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Bill proposes surveillance cameras to keep motorists out of Baltimore's bus-only lanes

Baltimore and other jurisdictions have speed and red light cameras to snap photos of offending drivers so they can be mailed fines. Now some state lawmakers want “red lane” cameras to catch and penalize motorists clogging dedicated bus routes

A pair of bills pending in the Maryland General Assembly propose equipping Maryland Transit Administration buses with cameras to photograph and fine drivers using downtown Baltimore’s new red, bus-only lanes.

The proposals leave most of the specifics — including how to pay for the camera system — up to the MTA and local authorities, but would enable better enforcement of bus lane violations, said Del. Robbyn Lewis, who sponsored the House version.

“These lanes were built to help run the bus system more effectively,” said the Baltimore Democrat. “If you allow vehicles to block those lanes, you undermine the effectiveness of entire bus network.”

The MTA spent $5 million to paint 5.5 miles of red, bus-only lanes around downtown, part of Gov. Larry Hogan’s $135 million BaltimoreLink bus route overhaul, Lewis said.

“If we don’t protect these lanes, we’ve basically thrown all that money away,” Lewis said.

But the proposal faces an uncertain future in the General Assembly.

Del. Curt Anderson, chairman of the city's House delegation in Annapolis, said he was not familiar with the bill's details and that it is too early in the process to determine its chances.

Other lawmakers privately raised concerns that still photos are not a good way to detect if a car is loitering in a bus lane versus legally using it to make a turn. Video technology, which isn't included in the bill and would be more expensive, would be a better way to do that. The legislation also might have statewide implications by setting a precedent for other jurisdictions. Ocean City, for example, also has dedicated bus lanes.

The MTA took no position on the legislation, but sent a letter of information to the House Environment and Transportation Committee that identified several problems that could arise from the proposed law.

The agency agreed that bus lanes must be enforced consistently to be “maximally effective.” But it noted that the cameras on the buses now are not equipped to serve such a purpose. No estimate has been put forward for how much the cameras would cost.

The MTA also noted that the bills were written too narrowly, without allowing for MTA Mobility and Charm City Circulator vehicles to drive in the lanes or have cameras mounted.

“There are also allowances in current practice for motorists to enter the bus lanes to make a right turn, as long as they do so within the next 100 feet,” the MTA wrote. “This bill appears to prohibit that practice.”

Lewis said she has already made amendments to the bill and is open to making others.

The legislation would require any local jurisdiction that wants to develop such a system for photographing and fining drivers to authorize it in local law after a public hearing.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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