Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Maryland Speed Camera Fib#2: They’re Needed for Safety

The Montgomery County Government and other speed cameras supporters continuously claim that automated traffic enforcement is necessary to improve safety. Certainly we all want safe roads, but does that necessarily mean that simply because a thing is claimed to improve safety that all other arguments need to be ignored or that other options for improving safety should not be used instead?

Montgomery County has claimed significant reductions in speeding after speed cameras are installed. And you know what, we readily concede that most people DO speed down when they see a speed camera. But what they choose to omit it that you can get even BETTER speed reductions using other traffic calming devices.

As an example, the city of Gaithersburg Maryland installed "traffic calming measures" other than speed cameras on the following roads and reported excellent reductions in speeding[page 22]:
Location___________| Before__ | _After__ | Speed Decrease
Little Quarry Road | 34-36MPH | 24-27MPH
| 9.5MPH/~27%
Suffield Drive____ | 34-36MPH
| 24-26MPH | 10MPH/28%
Chestnut Street___ | 34-36MPH
| 27 MPH__ | 8MPH/22%
Walker Avenue_____ | 37-38MPH
| 28-30MPH | 8.5MPG/22%
Brookes Avenue____ | 35-38MPH
| 30-31MPH | 6MPH/16%
Main Street_______ | 35-38MPH | 28-32MPH | 6MPH/16%
click to view report data
By comparison, the city of Rockville has claimed that after installing speed cameras on Wooton parkway, "The average speed at the fixed pole site on Baltimore Road during the period of August 2007 to April 2008 decreased from 27.99 miles per hour (mph) to 23.64 mph, which is a reduction of 4.35 mph. The average speed at our fixed pole location on Wootton Parkway during the period of August 2007 to April 2008 was reduced from 26.20 mph to 22.83 mph, which is reduction of 3.37 miles per hour." So even the smallest speed reduction which Gaithersburg saw from it's non-orwellian traffic calming measures was better than the benefit received from Rockville's Wooton speed camera. Even if we consider speed reduction an end in and of itself, speed cameras are not the most effective solution.

Such improvements do not need to be expensive. As an example, a solar powered radar speed display sign can be purchased for less than $3500. Such devices have been proven in studies to reduce the average speed in highway work zones by 7mph, without the need for the highway work zone speed cameras in the proposed Maryland legislation, and by 9mph in school zones. There are both federal and private programs to help fund and defer the costs of such devices. They do not require installation of power sources since they are solar and could be affixed to existing poles, meaning the installation costs can be low... that is unless their use is encumbered by a meddlesome leviathan bureaucracy which is incapable of doing anything inexpensive. In fact, if the $142,000 per month which Chevy Chase Village alone is paying in speed camera operating fees to Texas based ACS State and Local Solutions had instead been spent on this purpose, 40 new speed indicator signs could have been added each month, with enough for 2 to be placed in front of EVERY public school in Montgomery County withing a year. This would have realized speed reductions in numerous important areas without any of the due process issues, privacy violations, or scams associated with speed cameras.

The real reason why speed cameras were chosen instead is obvious: as part of his recently submitted budget proposal, the Montgomery County Executive plans to DOUBLE the number of fixed pole speed cameras from 30 to 60, and set a specific revenue quota of $15.7million for the program in order to avoid having to make budget cuts. If the programs fails to meet that revenue goal "naturally", then in order to prevent a budget shortfall they will either need to "reward" drivers by adding more cameras, or bend the rules to maximize tickets issued to unwitting and basically safe drivers.