It seems to me that Catonsville Patch owes a debt of gratitude to Councilman Tom Quirk. Speed cameras have been a hot topic since their installation in 2009. But it was in January 2011, when Quirk proposed a bill providing the unlimited use of speed cameras in county school zones, that Patch began to enjoy a veritable feast of website traffic every time the issue is mentioned.
People just love to talk about this topic, and it’s not hard to see why. Most folks, including the politicians, don’t know all the facts. Partly because the issue is so deceptively complex that statistics are hard to break down. And partly because the long term statistics for our county’s cameras haven’t been generated.
The good news for Patch is that only knowing part of the puzzle pretty much guarantees a high spirited public debate. Throw in a little personal mudslinging and you’ve got yourself a real hootenanny in the comments section.
The issue seems simple. Speeding in school zones, or anywhere for that matter, is a bad idea. A report released in January 2011 showed speed cameras successfully reduce the speed of traffic. That’s good. However, this same report determined that the accident rate remained unchanged. That puts a wrench in things.
So, it’s not so simple. Reduced speed does not necessarily equal reduced accidents. Ergo, the benefit provided by these cameras (if benefit is described as increased safety) might not outweigh the cost of these cameras for the community. Especially if efforts to recoup these costs and generate profit are hampered by payments to ACS, Inc., the company who installs and maintains the cameras (an initial payment of approximately 44 percent of the initial revenue, as described in a recent Ellicott City Patch article).
The constitutionality of various aspects of speed and red light camera
programs has also been questioned, from issues regarding the accuracy of the cameras, to concerns regarding due process in reference to enforcement of camera-issued unpaid tickets.
Recently the Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in Maryland, agreed to hear a case pertaining to the issue of contingent fee contracts. In Montgomery County many of the $40 speed camera tickets issued have included a $16.25 fee from ACS, Inc. Plaintiffs argue this per ticket fee
encourages a financial incentive to issue tickets, and is in violation of state
What will be the legacy of speed cameras?
No one really knows. It seems an educated guess at this point.
Transparency is important. I applaud Councilman Quirk for proposing a bill that he hopes will make our town more bikable and walkable. In my opinion, reducing the speed of traffic to legal limits is a good thing, regardless of the effect of speed on accident rates. Reducing the need for a police presence is an added benefit. However, these cameras introduce a layer of government intervention that has the potential to personally affect every driver on the road, speeding or not. For this program to really be successful the public needs to be regularly appraised of the effectiveness of the program in terms of safety and cost. Furthermore, there should be clarity regarding the use of the funds received.
For now, based upon the many comments posted on Patch as well as the difficulty I experienced trying to obtain accurate information for this article, this issue is far from transparent.
Honesty from my elected officials regarding the importance of the revenue would also be refreshing.
I asked a few friends what they thought about this issue. Their responses are provided below:
“I’m neutral about it. I hate it when people go zooming past my house, so why should they be zooming past schools? Do I think they should be on every street? No. but I understand their value in front of schools and in work zones. However, I do have a problem with those cameras that are operating in work zones that are not operational and in school zones when school is not in session.”
“I have no problem with speed cameras anywhere, any time. What’s the point of a speed limit if it’s not enforced? I hope the county makes some money off of this project and puts it back in the community.”
“Most kids leaving [Catonsville] high school cross on Bloomsbury Avenue, not across Rolling Road. And the traffic is so congested and slow on Rolling Road at the time of day that the kids are walking to school it is highly unlikely a car would hit a child. If it’s truly just a safety issue, why not put the camera on Bloomsbury? Cars taking a right off of Rolling onto Bloomsbury have a much greater chance of causing a pedestrian accident. I think this is just a revenue generator from which I’ll likely not benefit.”
“What’s up with the guy from the speed camera company who parks illegally on Rolling Road to work on the camera? Couldn’t he wait until after rush hour, or park somewhere LEGALLY?”
And, last, my favorite:
“I’m just confused about the structure of the speed camera apparatus. Why does it look like the robot from Lost In Space? And why is it flammable?”