed in a location because human traffic stops were replaced by a speed camera, minor accidents might never be reported because the drivers would have moved on before any police arrive. The report could not avoid two important statistics regarding the most highly published types of accidents:
"A small number of the collisions in the injury/fatality category involved fatalities. In the four years prior to camera activation, the County experienced an average of two fatal collisions per year in the vicinity of future MCPD speed camera sites. Three collisions resulting in a fatality occurred in the year after camera activation."
and
"In the four years before camera activation, the County experienced an average of 15 collisions per year involving pedestrians or bicyclists within one half mile of future MCPD speed camera sites. During the year following activation of speed cameras, 22 collisions with pedestrians and bicyclists occurred in the same areas."

It is known that several traffic fatalities have occurred in close proximity to MoCO speed cameras in 2009 (although the exact criteria used for counting such incidents is unclear) so it is entirely possible that these figures were not flukes and do represent a trend. However both of the previous unfortunate facts were followed by disclaimers : 'OLO notes that the number of events in this category is too small to draw any definitive conclusions about the relationship between speed cameras and the prevalence of fatal collisions.' and 'Given the small number of incidents and the annual variations, data from more than one year is necessary to establish a meaningful correlation between the presence of speed cameras and the frequency of pedestrian and bicycle collisions.' Similar 'excuses' were not present in sections where other samples for the same period of time were used to claim the success of the program.

The report makes no mention of the fact that traffic fatalities increased in MoCo from 2007 to 2008 from 48 to 51, a 6% increase, at a time when the county added 24 new fixed speed camera sites, and at a time when nationwide traffic fatalities dropped 10%. Nationwide traffic fatalities dropped an additional 9% in the 1rst quarter of 2009, the 12th consecutive quarterly decline nationally. This is despite the fact that only a few states use speed cameras now, and most of those only in limited areas. It also fails to mention that nationwide traffic fatalities per vehicle mile reached their lowest level ever in 2008, according to the National Highway Safety Administration, the continuation of a 30 year nationwide trend. In a sense the OLO report lacks a 'control group' and fails to compare the results in new speed camera zones with those in other areas, where other types of safety improvements were made instead.

The report made an effort to show the percent of vehicles traveling 1-10 and 11+ mph above the speed limit. However it makes no effort to measure traffic congestion, or what % of traffic was traveling 10mph below the limit, an indication of the level of traffic congestion. The report did indicate that there was apparently a 4% reduction in traffic volume, and stated that some people may have sought alternate routes to avoid the cameras (or traffic congestion caused by cameras?).

The report made no effort to compare their results with those achieved through other types of traffic calming. We previously did, and found that the city of Gaithersburg had succeeded in reducing average speeds by about 20% using other measures. The OLO report indicates that the average reduction in speeds at all camera sites was a mere 6%. (The OLO report makes it clear that most citations were given to people going 1-2mph over the ticket threshold, which is the reason why a 6% average decrease, apparently made a large difference in the % of drivers exceeding that threshold), or 11% as the maximum speed increase achieved by speed cameras. So if speed reduction was a goal, the report fails to demonstrate that the cameras are the only or best way to achieve them. The OLO report also fails to take into account the fact that at some speed camera sites there were new safety devices or additional signage added other than the speed cameras themselves (added either by the county's own choice, or in response to critics of the program) and that these may have affected the results at those locations.

The document acknowledges only 10 cases where a defendant was found not guilty, claiming a 99.7% conviction rate. In fact, the report does not acknowledge ANY cases where tickets were dismissed because citations were issued in error, even though several such cases have been documented in the mainstream media -- including at least 40 cases of duplicate citations being mailed months apart with incorrect timestamps, drivers receiving citations for another person's vehicle, and one case of an innocent driver being falsely clocked at 100mph. In fact the OLO Report confirms that 9 % of violations which were rejected either by ACS or by Police were determined to be "No Violation Occurred" or "Operator Error": a total of 24,868 speed camera photos were in fact generated in error(olo report pg 35). Yet mysteriously none of those cases when to court. Of course there is no way to know exactly how many erroneous citations slipped through the system and the drivers either paid them without question or could not prove their innocence beyond reasonable doubt. The report also does not acknowledge that the part of the reason is that drivers were instructed that they could not plead not guilty unless someone else was driving their car, even though defendants have reported to the media that they were told this by a judge.

The report did state that "MCPD attributes the high conviction rate to the coordination with the District Court in the Safe Speed programs early implementation stage. When the program began, MCPD demonstrated the speed camera technology for the District Court judges" -- in other words, the county began presenting its case to district court judges before the alleged violations took place without the later defendants having the opportunity to hear and know what information was presented to those judges. The report also confirms how court hearings are taking place: with 100-200 hearings being scheduled in a single courtroom on a single day once per month, giving each defendant only a few minutes to present their case (known as District Court 'Speed Camera Day').

The report documents some of Chevy Chase Village's results. However in May of this year we used CCV's own monthly police reports to show that there had been no reduction in accidents at all. The Village's response to that report was to stop publishing monthly police reports to their website: No new reports were posted to the Chevy Chase Village since their May report (see screen snapshot). Now that their raw data is no longer being subjected to public scrutiny, PROBLEM SOLVED!

The government cannot provide objective oversight for itself. That requires a vigilant public. It is the duty of the citizens and the media to question the information which the government produces and to ensure that it tells the whole story, not just the parts which help provide cover to county and state lawmakers for their votes.

Friday, September 25, 2009

New Generation of Speed Cameras Designed to be Hidden

Chevy Chase Village has installed a new type of speed camera along Connecticut Avenue. The new cameras use lasers rather than radar to measure a vehicle's speed, and are claimed to be able to determine the speed of several vehicles at the same time and photograph all of of them. The old ones (still in use in most other parts of the county) could only measure the speed of one vehicle at a time (Please take note of this fact if you previously received a ticket before that had 2 vehicles in the photo, as had been the case with some of our readers who contacted us. You should NOT have gotten those tickets because the cameras cannot confirm which speed was being measured). More significantly, however, the cameras no longer have the now familiar 3-pole setup of earlier fixed cameras, and are smaller, more concealable, easier to move from place to place, and painted green to blend into the background.

Baltimore County and some towns in Prince George's County have already approved the use of speed cameras within 1/2 mile of schools, under authority of senate bill 277 which takes effect October 1, 2009. Those cameras could be vans, fixed pole camera, or the new portable laser cameras. More importantly however starting October 1 the State of Maryland is authorized to begin using the cameras in highway work zones. The work zone cameras can be on roads where the speed limit is 45mph or greater (meaning 55mph or 65mph highways), regardless of whether workers are present, according to the wording of the new state law. Highways officials have said that there would initially be about 6 highway workzone camera locations, primarily in the DC-Baltimore region, one of which will be in the area of the I-95/ICC interchange.

State Highway officials previously confirmed that workzone cameras WOULD be used where no workers were present by stating "We need to be having traffic slowed down even when workers are not present"[ref]. Highway officials did state that 'speed trailers' will be used to indicate the drivers' speed, but there is no legal requirement that this be done. Many work zones have reduced speed limits (from 55 to 45 for example), and there is nothing explicitly in the law which forbids placing cameras immediately after the reduced speed limits sign (Montgomery County has set the precident for this type of setup already). It is our expectation that IF state and local governments choose to provide the prominent notice which public officials have been promising, and to extend the courtesy of not doing what we have suggested they are now authorized to do, that will last only until state and local lawmakers who voted for the cameras have cleared the 2010 elections.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Prince George's County Moves Closer to Enacting Speed Cams

Proposed Local Legislation was introduced to the Prince George's County Council to authorize speed cameras on September 22 by the County Executive. The bill labeled CB-37-2009 will be voted on in an upcoming session. There is a joint public hearing on all upcoming PG County legislation on Tuesday Sept 29 at 7pm in the Council Hearing Room.

The Transportation/Housing/Environment committee will be
discussing and voting on this bill on Thursday October 8 starting at 9:30am.

The law authorizing speed cameras statewide goes into effect October 1 but requires each local jurisdiction to pass a local bill approving of their use. Some individual towns in Prince George's, such as New Carrollton, chose not to wait for county action and have already authorized speed cameras on their own, and Baltimore County recently voted to allow the devices. The State of Maryland will also be authorized to use workzone speed cameras on freeways with speed limits greater than 45mph 'regardless of whether workers are present' starting October 1.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Baltimore County Council Approves Speed Cameras

On Sept 8, 2009 the Baltimore County Council approved bill 62-09, authorizing the use of speed cameras in the county, by a 6-1 vote. The county could begin installing cameras as early as October 1 and most likely by the end of 2009. An initial deployment of 6-12 cameras is planned. This is similar to the number in the first year of Montgomery County's program, which now has over 60 of the cameras.

A group of protesters led by member of Americans for Prosperity organized outside the council building as the vote was taking place.

The text of the bill states that it was submitted by request of the County Executive (James Smith). Councilman Bryan McIntire voted against the bill, who was quoted saying simply "I think it's more effective to have police on duty." The following council members voted in favor of the bill:
Councilman S.G. Samuel Moxley
Councilman Kevin Kamenetz
Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver
Councilman Vincent J. Gardina
Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder
Councilman John Olszewski

The County Executive and all council members are up for re-election in November 2010.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Baltimore County Contracts for Speed Cameras Before Votes Cast

Officials in Baltimore County were so certain that speed cameras would be approved that they issued an request for bids for a speed cameras before state legislation permitting the use of the cameras was passed, and had already selected a vendor before public hearings on local enabling legislation took place.

The Towson Times reports that the county bid out it's existing contract for red light cameras with ACS State and Local Solutions on December 29 2008 and requested a bid for speed cameras to be included. The state legislature did not approve Senate Bill 277, which will allow such devices to be used throughout Maryland starting October 1, until April 2009. The report states that Baltimore County signed a new deal with ACS to provide the cameras on August 7th, and that ACS would be the vendor for the speed cameras as well as red light cameras, although the final details of the speed camera arrangement are still being negotiated. Each county is required to pass local legislation before the speed cameras could be used. Baltimore County held it's first public hearing on the subject on August 19th and the council will not be voting on this bill until September 8th.

Some towns in Prince George's County are also rushing to approve speed cameras, including New Carrollton who's council voted 0-4 for them on August 19. New Carrollton was found earlier this year to be issuing red light camera tickets to huge numbers of vehicles which came to a full stop just past the white line, a practice which was condemned by AAA for violating federal highway standards and which prompted one district court judge to throw out many of the red light camera tickets. Like Baltimore County, New Carrollton will be using its red light camera vendor (OptoTraffic, a division of Sigma Space Corporation) to provide speed cameras. New Carrollton hopes to bring in as much as $700,000 per year (10% of their current budget) from 3 cameras. Assuming revenue margins are similar to those in Montgomery County this would equate to about 2.4 tickets per year per resident of the city. Public officials frequently state that this money is required to be spent on public safety improvements, however in practice this restriction is meaningless and in Montgomery County it has not been complied with.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Montgomery County Speed Cameras Issuing Duplicate Tickets

The Montgomery County Gazette has reported that speed cameras located in Chevy Chase Village have issued duplicate citations with incorrect dates. The dates on images citations issued on 3/8 (March) were transposed as 8/3, saved until August, and a duplicate set of citations issued months later. This occurred with at least 40 citations. 9 motorists had already paid the invalid tickets by the time some citizens brought this to the attention of the Village police.

Local Police described this as "human error", as they have in every other case where speed cameras have made errors.

StopBigBrotherMD.org had in the past received reports of duplicate citations being issued with incorrect times. When we inquired of county officials about this they replied that this had not occurred.

The date and time of a violation would be critical to the defense of anyone who needed to challenge a citation, however local officials claim that these types of error rrors on these citations are rare. The county is currently being sued over the fact that they pay a private contractor a 40% cut of every ticket. Many believe that arrangement violates state law and creates an incentive for the contractor to do whatever they can to maximize the number of tickets issued, or possibly even to allow the use of faulty equipment or procedures which could result in innocent people being ticketed. "We're finding there's a whole series of errors in the setup and the procedures," the Gazette quoted William F. Askinazi of Germantown, an attorney in the lawsuit.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Baltimore County Council Prepares to Vote on Speed Cameras

The members of the Baltimore County Council will be voting on local bill 61-09, authorizing the use of speed cameras in that county, on Tuesday September 8th 2009 at 7pm. The vote will take place at the Old Towson courthouse. Rotten tomatoes are in season.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Baltimore County Citizens Speak Out on Speed Cameras

This past Wednesday August 19 Baltimore County held a public hearing in Towson to discuss a plan to introduce speed cameras into “school zones” throughout the county, which by the definition allowed in the law includes all roads coming within 1/2 mile of any school. The recently passed Senate Bill 277 authorizes such cameras in every county in the state starting October 1, 2009, but requires local legislation to authorize it in each county before they can be used. Many residents expressed their views for and against the cameras. A participant in the meeting gave the following account:

Delegate Lafferty set the tone by "chastising" the attendees for voicing their complaints now instead of before the State vote, and how "we the people" care more about protecting our unsafe driving than about "the children". This bill is about safety not money. Later, it was mentioned that a generous estimate is that the county could see 100 Million/yr in revenue if a full scale camera deployment is carried out.

Chief Johnson reinforced that tone by citing various national and state accident statistics. When asked about how many accidents could be specifically tied to schools zones, he did not know. When asked how many injuries involved school children, he did not know. The chief repeatedly pushed that the cameras would only be used during a 7AM to 8PM timeframe, and "only" within a half of a mile in schools. Later, an attendee presented a large scale map graphically showing the roughly two hundred public and private schools in the county, and that the potential coverage would encompass nearly a third of BaCo, including a nearly 100% ring around Balto City.

When there was some discussion about how the machines would be operated and paid for, “Many were shocked later in the meeting, when it was told that 50% of the take was to go to the private contractor. “ implying that Baltimore county is contemplating a contract arrangement similar to the one in Montgomery County.

The Baltimore County Council will vote on Council Bill 61-09 authorizing the use of the speed cameras locally on September 8, 2009. The plan calls for an initial deployment of 7-12 cameras -- however like Montgomery County’s program this number is likely to grow substantially every year. This bill will be discussed by the council in a hearing on September 1 at 2pm. Members of the Maryland chapter of "Americans for Prosperity" are planning a rally in Baltimore County to express their opposition to the cameras.

Baltimore County Speed Camera Resources:
Baltimore County Council Bill 61-09,
Baltimore County "Safe Speed" program,
Maryland Senate Bill 277

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Court Tosses Cops' Scamera Tickets

The Washington Examiner has reported that four on-duty Montgomery County police officers caught by Montgomery County speed cameras had their $40 tickets thrown out by a county judge.

Circuit Court Judge Ronald Rubin ruled the officers' right to due process had been violated, because the county police department does not have a written policy that outlines when on-duty officers would be exempted from getting tickets from speed cameras.

"How are they going to recall that it wasn't because they were speeding to stop a kid from running in the street chasing a ball," attorney James Shalleck asked.

After his ruling, Judge Rubin was quoted as saying : "That's what this statute is: This is a revenue raiser, it is a tax machine."

"They're afforded more due process than the average citizen," the Examiner quotes Assistant State's Attorney Teresa Casafranca.

Three of the officers in the case did not give a reason for speeding. One officer told supervisors that he was driving to training, according to court records.

Capt. John Damskey, who heads the traffic division that operates speed cameras, said the police department may appeal the case.

Read the Complete Story in the Washington Examiner.
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This is nowhere near the first case where government vehicles or employees have received speed camera tickets. In March 2008, the Washington Post reported that there had been 224 instances when county police vehicles had been ticketed by speed cameras. At that time 148 officers were refusing to pay under instructions from their union, whose position was that since the county owns the vehicles the tickets were the county's responsibility. That same article reported that County Executive Ike Leggett had gotten a speed camera ticket himself, although he stated that he had paid the citation.

DC.CameraFRAUD.Com reported that Mayor Fenty's city owned "smartcar" was issued a speed camera ticket for going "11-15mph" over the limit. The ticket was discovered by a reporter from the Washington City Paper in May 2009, who ran the Mayor's plates through an online database. The city confirmed that the mayor had been driving at the time. The article in the City Paper indicated the mayor had not received the ticket yet, possibly because it had been sent to the city who owns the vehicle instead of to Fenty himself. Fenty stated that he would pay the citation... after being questioned about it by the media. Fenty is a champion of DC's speed and red light camera program, even though it has been documented that his motorcade frequently speeds through red lights, including when he is on his way to political fundraisers, and that his wife is given the same treatment.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Baltimore Writes Speed Camera Revenues into Budget

The city of Baltimore is so confident that their new speed camera program will be a money maker that they have written a quota of $7.1million in net revenue for the program into their proposed FY2010 budget. This is despite the fact that the program is not even permitted to be implemented until October 1, 2009 and the cameras have not even been purchased yet. It is also unlikely that traffic surveys been conducted or the number and placement of cameras "needed" in the city has been determined yet.

Montgomery County's Speed Camera program took close to a year before it began to generate net revenue. Now that the program is well established however, Montgomery County has written over $15million in net revenues into its FY10 budget and is in the process of doubling its number of cameras to meet that goal.

The Maryland state legislature recognized the conflict of interest posed by quotas by passing article 2-504 to ban ticket quotas "both formal and informal" for individual police officers. However writing proposed future revenues into city and county budgets for a program which has not even been started yet is apparently fair play, even though decisions about how the program will be run and where cameras will be placed may end up being set to meet a revenue goal rather than a safety-based goal.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Anti-Speed Camera Efforts Move to Counties

The group Maryland For Responsible Enforcement is regrouping to fight speed cameras county-by-county. The effort to force the recently passed Senate Bill 277, authorizing statewide speed cameras, was unsuccessful because under Maryland's extremely stringent rules it was necessary to collect a very large number of signatures within a very short period of time after the passage of the new law. However SB277 still requires each county to pass local legislation authorizing the use of speed cameras in each individual county. This opens up the possibility to stop that local legislation from passing. There will also be efforts to force the cameras to referendums at a county level, which requires fewer signatures (5,000 vs 54,000) and does not have the extremely strict time constraints. No speed camera program in the US has ever survived after being successfully forced to a popular referendum. However MRE needs volunteers to get organized for this effort now. Please visit the MRE Website and contact them if you wish to help.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Maryland Police Hold Private Speed Camera Meeting

Montgomery County police officials met in private with law enforcement agencies from around the state Wednesday to offer tips on how to implement speed camera programs. The meeting was held on June 24 at the Universities at Shady Grove, and included about 125 law enforcement officials as well as State Highways Administration representatives. According to the chief of Montgomery County's speed camera program, capt John Damskey, the symposium was closed to the public "to encourage the free flow of ideas from the event’s participants — without fear of self-censorship because those ideas would be made public."
“I don’t want anybody holding back an idea that has a lot of merits that could improve everybody’s program,” Damskey said, after barring a reporter from entering the symposium.
[Read full article in the Examiner]

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This meeting underscores how confident local and state officials are that they will be able to implement these programs immediately with little political opposition. All counties in Maryland will be authorized to implement speed cameras starting October 1, but only after county governments pass local legislation authorizing their use. Cameras will also appear in "highway work zones" on freeways with 55mph speed limits, which are authorized "regardless of whether workers are present". The State Highway Administration has confirmed their intention to use cameras where there are no workers by stating "We need to be having traffic slowed down even when workers are not present"[ref].

Montgomery county continues to pay its contractor a $16.25 cut out of each $40 ticket, an arrangement which many believe violates state law and which is the subject of a pending lawsuit. It is unclear whether the officials at this secret meeting plan to emulate this arrangement, which has the sole purpose of guaranteeing a revenue stream. Montgomery County officials stated their intention several times since May 2008 to renegotiate the contract to a flat fee, and it has has drawn criticism even from supporters of speed cameras. But the appearance now is that with the passage of statewide speed cameras, they no longer need or intend to do so, and will allow an arrangement to continue where the contractor providing evidence to the court only gets paid if the accused driver is found guilty.

It is also unclear whether the "best practices" other local law enforcement agencies will pick up from Montgomery County's program will include placing cameras immediately after a drop in the speed limit in order to ensure a steady revenue stream from out of town visitors.