By Nick Cafferky, The Baltimore Sun
5:52 PM EST, November 21, 2012
As the traffic signal turned yellow, a silver Honda SUV heading north on South Caton Avenue sped up. It beat the red light, but not before a flash went off as a camera snapped a picture of its license plate.
The driver would likely receive a $40 ticket in the mail, courtesy of the Baltimore City Department of Transportation — another victim of the most prolific speed camera in the city.
The camera, which has resided at the intersection of Caton and Benson Avenue since November 2009 and was one of the city's first, is responsible for more than 85,000 tickets — thousands more than any other in the city.
Add in the 32,000 from the camera on the other side of the street, and that one intersection in Southwest Baltimore is responsible for $4.6 million in potential revenue and nearly 8 percent of the total number of tickets logged by the city's 83 cameras.
"Everyone is trying to catch that light," said Deone Marable, an employee of CJB Therapy, which is at the intersection. "So they speed up, and it catches you every time."
Marable doesn't know this just from watching others, though. He's fallen victim to speed cameras 10 times, including once at this intersection.
But impatient commuters trying to get through the light aren't the only ones getting citations. Around the neighborhood, people offered theories about why the intersection's cameras nab so many speeders.
"A lot of people speed on Caton," said Angela Calamari, principal of Seton Keough High School, which sits next to the intersection. "Even when I leave at night, I can hear the speed camera clicking."
With a speed limit of just 30 mph, the intersection falls less than 100 yards past the exit from Interstate 95, where the speed limit is 55 mph. The ramp spills onto a straightaway of over half a mile where the road has a higher speed limit than around the intersection.
"If you're coming from the highway or from Caton further down, everything is 40 and up. It just drops to 30 and it's too slow," said Kevin Petgrave, who also works at CJB. "I can guarantee nobody goes 30 on that road."
Under state law, citations can be issued only when a vehicle exceeds the speed limit by at least 12 mph, which in this case means cars going 42 mph or faster.
According to a speed study provided by the city, the speed of northbound travelers on Caton Avenue has decreased more than 16 percent since the camera was put in, while the southbound lane has seen a decrease of almost 13 percent.
City transportation spokesperson Adrienne Barnes declined to comment on why Caton was chosen as a site for the cameras.
But one reason for its location is the same reason behind its 30 mph limit — the school zone around Seton Keough. Posted speed limits often drop off near schools, and by state law speed cameras in Baltimore can be placed only in school and work zones.
There are signs displaying the speed limit and announcing the speed camera's presence, which are also required under the law. Marable and Petgrave say they've driven past without noticing.
"You can ask the average person and they'll say the speed limit is 40 to 45," Petgrave said. "You have to put your breaks on to not go over 30."
The camera is mounted on a pole that hangs over the far right lane, and many people, including Petgrave, mistake it for a red light camera.
"A lot of people don't know what they are," Marable said. "My mom thought [speed cameras] were in the sky, and I had to show her that's what they looked like."
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