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Baltimore aims to triple red light, speed camera revenue to $24 million

Baltimore aims to triple red light, speed camera revenue to $24 million
Baltimore officials are expecting to generate $24 million next year from the city’s expanding network of red light and speed cameras — triple the amount budgeted for this year. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore officials are expecting to collect $24 million next year from the city’s expanding network of red-light and speed cameras — triple the amount budgeted for this year.

The anticipated camera revenue revealed Wednesday in Mayor Catherine E. Pugh’s new $2.8 billion budget proposal would restore the system close to its record height of fines issued before the city’s previous network was shut down in 2013 for issuing erroneous tickets.

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The city is planning to expand the existing network of 56 cameras to 100 to improve safety on streets near schools and to deliver new revenues.

Officials expected the system would bring in $8 million in the current fiscal year, but say $12 million in fines have already been issued with several months left before the budget year ends June 30. The speed camera tickets are $40 each and red-light violations are $75.

City Budget Director Bob Cenname said the anticipated camera revenue for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is a conservative estimate based on the 44 cameras being added to the system.

“One thing we had to be careful about is we didn’t want to over-rely on traffic camera revenue,” Cenname said. “When we put the new cameras on, there are a lot of tickets generated per camera. Pretty shortly after that, the revenue starts to drop off.”

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said residents of her district are desperate for tools to get drivers to slow down, but she doesn’t want the city to come to rely on the money to fund services.

“A successful speed and red light camera program would decrease in revenue every year” as people drive more safely, Clarke said.

She said she wants the city to use the citation money to redesign city streets to make them safer.

Baltimore Finance Director Henry Raymond said the purpose of the cameras, which must be placed near schools, is to keep children safe, not solely to raise money.

“It is for safety,” Raymond said. “The revenue is secondary.”

Revenue from the old system peaked at $30 million in 2012 shortly before The Baltimore Sun revealed that the speed cameras were issuing tickets to people who were not speeding. The city cut off the cameras and the General Assembly rewrote state law in an effort to prevent problems from arising again.

The transportation department says the new cameras rely on different technology and that officials provide additional reviews of all tickets.

The law requires the public to get two weeks’ notice before new cameras come online. The latest group started operating March 19.

Andrew Wolfe, a Roland Park resident, says the speed camera in his neighborhood has helped to slow traffic along Roland Avenue — especially near the public elementary-middle school and the private Roland Park Country School and Gilman School.

The avenue, however, becomes a “speedway further south” where there are no cameras, Wolfe added.

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Christine Delise, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said that “motorists have a love-hate relationship with speed and red-light cameras.”

“We all recognize the camera program is for safety, but there is often the suspicion among drivers that the program is primarily for revenue, particularly when that revenue is being built into a city’s budget,” Delise said.

A 2017 survey of driver habits by AAA Foundation found that nearly 43 percent of motorists admitted to driving through a red light in the past 30 days. And nearly half of surveyed drivers reported driving 10 miles per hour over the speed limit on residential streets.

“Unfortunately, aggressive driving is becoming a more significant traffic safety issue on our roadways in recent years, and drivers are even admitting to running red lights and speeding in residential areas,” Delise said. “Automated enforcement is one of the tools to help combat this issue, as law enforcement cannot be everywhere.”

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