Gray eyes city full of traffic cameras

Council members question merit of program’s expansion

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Mayor Vincent C. Gray told the D.C. Council on Tuesday he hopes to cover “the entire city” with traffic cameras, providing fuel to critics who feel his pro-safety message is a smoke screen for reaping greatly needed revenue.

Mr. Gray’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2013 would close a $172 million gap through $102 million in cuts and $70 million in new revenue, including about $25 million from an expanded program of automated traffic enforcement after startup costs.

City officials insist the program is targeted at safety, but the expansion of the program in both size and types of enforcement has critics wondering where to draw the line on the hotly debated technology.

Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown said motorists expect to be ticketed for violating the law, but he cannot understand why fines have crested $100 in recent years.

“I hear the frustrations of residents around these tickets, but it’s the cost of these tickets,” Mr. Brown said after the hearing.

Mr. Gray on Tuesday attempted to address concerns about his “traffic-calming initiatives” in wide-ranging testimony before the council on his fiscal 2013 budget. The initiatives are intended to catch speeders in tunnels, motorists who zip through intersections to beat traffic lights or those who “block the box” and create gridlock, among other violations.

“Eventually, we would hope to be able to cover the entire city,” Mr. Gray said.

Council member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, worried the program would impose “gotcha situations.” The city, she said, should consider low fines at the outset of the program.

“I do think we’re reaching the point where people have had enough of tickets,” Ms. Bowser said.

But council member Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, said motorists can avoid the brunt of the program in all cases.

“My position is if you don’t run a red light or don’t speed, then you don’t have to worry about it,” she said.

After the hearing, the mayor highlighted the prevalence of bicyclists and pedestrians who are at risk when people drive recklessly.

“The ultimate goal of this is to make people as safe as they possibly can be, to make people think about slowing down,” he said.

Many states use automated traffic enforcement - typically to catch red-light runners or speeders - while some limit cameras’ use to school or construction zones or officer-operated machines, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Several states ban traffic cameras outright.

The conference says the District has one of the most comprehensive laws in the country, authorizing automated enforcement of all moving violations.

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