- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2005

D.C. officials this weekend will expand their automated traffic-enforcement program, even though a record-low percentage of motorists are speeding through the District.

Critics of the program attacked the expansion as the District’s latest effort to reap more revenue from traffic cameras, which have generated about $117 million in fines since the program began in 1999.

Two new photo-radar cameras will begin issuing tickets tomorrow. The cameras will snap pictures of speeders in the 600 block of New York Avenue Northeast and in the 3400 block of Benning Road Northeast.

In addition, a new red-light camera will target traffic at Florida and New York avenues in Northeast tomorrow.

During the 30-day warning period, more than 25,000 vehicles were caught speeding by the two radar cameras. The red-light camera caught 546 violators.

According to the most recent statistics from the Metropolitan Police Department, 3 percent of the 733,743 motorists monitored in the city were caught speeding in August — the lowest percentage since the speed cameras were introduced in 2001.

And there has been a 56.9 percent reduction in red-light runners since those cameras were implemented in 1999, according to police statistics.

“The reduction in numbers is just a matter of people getting the message that they better slow down,” said Kevin P. Morison, spokesman for police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.

“Despite some of the controversy, residents overwhelmingly support the cameras. People are still frustrated with [excessive speeders]. Folks want cameras in their neighborhoods,” Mr. Morison said.

But detractors say the numbers are lower mainly because motorists have wised up to the cameras’ presence and slow down before entering an enforcement zone, then accelerate after passing through.

“All they’ve really done is modify behavior where the cameras are,” said John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, a regional automobile owners club. “The cameras are used as a catch-all or Band-Aid, when it’s obvious that more than automated enforcement is needed.

“Have the cameras made streets safer? Have they really changed drivers’ behavior? Those are the real questions,” Mr. Townsend said.

Enforcement zones in busy thoroughfares such as East Capitol Street near RFK Stadium do little besides pique the public’s ire and substantiate notions that authorities place “speed traps” in lucrative areas, Mr. Townsend said.

“The cameras only reinforce that old adage, ‘You can’t fight City Hall,’ to residents, and they’re paying a very costly and excessive price,” he said.

Photo-radar cameras have generated about $84 million in fines since 2001; red-light cameras have produced nearly $33 million in fines since 1999.

In August, the most recent month for which statistics are available, officials collected $2.2 million in fines from speed cameras. The speed cameras have generated more than $18 million in fines this year.

Mr. Morison dismissed assertions that the city depends upon revenue from the cameras and expands their use to keep pace with the declining number of violators.

“Money has never been an issue with this program,” he said, pointing out that the revenue — which is deposited into the District’s general fund — makes up less than half of one percent of the city’s budget for the fiscal year.

“Chief Ramsey has said all along that the program is about safety, not revenue. If it reached a point where there was not a single red-light runner or speeder, we’d probably celebrate. That would mean we’ve reached our ultimate goal,” Mr. Morison said.

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