Monday, March 21, 2005

The Metropolitan Police Department today will begin issuing speeding tickets to motorists caught driving too fast past the District’s four new police radar cameras.

The new stationary cameras are located in the 5400 block of 16th Street and in the 4700 block of MacArthur Boulevard in Northwest, and in the 100 block of Michigan Avenue and in the 2800 block of Benning Road in Northeast.

The cameras, which were activated Feb. 18, have been generating only warnings to those caught speeding. But, beginning today, those caught speeding will receive notices of infraction in the mail.

The fines can reach $200 per violation, depending on speed.

Police officials said that during the first four weeks of operation, the four cameras captured more than 52,000 vehicles — or an average of about 1,900 speeding events per day — traveling at what they say is “above the threshold speed.”

“The initial numbers certainly confirm that aggressive speeding is a serious problem in these four communities,” Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said. “However, our experience with other photo radar locations, both mobile and stationary, is that the number of violations will decline, and decline sharply, in a very short period of time. That is the good news for our motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and other residents.”

The camera in the median on Benning Road seems well-placed to capture speeders, with the lens trained on outgoing traffic as the road spreads out to six lanes across the Anacostia River. Yesterday it flashed, usually at the first eastbound vehicles leaving the traffic light. Warning slips will be sent to the owners of a black van, a small white Toyota and a pickup truck, among others.

The police have operated a fleet of mobile photo radar vehicles since the summer of 2001, then added their first stationary photo radar speeding unit in February 2004 in the 600 block of Florida Avenue in Northeast, a 25 mph zone next to Gallaudet University.

According to police, 2.4 percent of vehicles were speeding in the 600 block of Florida Avenue last month, the lowest number in a year. The highest speed there last month was 68 mph. The highest speed since the camera was installed was 95 mph.

Since radar cameras began being used in the District almost four years ago, the percentage of speeding motorists has fallen from 30 percent to just more than 3 percent, according to police. Traffic fatalities also have declined from 45 in 2001 to 17 in 2004. More than $70 million in fines have been paid.

The fines pay the cost of the cameras and operations. While Chief Ramsey praises them for reducing dangers, critics claim the radar cameras and the red-light cameras at 39 intersections are only a means to raise money.

In Virginia, where lawmakers declined to renew a pilot program for red-light cameras, the cameras will disappear July 1.

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