By Jessica Gregg
12:42 PM EDT, April 2, 2013
I spent my first morning of spring break sitting in traffic court fighting a speed camera ticket. Good times all around, especially when you consider the great problems the city has had with its speed camera system.
More than 25 drivers gathered in Judge Kathleen Sweeney's courtroom, and a whole pack of people were quickly found not guilty. Theirs were one of several cars going through intersections at the same time, and Judge Sweeney said the cameras apparently can't tell exactly which car in a group is speeding.
I wasn't so lucky. When the video of my infraction rolled, four cars raced through the intersection. A few seconds later there is my lone car. No quick dismissal for me — I had to argue my case.
The argument I made, the point that I have wanted to assert since I got this ludicrous ticket last summer, was that I was fined for being in a school zone when in fact there is not a school nearby at all. And there definitely wasn't one in session at the time. It was July.
The speed limit for most of Northern Parkway in both directions is 35 miles per hour. When you head west from York Road there is a sign at Lake Evesham that warns you that you are entering a school zone. There is also a sign that warns you the speed limit will drop.
And it does drop to 30 miles per hour — although that sign is fairly well camouflaged by ivy and other growth — as you come down the hill toward Springlake, which makes for an awesome speed trap.
About one mile west is the Bryn Mawr School. Surely that school isn't the reason for the speed camera, I asked Judge Sweeney.
Well, she pointed out, there are other schools — Gilman, Roland Park Country School, St. Mary's Seminary. But they're all at least as far as Bryn Mawr and on the other side of the street.
"Which school is in this speed zone set up for," Judge Sweeney finally asked the prosecutor, who had to look it up himself.
Grace Methodist Preschool was the answer.
Ah yes, Grace Methodist School, which is a half mile away from this speed camera and on the opposite side of Northern Parkway.
I love this city. I really, really do. What I don't love are its crazy traffic rules. Here's what I do for a living. I track 63 students who have graduated from a middle school for girls and have gone on to high school and college, and I make sure they have what they need for academic success. In other words, I drive to a lot of different schools in the city every month to check up on these students.
Here are some of the high schools I visit: Baltimore Talent Development, Catholic High, Cristo Rey Jesuit, Dunbar, Institute of Notre Dame, New Era Academy, Poly, and Roland Park Country School. Here's how many of these schools have actual speed cameras in the blocks adjacent to them to protect the safety of their students: Zero.
This is why being ticketed in a "school zone" irks me. These speed cameras have nothing to do with protecting our students. They are a money maker for the city, an unofficial tax on folks who use the roads.
I know, not exactly a news flash. But because of the existence of Grace Preschool a half of a mile away and on the other side of a four-lane road from a speed camera, I was found guilty of speeding in a school zone. While I didn't have to pay the fine, I did have to pay court costs.
Of course, a week before I went to court the city's speed camera task force had decided to look into a number of issues, including the appropriateness of various designated "school zones." But as Judge Sweeney stated when she came into her courtroom that morning, she didn't want hear about that.
Fair enough, I suppose, but the educator in me just can't resist the urge to bring it up.
Jessica Gregg is a teacher from Baltimore. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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