By Scott Calvert and Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun
6:24 PM EST, December 6, 2012
The speed camera ticket that Baltimore City issued to John Slingluff last summer said he was speeding, yet the evidence says he was closer to stopping than to breaking the law.
The citation alleged that his Chevrolet sport utility vehicle was headed east on University Parkway at 45 miles per hour. But The Baltimore Sun found that it was going just over 7 mph, based on measurements taken using the two time-stamped photos provided by the city as evidence of the infraction.
"Mine was obviously terribly wrong," the Roland Park resident said Thursday.
The Sun separately determined this week that another automated camera, on Potee Street near Cherry Hill, ticketed a Volvo station wagon for traveling 49 mph, though time-stamped photos and a measurement of the pavement show it was moving at 41 mph, not fast enough to warrant a $40 ticket.
The Sun's findings bring to five the number of city speed cameras with documented inaccuracies, and the city says it is also investigating a sixth camera, in the 3800 block of Greenspring Ave.
In recent public appearances, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake defended the city's lucrative speed camera program as an important tool for making areas around schools safer for students.
"I don't want anyone to get a ticket in error, but I'd rather face that person and correct that problem," she told reporters Wednesday. "Because you can't bring a child back if we lose one because somebody thinks it's more important for them to get to work five minutes late instead of 10 minutes late."
The mayor noted that she has established a task force to review the city's red light and speed cameras.
She repeated a statement made by top city officials that the overall error rate for speed cameras in Baltimore is less than 1 percent. Asked for evidence to support that, the mayor's office referred questions to the city Transportation Department, which has told The Sun it doesn't know the rate.
The city's network of 83 radar-equipped speed cameras was the subject of a recent Sun investigation that found some citations are inaccurate and that city judges routinely toss out tickets logged by cameras across Baltimore because of various deficiencies.
Chris Gilligan, a spokesman for the city's speed camera contractor, Xerox State & Local Solutions, did not respond directly to questions about the Potee Street and University Parkway cameras. He reiterated statements that "a systemwide audit of the Baltimore photo enforcement program is ongoing and has resulted in implementing an additional manual review of citations at all camera locations."
"We believe the systemwide error rate is very low," he added. "However, we strive for perfection, and when notified of issues, we work with the city to correct them quickly."
Transportation Department spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes did not comment specifically on newly documented problems with the two cameras. She reissued a two-paragraph statement saying that the agency takes seriously any errors and "will do everything possible to prevent technical equipment errors and ensure the program continues to improve traffic safety in Baltimore."
Slingluff said his ticket arrived in the mail days after the late-June derecho storm had toppled trees on his property and damaged his home.
"It didn't look right to me," he said of the ticket. "At the time, I thought, 'Maybe, maybe not. Who knows? I can't deal with it right now.' So I just paid it."
After reading about problems with other citations, he recently dug his out and quickly realized the error. The two photos on his ticket were taken 1.4 seconds apart. If the cited 45 mph were accurate, he would have traveled about 92 feet during that time.
But The Sun used pavement markings to show that his SUV had actually gone 15 feet in that time. That works out to a speed of roughly 7 mph. The photos show the SUV coming to a stop at St. Paul Street, where the stoplight had turned yellow.
Though he paid his ticket in July, Slingluff said he wanted to let city officials know about the mistake.
"I tried calling the city," he said. "You get a computer that puts you on hold. After 15 minutes, I thought, 'There are better things in life to do than sit and wait for a computer to talk to you.' "
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