- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2002

Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday defended the District's expanding system of photo-radar cameras a program that has raked in more than $20 million in new revenue for the city in its first 15 months.
"What's driving these cameras is safety," the mayor told reporters at his weekly press briefing. "If we gain revenue as a byproduct of using these devices, then I think that's fine.
"It is not designed to create a proxy for a commuter tax," he said.
But insurance safety analysts dispute the mayor's assertions that the cameras have made streets safer, and analysts in other cities say they have found no evidence that this is so.
Responding to questions raised about a report that appeared in yesterday's editions of The Washington Times, the mayor insisted that the electronic cameras designed to catch traffic violators on film enhance road safety for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.
The Page One article in The Times reported that the city had earned more than $20,602,947 in the first 15 months of the speed-camera program far exceeding original revenue estimates of $11 million annually.
The revenue tally came about two months after Mr. Williams and the D.C. Council decided to expand the speed-camera program adding five mobile units to the five in use and the one stationary camera on Florida Avenue near Gallaudet University.
City officials said in September that budget planners were counting on revenue from fines to help to shrink the city's $323 million budget shortfall.
City officials also decided then to activate the photo-radar option in some of the city's 39 red-light cameras for a new program called "Speed on Green." The move is expected to net the city additional millions in the coming months.
Some critics and former supporters of the speed cameras question the city's claims that the cameras have helped make the District's streets safer. They note that since tickets given for running red lights do not award punishment "points," the tickets generate revenue but do not necessarily punish unsafe driving habits.
Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said that until the city provides more precise accident data showing how cameras have aided in curtailing accidents, injuries and crash damage, "it just looks like a cash cow."
D.C. officials cite statistics that they say prove the red-light and speed cameras have made streets safer.
According to the Metropolitan Police Department's Web site, the city has seen reduction of red-light violations of 57.6 percent 21,800 fewer violations a month at intersections with cameras installed.
And the percentage of aggressive speeders on roads and highways dropped by 69 percent since the speed-camera program began. The average speed on 25-mph roads fell from 35.5 mph in July 2001 to 28.2 mph in September 2002.
In 35-mph zones, the average speed fell from 43.7 mph to 38.3 mph during the same period.
But this data does not necessarily correlate the cameras with reductions in car crashes and resulting deaths and injuries, local traffic safety experts said.
Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said his researchers tell him the District's cameras haven't been running long enough for anyone to see if their use can be directly correlated with reducing accidents.
"You would need a lot more data than the time has allowed for so far," he said.
He said it took other jurisdictions in British Columbia, Canada, and in Britain nearly five years to come up with definitive accident studies on their cameras.
Mr. Rader said the study done in British Columbia showed a 7 percent decline in crashes, a 20 percent decline in deaths and a 10 percent decline in injuries during the first year of camera operation.
British Columbia scrapped all electronic traffic enforcement last year when the programs became politically unpopular.
Statistics show speed cameras had an effect on accidents on Britain's M25 roadway London's version of the Capital Beltway. In the first year of speed cameras there, accidents involving injury were down 28 percent and accidents with major vehicle damage were down 25 percent.
No jurisdictions in the United States have done definitive studies on their speed-camera programs.
Mark Lear, the chief traffic investigator in Portland, Ore. a city with a similar speed-camera system said any study would be very difficult because most U.S. cities primarily use mobile speed cameras.
"You need a couple years worth of data to determine if the cameras are making a statistical reduction in accidents," Mr. Lear said.
Portland moves its cameras regularly, he said, making it even more difficult to collect and interpret data.
British Columbia and Britain use speed cameras affixed to the roads. Making a direct correlation is much easier in that case, Mr. Lear said, "because the cameras are automatically tied to that specific road all the time, 24 hours a day."
The District has a system with mobile cameras that are used about 48 hours per week.


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