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.

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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.