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. 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.