Chester Dunn has paid hundreds of dollars to the District’s automated traffic-enforcement program through the years, but that isn’t why the speed cameras have drawn his ire.
His breaking point was reading that the city in March collected a record $3.3 million of revenue generated by the cameras — an amount he says is inflated by a disproportionate number of cameras in black neighborhoods.
“That $3.3 million was generated off the back of the black community,” said Mr. Dunn, 43, who is black. “I know every area where [the cameras] are, and I’ve never seen any on Wisconsin or Connecticut avenues, in Georgetown or on Capitol Hill.”
John B. Townsend II, spokesman for AAA’s Mid-Atlantic region, said such complaints aren’t new and that many drivers have contacted the organization with the same concerns.
“There is a widespread perception among black motorists in the District about the geographic distribution of tickets and enforcement areas,” Mr. Townsend said. “And I’m sure the accusation will drive [police] ballistic, but if you look at the locations, it’s tilted toward those neighborhoods.”
Of the 34 speed-enforcement zones monitored in April by the 12 camera-equipped vehicles and 10 stationary cameras, 23 were in Northeast and Southeast, predominantly black sections of the city.
Mr. Townsend said AAA began studying the issue after receiving a number of related complaints. Last year, AAA designated the District as a “strict enforcement area” — the first time in the organization’s 106-year history that an entire city received the label.
“We haven’t reached a determination [whether] the locations are influenced by race, but it’s something that warrants looking into,” he said.
Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who wants to expand the program, denied that anyone other than speeders are targeted.
“Race is no factor at all,” Chief Ramsey said. “Cameras are in areas where we have complaints about speeding. I don’t think cameras know the difference. If you don’t want a ticket, don’t speed.”
Target zones are regularly assessed and altered based on police observations and residents’ requests.
Metropolitan Police ultimately decide upon enforcement zones after the traffic-safety division and the city’s transportation department review crash data and community comment.
Chief Ramsey defended the department’s choice of locations, citing the recent spate of traffic deaths in the monitored areas. Of the eight pedestrian deaths in the District so far this year, six have been in Ward 8.
The most recent pedestrian fatality in the District occurred April 27, when Daniel Small, a 4-year-old from Southeast, was struck and killed at Ninth Street and Valley Avenue, just blocks away from his home.
Though police do not have any statistics showing a correlation between the automated enforcement program and a reduction in traffic deaths or crashes, fatalities have decreased: There were 49 deaths last year, down from 71 in 2001, when the speed-cameras were implemented.
There have been 21 traffic fatalities so far this year, one more than at this time last year.
The automated enforcement program has generated more than $142 million since 1999. The city’s 49 red-light cameras have generated more than $36 million, including $5.2 million last year.
The speed-cameras generated $3 million in April, the most recent month of statistics available from the Metropolitan Police Department. March and April were the first times the monthly collected revenue totaled more than $3 million.
George Porter, 51, a taxi driver and lifelong D.C. resident, said he hasn’t seen many cameras in Northwest. However, he said he’s noticed quite a few on heavily traveled roads in Northeast and Southeast, including Benning Avenue Northeast — a freewaylike thoroughfare which is not located in a residential area but has a 30 mph speed limit.
“That one just seems excessive to me,” Mr. Porter said. “There’s no way you’re going to hurt a pedestrian there.”
James Cole, 46, who was born and raised in the District, said he thinks commuter routes are the program’s primary target, but the lack of cameras outside of the eastern half of the city lends credence to the claims of racial disparity.
“There aren’t a lot of blacks that live west of Rock Creek Park,” he said. “If there’s not a lot of cameras across from there, then certainly the argument can be made that they’re [racially] disproportionate.”