Thursday, September 29, 2011

Damascus Resident Beat Workzone Camera Ticket

Ridge Road speed limit sign placed far from the side of the road
In an August 29 court hearing an attorney from Damascus successfully beat a speed camera ticket issued by Montgomery County at 27000 block of Ridge Road in Damascus.  

Mr Layer made several points in his defense relating to the restrictions on both 'residential zone' speed cameras and workzone speed cameras under state law.  In addition, he also argued that, based on the speed camera photos, that it was a construction zone, which could clearly be seen, which could have obstructed signage and arguably made the site a 'workzone speed camera' which is only permitted on highways with speed limits of 40mph or greater.  It was notable that after the lanes were shifted for the construction the sign for the 30mph speed limit was located 20 feet away from the side of the road where it was no longer clearly visible and could easily have been concealed by construction signage or equipment at any given time.  The speed limit on ridge road is 40mph a short distance from the cameras.

In a March story in the Gazette, Captain Tom Didone, head of the Montgomery County Police Department Traffic Division, agreed Mr Layer 'had a point on the signs' and conceded that one of the signs had been removed by the company doing the construction.  "I want to personally thank the gentleman for bringing that to our attention." Captain Didone stated to the Gazette.

In court, the county claimed that the machines are inspected by police daily and that the device had been re-calibrated to target vehicles in the shifted lanes, however they provided no documentation to prove such a recalibration took place.  Despite these daily inspections, nobody noticed the problems with the signage.

The Gazette reported that the county gave them the following number of citations issued from these cameras in each of 2010 and 2011:
-January-February 2010 — 1,381
-January-February 2011 — 1,586
This shows that the camera issuing the ticket in this location saw a 14.8% increase in citations from January 2010 to January 2011 (after the signage was changed), whereas the normal trend is for citations to decrease at fixed pole cameras as local residents learn about the camera locations.

The county willing turned over that data to a newspaper which is generally friendly to their positions.  However Mr Layer stated to us that he had requested discovery and filed a Maryland Public information Act request (Maryland's equivalent to the Freedon of Information Act) with Montgomery County for information he sought for defense against his $40 ticket, and the county demanded a more than $1000 payment for access to those public records.  He stated that was unable to spend the time contesting the $1000 fee in court.   

By the way, StopBigBrotherMD.org is still waiting for Montgomery County to provide an explanation for the >$43,000 fee they demanded before they would even begin to look for records (involving  an unrelated situation) which we requested under the MPIA in January.  One might ask whether the county's fee structure for public record requests is inversely proportionate to how friendly the requester is to the county's position?

The county claims that only 25 citations were overturned in court last year, however only a tiny percentage of the $40 tickets are ever contested.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Millions Drive to Work on World Car-Free Day

Yesterday, September 22nd, was designated as "World Car Free Day".  9000 people pledged to walk, bike, use mass transit, work from home or find other alternatives to cars (most of whom already did so at on a regular basis).  However for most of the millions of other commuters in the region and the tens of millions in the US who drive to work every day, the day passed without notice, and with no discernible difference in the number of cars  on the road or levels of traffic congestion.

Perhaps World Car day provides an opportunity to ponder how much the automobile has improved the quality of life for so many.

A 2005 US Census bureau data showed that nearly 9 out of 10 Americans drive to work. Only 4.7% take public transit and about 2.5% walk to work.  Why is that?  Some would have the public believe that driving is a matter of laziness or lack of  concern for the environment.  Those who NEED cars know that is not true.  We drive because cars offer us the freedom of mobility that no other form of transportation can, and our decisions to choose cars over other options are driven by extremely practical concerns.  This author personally sometimes enjoys taking alternate transportation to work, sometimes including a 10 mile run which is awesome when it is possible.  But as a practical reality that is limited only to those times when personal and profession obligations, the weather, health, and other constraints all cooperate to make that possible.  Like so many mass transit is not a practical option... I need to walk over a mile to the closest bus stop and that will only take me to the metro station 6 miles away.  By the time that's done I've spent almost an hour longer than a car would take on my worst traffic day.  Telecommuting does not allow me to attend in-person meetings that are expected of me almost every day.  And how am I to drop the kids off at daycare with any of those options?  No, most people NEED cars to keep up with the modern, fast paced lives we have come to expect and which are expected of us by our employers who make up the nation's economy and pay our bills.

A salute to the automobile, our indispensable friend
Consider what would it be like if you were *forced* to be "Car Free".  What would you need to give up?  Would you be able to live and work where you choose, or would you be limited to only home/work choices either very near each other or only near 'government approved' mass transit sites?  If you own a house now, would you surrender the dream of owning a home in a safe, affordable area of your choosing in exchange for living in concrete termite mounds crowded around metro sites?  Would you be able to take your kids to the daycare center or school **of your choosing** in the morning and still get to work on time?  And when they're older how are you getting them to that soccer match or softball game?  Could you actually run that important errand during the day if you had to walk, or figure out bus schedules or mooch a ride? Maybe, but maybe not. Then there's all the services provided to you by car, whether you drive yourself or not.  Could the cable guy or plumber really hike all his gear on the bus?  And then there are the less tangibles.  Would you still have the freedom to wake up on Sunday an say 'Let's go to the mountains!' and just go?  Or, if your parents live in a rural area out of state, would they ever see their grand kids?  Oh such a crass concern that Grandma might get to hug little Timmy from time to time... but for many this is a thing made possible by CARS!

We propose that Car Free Day is a reminder to say a big THANK YOU to the automotive pioneers who made this freedom possible.  And we should be thankful that we live in a world where we do not need to be "free" of a thing which brings every bit as much value to our lives as electric lights, telephones, and running water.

Automobiles are THE essential transportation for many people.  They are the life-blood of our transportation system and our economy.  When you hear someone say "driving is not a right it is a privilege" BEWARE!  That person wants to use an absolutely essential "privileged" to coerce you into accepting some reduction your constitutional rights.  Your right to due process, right to face an accuser, and right to be presumed innocent may not seem urgently important to you right here right now, at least not as important as getting to work on time.  The proverbial 'they' know that, and they know you're willing to give up a 'right' for the sake of the 'privileged' of getting to work and keeping your job.  Don't fall for that.  If cars are essential to your 'pursuit of happiness', then you should demand that your elected officials understand that you do not concede any of your legal and constitutional rights while you are on those roads.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

PG County Cameras Now Live

Prince George's County's new speed camera program is now going live and now issuing tickets.  The initially selected locations are as follows:
File Photo of an Optotraffic Camera
8400-9000 block(s) of Allentown Road
9000-9200 blocks of Muirkirk Road
5700-6300 blocks of Ager Road
7600-6900 blocks of Adelphi Road
9400-9700 blocks of Temple Hill Road
6900-7400 blocks of Walker Mill Road
9100-10000 blocks of Ardwick Ardmore Road
6800-7100 blocks of High Bridge Road
1800-2400 Owens Road
2100-2600 blocks of Sansbury Road
11600-11900 blocks of Old Baltimore Pike
5400-6100 blocks of Sargeant Road
6700-7100 blocks of Columbia Park Road
2100-2400 County Road
9800-9900 blocks of Good Luck Road
9800-10000 blocks of Allentown Road
8300-8600 Contee Road
2200-2500 blocks of Ritchie Road
800-1100 blocks of Hill Road
000-800 blocks of Harry S. Truman Drive
6100-6400 blocks of Auth Road
2000-2300 blocks of Church Road
500-1100 blocks of Brightseat Road
4600-5600 blocks of Brinkley Road
5000-5300 blocks of Marlboro Pike

Tickets will be issued M-Fr 6am-8pm.  The cameras provided by the camera contractor, Optotraffic (a division of Sigma Space Corporation), are housed in a small trailer which is mobile.  New locations can thus be added at any time, including locations which might only recently have been designated as "school zones" specifically for the purpose of adding cameras.  No "warning period" will be required for new locations.  PG county has considered adding as many as 72 speed camera locations, including some locations not previously designated as school zones.  The county signed the contract with Optotraffic earlier this year and selected the initial 'school zone' locations from a list of proposed locations which included both existing school zones and locations never previously designated or marked as school zones.

Tickets will go to the owners of vehicles (not necessarily the driver) who are accused of  traveling 12mph over the posted speed cameras.  However speed cameras do sometimes issue tickets in error.  Optotraffic cameras in particular are of a proprietary design that works entirely unlike traditional police radar or lidar.  A number of drivers have independently asserted that they received erroneous citations from these types of cameras in Brentwood, Cheverly, Forest Heights, College Park, and other locations.

Recipients of questionable citations can either pay the $40 fine like a good compliant sheeple and encourage further negligence on the part of the government and contractors who run speed cameras, or they can request a court hearing.  In some cases people challenging Optotraffic speed camera tickets from Forest Heights have had to weight over a year to receive hearings (Optotraffic has been permitted by the court to schedule court hearings, giving them some control over the timing and setting of court hearings).  Some successfully had their citations overturned.  In ther cases judges accepted  the word of Optotraffic (a company paid based on the number of tickets issued) that essentially there is no evidence the court can accept to challenge the accuracy of the speed measurement and exonerate a driver who believes himself to be innocent -- worse than "Guilty until proven innocent" you are "Guilty even if innocent".  Those who have complaints or concerns should direct them to state and county elected officials who voted for speed cameras rather than to police or the camera contractor.  Officials in agencies which run speed cameras are required to implement and support policies which are set by elected officials.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

DC Getting 19 New Speed Cameras

DC police have activated 19 new speed camera sites in the District along major commuter routes.  The new locations are:
  • 1900 block of Independence Avenue SE east bound - speed limit 25 mph
  • Military Road 0.2 miles west of the 16th Street ramp NW southwest bound - speed limit 35 mph
  • Military Road 0.1 miles prior to 17th Street NW northeast bound - speed limit 35 mph
  • 1700 block of Rhode Island Avenue NE northeast bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 1800 block of Rhode Island Avenue NE southwest bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 4000 block of East Capitol Street NE west bound - speed limit 35 mph
  • 4000 block of East Capitol Street SE east bound - speed limit 35 mph
  • 800 block of Ridge Road SE southeast bound - speed limit 25 mph
  • 600 block of Southern Avenue SE southwest bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 1400 block of Southern Avenue SE southwest bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 1900 block of Branch Avenue SE north bound - speed limit 25 mph
  • 1900 block of Branch Avenue SE south bound - speed limit 25 mph
  • 1100 block of Bladensburg Road NE northeast bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 1100 block of Bladensburg Road NE southwest bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 200 block of 19th Street SE north bound - speed limit 25 mph
  • 4800 block of Connecticut Avenue NW northwest bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 4900 block of Connecticut Avenue NW southeast bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 600 block of Missouri Avenue NW northwest bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 600 block of Missouri Avenue NW southeast bound - speed limit 30 mph
A 30 day 'warning period' began Sept 1 in order to alert local drivers to the new cameras before they begin ticketing out of town drivers in earnest.  Unlike Maryland, the District does not specifically state any 'threshold' over the speed limit above which tickets are issued, so technically they could issue tickets for 1mph over in order to meet whatever revenue goals they have. 

The nation's capital has one of the most extensive photo enforcement systems in the world, which includes not only numerous speed cameras and red light cameras, but also cameras deployed on street sweepers to enforce parking violations, and last year new cameras for enforcing violations such as 'blocking the box', 'rolling right turns' and stopping slightly past the white line.   TheNewspaper.com reports that as of 5/30/2010 DC's ticket cameras had issued $312million worth of tickets since the program's inception.  District red light and speed cameras issued approximately $50million worth of tickets in FY11 alone.

Is it "for safety" or "Municipal Extortion" (as one Washington Post writer recently put it)?  You decide.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Scamera Van Driver Seen Driving Distracted

A motorist sent us this photo taken of a SafeZones van which appears to show the operator talking on a cell phone without a hands free device while driving.  The motorist stated that he spotted the van on the inner loop of I-695 near Reistertown Road at 6:25pm Friday Aug 26, 2011.

Last year the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 321/HB538 banning the use of cell phones while driving unless a hands-free device is used.  In Maryland this is now 'secondary offense' which carries a $40 fine for the first offense and up to $100 for subsequent offenses.   The law exempts "law enforcement personnel", however the SHA's safezones vans are driven by employees of their private contractor, ACS, rather than by police.  Police officers receive special driver training at a level which most motorists (including private contract drivers) generally do not.

The Maryland Department Of Transportation (of which the State Highway Administration which administers the SafeZones programs is a part) claims that cell phone use is responsible for 28% of all traffic crashes and causes 1.6million traffic accidents every year nationwide.

Earlier this year a SafeZones van driven by an ACS contractor was caught on video speeding at 80mph.  The video was broadcast on a local Baltimore news station.

Readers who observe dangerous driving behavior by camera vans should feel free to report it to StopBigBrotherMD@gmail.com.  Please remember do not drive distracted.