As Baltimore's speed cameras rack up millions of dollars in fines, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is convening a task force to study the devices and the city's red light cameras.
"Over the past decade, there have been more traffic and pedestrian fatalities in Baltimore City than fire-related deaths," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "This comprehensive review of the program will help ensure that our systems are improving traffic and pedestrian safety, and that the program is as accurate, efficient, and effective as possible."
The Automated Traffic Violation Enforcement System Task Force will study camera locations, citation accuracy rates, and program management and performance, the mayor said. It will also review data trends to ensure that the systems are designed to help reduce speeds and improve safety, and that enforcement is equitably distributed among resident and nonresident motorists. The committee's eight members — representatives of city and state government, a driver advocacy group and a community group — plan to issue a report on their findings in 2013.
The task force was convened after city officials learned of a series of errors caused by its cameras' vendor, causing distrust in the system, said committee member Ragina C. Averella, AAA Mid-Atlantic's public affairs director.
Averella said her organization has concerns about whether the city and its vendor are following all state regulations on such devices, including proper posting of signs informing drivers that they are about to encounter a camera.
"Unfortunately, the city does not, by its own admission, do a great job of publicizing where the signs are and giving proper notice," she said.
Committee member Todd Lang, transportation director for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, said he was primarily interested in making sure the cameras were increasing safety.
"Are they being focused in the correct locations? Is the program doing what it is intended to do?" Lang asked.
This month, the city reported that it had taken in $19.2 million over the past year from its 83 speed cameras, which issue $40 citations — $4.2 million more than expected.
The city's eight portable cameras — which move among 87 locations — issue a disproportionate number of tickets when compared with the 75 fixed cameras, documents show. The city has 81 red light cameras.
Rawlings-Blake does not plan to add more speed cameras in the near future, according to her budget projections, and the city expects its speed camera revenue to start falling soon. The city expects to take in $11.4 million from speed cameras next year, $7.5 million in 2014 and $6.9 million in 2015.
In its statement on the task force, the Rawlings-Blake administration highlighted a recent citizen survey, which said residents found "disobeying traffic laws" to be a more serious problem than property crime, panhandling or graffiti.
Ron Ely, editor of the anti-speed camera website, StopBigBrotherMD.org, said he hoped the committee would take a hard look at the city's camera system.
"I hope it is not merely window dressing and that they intend to take a serious look into the quality-control issues we have observed," he said in an email.
At Monday's City Council meeting, Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke spoke out against the portable cameras, saying they are moved around so much that they result in increased revenue instead of increased safety.
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