- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2009

With a petition in hand and a sign at his feet that simply reads “STOP Speed Cameras,” Daniel Zubairi attracted more than a hundred people in about two hours Friday to join his effort to repeal a law authorizing automated enforcement in Maryland.

He also attracted two police officers, who were called to investigate whether Mr. Zubairi had permission to collect signatures of commuters outside the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station in Bethesda.

“I’d sign it if I wasn’t on duty,” said one of the officers, as he told Mr. Zubairi to move along.

“I get ticketed by these things, too, and I hate them as much as he does, but we have a job to do,” said his partner. Neither of the officers wanted to be named.

Before being dislodged, Mr. Zubairi collected about 150 signatures in two hours, doing little more than standing behind his sign with a sly grin, knowing it and the clipboard would do the talking.

“It goes to show how ordinary, working folks feel about speed cameras. They just hate them,” said Mr. Zubairi, founder of the speed-camera opposition group Maryland for Responsible Enforcement, which is circulating the petition. “You don’t need to persuade anybody that cameras are a drag.”

People who signed the petition had different reasons for doing so. Some said speed cameras are an infringement of privacy rights; others said they amount to an additional tax on drivers. Still others said they are ineffective.

Most just said the cameras should go.

“I feel that it’s not fair, and it’s basically just a way for government to steal money from people,” said Leon Iofin, 63, a resident of Bethesda and an information-technology professional. “In my experience, they don’t do anything for safety, and they just suck money from people.”

Steve Alexander, 33, also an IT professional from Bethesda, said he didn’t think traffic cameras were effective in deterring speeders.

“The fact that there’s a camera is not going to stop someone from speeding. If they were really concerned about it, they would put [in] a cop and not a camera,” he said.

Mr. Zubairi is tasked with collecting at least 53,000 signatures by June 30 in order to have a petition on the 2010 ballot to repeal a measure passed by the General Assembly last month legalizing speed cameras at highway work zones and within a half mile of schools across the state. A third of the signatures must be collected by June 1.

The statewide campaign would mirror a similar effort under way in Arizona and successful efforts in cities and towns ranging from Cincinnati to Batavia, Ill., to kill the implementation of traffic cameras.

John Fiastro, the group’s Baltimore County coordinator, said that the petition was a way for voters to employ a form of “veto power” over their government.

“It’s good to know we as voters have some sort of say in what laws are passed. It’s unfortunate the process is so burdensome,” he said.

Opponents say they are not aware of any case in which traffic cameras have survived a public referendum. But taking advantage of the groundswell of public opposition to the cameras in order to get the issue on the ballot has already proved challenging.

The effort was delayed for almost a week last month when the state Board of Elections said the necessary paperwork to start collecting signatures was incomplete.

Then the first major collection effort - last weekend at the Towsontown Spring Festival - was marred by rainy days and yielded only about 140 signatures.

Organizers had expected to collect 1,000.

Mr. Fiastro said that rather than focus on how many signatures he and the rest of the group have so far, they should be pleased with the response they received.

“I’d say we had a 90 percent approval rating from the folks we talked to. That’s overwhelmingly positive, and it’s very encouraging,” he said.

Justin Shuy, the group’s primary grass-roots coordinator, said he was not concerned by the slow start last weekend.

“We have no concerns on progress right now. The petition just began, and we expect it to pick up day by day,” he said.

In Montgomery County, where speed cameras have been in place near schools and residential areas since 2007, County Executive Isiah Leggett has proposed doubling the number of fixed-pole cameras from 30 to 60, generating an estimated $30 million in revenue and creating six jobs. Mr. Leggett says that the cameras have reduced speeding and can save lives by reducing the number of collisions. The County Council is expected to vote on the expansion May 12.

A study of the county’s camera system by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released last year showed that speeding of more than 10 mph over posted limits in camera-monitored zones has been reduced by 70 percent.

But for Bethesda resident Gerald Royston, 40, the five speeding tickets he has been issued by Montgomery County in the last year is too much.

“I’ve gotten so many tickets, it’s annoying,” said Mr. Royston, a staff chief at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Sometimes you forget, and you go over a couple miles an hour and you get caught. And it’s only in one spot, it’s not like they’re preventing speeding in general. It’s driving me crazy.”

Not everyone supports the petition.

Joanna Williams, 35, of Kensington, says that people shouldn’t complain about breaking the law and then having to pay the price. She had particular praise for a camera on Grosvenor Avenue a few blocks away from the Metro station.

“That camera keeps my kids safe. I think if someone doesn’t like getting a ticket, my suggestion is: Don’t speed,” she said.

Mrs. Williams was in the minority Friday.

David Reynolds, 21, of Rockville, said that he thinks the cameras would be nice in residential areas where children are often around, but that to place them anywhere within a half mile of schools is a bit far-reaching.

“A lot of schools sit right next to the six-lane highways, so are we really going to have cameras for people zipping by on I-495? That’s a bit much,” he said.

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