Cameras to catch more D.C. speeders

[replacer_a] ([replacer_a])

D.C. cameras won't see just red anymore.
City officials hope to modify 35 of the District's 49 automated enforcement cameras to catch motorists speeding through intersections in addition to typical red-light runners. They also plan to snap shots of gridlock-causing motorists and use laser technology to catch speeders in city tunnels.
The changes are part of plans to expand the District's traffic surveillance network, but they are also projected to help generate roughly $15.6 million for city coffers, at a time when the nation's capital is grappling with an $800 million revenue shortfall.
"These measures will allow the District to utilize technology to consistently enforce and modify driving behaviors that are detrimental to public safety," said Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat.
The proposals to increase the number of cameras to catch speeders are contained in Mr. Fenty's fiscal 2010 budget proposal as the District faces declining revenues in the midst of a national economic recession. Officials have long stressed that the city's traffic camera programs have the sole intention of slowing speeders and making roads safer, but some suspect a more sinister - if practical - plan is afoot.
"I wish it was about the public safety," said John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "That's part of it, but the larger part of it is they are interested in expanding revenue, and that's troublesome. Then I worry about people being targeted."
Under Mr. Fenty's plan, the Metropolitan Police Department, which operates the District's automated enforcement programs, will complement the city's fixed red-light cameras with mobile devices.
Officials also will use existing red-light cameras to catch motorists speeding through traffic signals - a mechanism called "speed-on-yellow enforcement" in Mr. Fenty's fiscal 2010 budget proposal submitted last week to the D.C. Council.
The other new initiatives include using cameras for "gridlock enforcement" - snapping pictures of vehicles stuck in an intersection - and using laser devices to capture speeders in tunnels, where standard radar enforcement does not work.
Since the program's inception in 2001 through fiscal 2008, the District's network of photo-radar cameras - which now stands at about 24 - had netted the city more than $160 million in revenue. Its 49 red-light cameras had brought in nearly $49 million since 1999.
City Administrator Dan Tangherlini said the expansion of the District's camera network to alleviate gridlock would "generate revenue" for the city in the beginning, but that motorists will be able to move more freely through the nation's capital as well.
"This would be a way to really both enforce those fines and move traffic," Mr. Tangherlini said.
Mr. Fenty said the enhancements will allow more police officers to be deployed on patrol in the community, instead of being tasked with monitoring traffic.
"The District is committed to implementing policies that will protect its residents," the mayor said.
D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, which has oversight of the police department, said using enforcement to balance a budget "sends a wrong message," although he favors using mobile red-light cameras in addition to fixed cameras.
"The difficulty from a legislator's point of view is that people shouldn't speed, people shouldn't run red lights. And there's no reason to say no to this," said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat. "But I know that it leaves a bad taste to the public. We're going to spend money on the basis of enforcement, and that doesn't go over well."
David Loebsack, an Arlington resident who frequently drives into the District, applauded Mr. Fenty for coming up with a revenue stream that does not cut funding and could lead to safer streets - but noted that the initiative could backfire.
"The only downside is that all those extra tickets, fines and fees are going to start making people angry, especially considering that the driving situation in D.C. is beyond horrendous," said Mr. Loebsack, 25.
Georgetown resident Eric Pearce, 23, said the enforcement expansion would at least make city roads a little safer.
"Not much could make me feel safe driving in D.C., but it is a start," he said.
Molly Nevola contributed to this report.