Thursday, April 28, 2016

Prince George's County Withholds Speed Camera Error Records

The Prince George's County Police are refusing to honor a public records request for information about speed camera events that were rejected or voided by their contractor.

The editor of the Maryland Drivers Alliance website originally submitted a Maryland Public Information Act request to the Prince George's County police for several items, one of them being "Records showing the number of potential speed monitoring system citations rejected by Optotraffic and the reasons why the citations were rejected, for each month from January 1, 2014 to the present."

After longer than 30 days, the county police provided some heavily redacted documents responsive to other items in the request, but declined to respond to this item, stating that any such records would be in the custody of their contractor and providing no means to access them.  The county furthermore did not provide the normal response letter typically included in a reply to an MPIA which is required to state the reasons for withheld records or portions of records and which is required by law to state the request's options for appeal.

We replied to the county's attorney, Eugene Pickett, stating that we required access to these reords and pointing out, among other things, that the issue of access to contractor records had previously been adjudicated in a case involving the Town of Morningside where the court ruled that speed camera records in the custody of a contractor are subject to the MPIA.  Furthermore we pointed out that "The program administrator for all speed camera programs are required to take a "best practices" training course presented by the state, which specifically discusses records retention including "ALL SMS enforcement documents". "  Additionally, we requested "pursuant to the MPIA please provide the email address of Prince George's County's primary contact with Optotraffic).  In addition, I request that Prince George's County please provide a statement authorizing Optotraffic to release the data described in Item #4 of my MPIA request."  The county attorney refused to respond to our complaint after multiple inquiries, and refused to honor our MPIA request for an email contact at Optotraffic -- an apparent flouting of state law.

After multiple attempts to obtain this data went un-answered, on March 16 we submitted a new request for two categories of records including both the same data on citations rejected by Optotraffic and also citations voided by Optotraffic.   Prince George's County failed to provide a response after more than 30 days, as state law requires.  When we attempted to respond to both the current and former MPIA representative for the county police, we received no reply from the current representative and the prior representative responded only with an angry letter stating that they did not want to be copied on such inquiries.

On April 25th we finally received a "response" letter, which did not reference any of the items in our March 16th MPIA request.  Instead it referenced the four items in our December 4rth request plus a fictitious fifth item, which apparently was the county attorney playing a stupid game by pretending that a number 5 which happened to appear in the portion of a statute cited in the request was another item even though this was clearly not the case.   The items referenced in our March 16th request were not addressed in the response and the records pertaining to citations rejected and voided by Optotraffic were not provided.  The county furthermore refused to provide an email contact for Optotraffic and honor our request to direct Optotraffic to release records, making it impossible for us to obtain any such records from Optotraffic directly.

We inquired about this lack of response to these items and included Major Robert Liberati, who runs the Prince George's County speed camera program.  The county has thus far not replied to that other than for Major Robert Liberati disavowing any responsibility for the matter by stating that all communications should go to the county Attorney Eugene Picket.  Mr Pickett is not the county Police's designated MPIA representative, according to the OAG website, and has not been responding to emails.

The obstructed records are of particular concern because local governments have recently been claiming to the state legislature that the error rate locally operated speed cameras are exceedingly low, and specifically are claiming this is the rate of errors BEFORE the issuance of citations (essentially implying that errors after issuance are almost nonexistent).  Data obtained from another local government revealed that the rate of errors identified by the vendor vastly exceeded the rate of errors identified by police.  If it were in fact the case that Prince George's County Police do not have the requested data, then that would imply Prince George's County has absolutely no clue how many erroneous speed camera citations were being rejected and/or voided by their vendor or for what reason.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Study: Red Light Cameras Increase Traffic Congestion

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland concluded that the use of red light cameras resulted in a "loss of capacity" at intersections which negatively affects traffic flow.

The researchers noted that other studies involving red light cameras have typically failed to investigate the possibility of any negative side effects due to the use of automated enforcement at intersections.  The study by Weldegiorgis, Mishra, and Jha stated:
"Depending on the time the driver arrives at the intersection and other unexpected conditions present at that time s/he can either stop if there is sufficient stopping distance or clear the intersection if there is enough clearing time before the signal turns red.  Thus, the driver’s decision at RLC intersections during the yellow interval can be seen as a binary process in which the two main decisions are either to come to a stop or cross the intersection.
Each of the two decisions have their own consequences, which can impact the traffic operation at the intersection. The stopping decision may result in a rear-end collision and the crossing decision may result in a side collision. Moreover, the travel behavior at non RLC (NRLC) and RLC intersections may not be the same for all drivers. One scenario is that fearing RLR violation ticket, some drivers who are aware of the presence of RLCs may decide to stop during yellow regardless of the availability of safe clearing distance before the onset of the red signal. The cumulative impact of such stopping may result in significant delay in a congested transportation network, especially during rush hours. Such stopping may also impede the smooth progression of traffic along arterial roads during rush hours."
 The study investigated traffic performance at ten locations in Baltimore City and Baltimore County where red light cameras had been used at one intersection but not at another.  The researchers concluded that the use of Red Light Cameras resulted in a reduction of intersection capacity of 90 vehicles per hour.  "Given the continuous monitoring of intersections by red light cameras, the cumulative impact of capacity reduction may be huge," the report stated. "The capacity loss at red light camera intersections can be considered significant given the fact that the number of red light cameras used to monitor for red light running behavior are increasing nationwide."

Additional Information at TheNewspaper.com