D.C. area can't get enough traffic cameras

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Local,Transportation,Liz Essley

Red-light and speed cameras continue to proliferate in the Washington area despite years of public opposition and even as other U.S. cities begin to abandon the controversial traffic programs.

Montgomery County last week added 10 new portable speed cameras and plans to install 20 more red-light cameras by the end of 2013. Prince George's County launched its own speed camera program in August, and the District added new speed cameras in November.

In Virginia, Arlington County, Fairfax City, Falls Church and Alexandria all have red-light cameras, though no speed cameras.

Advocates say the cameras slow drivers, protect pedestrians and prevent accidents.

"Ninety-five percent of the time, they are of significant assistance toward reducing speeding and cars entering intersections as pedestrians cross," said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations and a pedestrian safety advocate in D.C.

The cameras also rake in cash. Montgomery County netted $9.7 million from camera-issued tickets in 2011. D.C. Mayor Vince Gray used tens of millions in camera-ticket revenue to help plug a $172 million budget deficit.

Opponents say the cameras are fleecing motorists and may not always be accurate.

"It's absolutely criminal," said Oxon Hill business owner Will Foreman, who successfully contested three speeding tickets. "I think that the people involved with the [Forest Heights] traffic camera programs should be locked up on [racketeering] charges. You're laughing, but I called the FBI."

D.C. restaurateur Geoff Tracy hired a man to hold a sign warning motorists of a speed camera on Foxhall Road in Northwest after getting three tickets there.

It's that kind of citizen outrage that got traffic camera programs scrapped in Houston, Los Angeles and Albuquerque, N.M., over the last year. Other cities like Syracuse, N.Y., voted to ban the cameras before anyone even tried to install one.

No Washington jurisdiction that adopted the cameras has given them up. Cheverly switched contractors after a bike was cited for going 57 mph, but the city still uses the cameras.

Opponents say it may just be a matter of time before "camera hotbeds" like the Washington region start reconsidering the proliferation of traffic cameras.

"Virtually any time the public gets to vote in it, the cameras go by the wayside," said John Bowman, spokesman for the anti-traffic-camera National Motorists Association. "It will take a lot of time and a lot of grassroots effort -- that's really going to be the key to it."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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