Laurel Police added to their school zone speed enforcement program last week by putting up two digital signs along Montgomery Street that display driver's speeds before entering a school zone.
The new devices, located in the 300 and 1200 blocks of Montgomery Street, are speed camera boxes with a pole-mounted digital sign that displays the vehicle speed as drivers enter the coverage area. While the devices, which were deployed on March 19, intentionally closely resemble a speed camera box, they are not, for now, being utilized for enforcement or ticketing purposes, according to city officials.
"It is a speed awareness device in an attempt to show people that they are exceeding the speed limit," said Police Chief Richard McLaughlin. "It is a deterrent, it is not speed enforcement."
The signs, which are manufactured by Brekford Corp., are solar and battery-powered, depending on the usage and volume of traffic, according to city officials. The devices also have the capability to collect statistical data of vehicle counts, traffic volume and times of heaviest usage.
McLaughlin said he's already heard from residents living on Montgomery Street about decreases in speed.
Among those residents is Elden Carnahan, who lives in the 300 block of Montgomery Street close to the stop sign at Fourth Street. He said traffic usually slows down in front of his house approaching the stop sign, but the usual traffic behavior has been to speed up toward the middle of his block. Now, he said, with the display speed camera, he is seeing slower traffic on the entire 300 block.
"A Metrobus, heading west, having passed that sign went about two-thirds its customary speed," Carnahan said.
"I'm happy to see it," Carnahan said of the signage. "I've always been a fan of speed cameras and don't buy the argument they are only to generate revenue."
McLaughlin said the department's deployment of the signs show that the city's speed enforcement program, which includes cameras, decoy cameras and signage, is not about revenue.
"It just adds to the transparency that it's not about revenue generation, it's about safety," McLaughlin said.
Mayor Craig Moe agrees.
"I know there are people out there who think all we are concerned about is the money," Moe said. "The overall thought is we are trying to change people's behavior."
The program has been profitable for the city, however, as revenues have exceeded expenses every year. In fiscal year 2011, the city's speed camera revenues were $1.5 million and expenditures were $668,013. In fiscal year 2012, revenues were $2.5 million and expenditures were $1 million. In fiscal year 2013, revenues were $1.5 million while expenditures were $674,125.
McLaughlin said the signs, which he said came at no extra cost to the city, are the latest tool the Police Department has used to deter and enforce speeding within the city.
In addition to deploying six speed cameras throughout the city, which were first rolled out in 2011, the department also added two decoy boxes last April, which are empty speed camera boxes filled with sand. Like the signs, the decoy boxes have no enforcement element, and are used solely for deterring drivers. The city also has two permanent signs outside Laurel High School that are intended to deter speeders. McLaughlin said the city will explore adding more digital signs depending on feedback from residents.
McLaughlin said that the city's diverse offering of speed enforcement and deterrent methods is unparalleled, leading he and others to consider it a success.
"Nobody has put all the pieces together like we have," he said.
The number of citations backs that up, as citations have decreased steadily since the program was implemented. In 2011, the city issued 90,900 citations. In 2012, 39,600 were issued, and that number fell to 16,930 in 2013.
Moe said, in addition to the statistics, he gauges the success of the program by the feedback he gets from residents.
"One of the biggest complaints I've gotten is speeding in and around the city of Laurel," Moe said. "I think people have seen a reduction [in speed]. We are also seeing a reduction in tickets being handed out, which is good."
While city officials say the program has been a success, not everything has gone off without a hitch. Last year, the Maryland Driver's Alliance, an anti-speed camera organization, lampooned the city for using the manufacturer of its speed camera program, Sensys Corp., for certifying its speed cameras, which some argue is against the law in Maryland.
The city admitted that Sensys did the initial calibrations of its cameras in 2010, but said the law does not specify the manufacturer can't do the initial certification.
Radar Lab and PB Electronics, another independent police radar repair and certification company, now perform the annual re-certifications in Laurel.