- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

A D.C. Council member is asking Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to re-evaluate the speed limits on streets monitored by speed cameras to keep enforcement zones from becoming speed traps.

“The idea is not to make [vehicles go] faster on our roads,” said Phil Mendelson, an at-large Democrat who wants to amend the District’s Automated Traffic Enforcement Act. “But if the speed limit is set too low, all we’ve done is make speed traps because most drivers are safe drivers and tend to drive at a safe speed.”

The District has 10 cameras at fixed locations and 12 camera-equipped vehicles rotating through nearly 80 enforcement zones.

The devices, which are overseen by the Metropolitan Police Department, resulted in nearly $31 million in fines in 2006 — the most lucrative year in the program’s six-year history.

Mr. Mendelson’s bill would require the mayor’s office to re-evaluate speed limits at the fixed and rotating zones and assess speed limits at future zones.

Police say the percentage of speeding motorists has declined sharply since the program began in July 2001, and spokesman Kevin Morison said the department does not place cameras in areas where there are low speed limits simply to trap more motorists.

“We’ll continue to enforce in areas where we continue to have problems with speeding,” he said. “You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a location where residents or business owners or anyone else will say, ‘Let’s raise the speed limit.’ ”

Mr. Mendelson, a proponent of the cameras, said speed limits on such roads as East Capitol Street east of RFK Stadium — where the posted limit ranges from 35 to 40 mph — can sometimes unfairly catch safe drivers with a ticket and fine.

Enforcement zones on New York Avenue Northeast and the Southeast/Southwest Freeway also have drawn complaints.

East Capitol “is a stretch of road without any interchange,” Mr. Mendelson said. “While it shouldn’t be a speedway, it also doesn’t make sense that the speed is the same as some of our other streets where there are interchanges.”

John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the group would support Mr. Mendelson’s bill “100 percent,” and cited areas of the city such as Benning Road Northeast, which has a fixed, photo-radar camera and a speed limit of 30 mph, as potential speed traps.

“You have a major artery going through the city that has all the semblance and seeming of a major road,” he said. “And yet you have the speed limits there in such a way and the cameras in such a place that you’re just ticketing people left and right.”

Erik Linden, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation, said the agency had no comment on Mr. Mendelson’s proposal but that officials would be studying the issue.

Mr. Mendelson has introduced the bill before, but it has never made it out of committee. The measure is co-sponsored by Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, and has been referred to the council’s Committee on Public Works and the Environment.

Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the committee, said he likely would not support a proposal that could encourage speeding but would consider it.

“We just have such a huge problem with speeders and we don’t have a traffic control division that is the size we need in the city,” Mr. Graham said. Cameras “are one of the few things we have to control speeding.”

The proposal also would put revenue from the speed-camera program into the District’s Highway Trust Fund, which can be used to reimburse the federal government for transportation projects and pay for city road improvements. Revenue from the program now goes into the city’s general fund, Mr. Mendelson said.

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