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Baltimore tries cameras and tickets to stop trucks driving down residential streets

For years, residents in South East Baltimore have been beset by trucks rumbling to and from the port of Baltimore using residential streets. Now the city has set up cameras to catch trucks that stray from designated truck routes, and will hand out fines of up to $250. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun video)

For years, residents in Southeast Baltimore say, they've been beset by trucks rumbling to and from the port of Baltimore using residential streets, shaking their houses, waking up their children and knocking the mirrors off their cars.

This spring, the city rolled out a new approach to solve the problem: The Department of Transportation set up six cameras to catch trucks that stray from designated routes and hand out fines of up to $250.

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Shirley Gregory, the president of the St. Helena Community Association at the extreme eastern end of the city, said the effect of a camera near her home was instantaneous. Before the camera, Gregory said, she'd sometimes see 50 trucks a day pass by. Now it's more like three a week.

"It's been a lot quieter," she said. "A lot, lot quieter. It's like day-and-night quiet."

The new cameras are part of the city's revamped speed and red-light camera system. They work by snapping pictures of vehicles taller than 12 feet. Transportation officials check the images before police issue a ticket. Violators get a warning for a first offense, a $125 fine for a second offense, and $250 for subsequent offenses.

Trucks are allowed to traverse the city only along set routes that mostly avoid residential neighborhoods, unless they're making a delivery. But residents and officials say drivers often stray from the routes to avoid tolls or save time, and people living along the shortcuts say the traffic can severely affect their quality of life.

Steve Preston said the truck traffic on East Fayette Street near his home is worst when people are trying to sleep. As far as he can tell, they are crossing between Interstate 83 and I-95. The city put a camera on Fayette, but it's about 15 blocks from where Preston lives, and he said he hasn't seen much change so far.

"It's eroding people's ability to have some sanity and respite after work when you hear these trucks zoom down the street and they're hitting potholes and shaking houses," Preston said.

The Maryland Motor Truck Association supported the installation of the cameras. The association worked with the city to develop a map that shows the truck routes.

Louis Campion, the association's president, said the industry wants to follow the law, but because many drivers are independent contractors, the companies they work for aren't allowed to tell them what routes to take.

There are specialized GPS devices that identify truck routes and low bridges, but many drivers use systems such as Google Maps that are designed for car drivers.

"Most businesses are absolutely committed to following the appropriate routes," Campion said.

Residents and officials say their experiences with individual drivers have not always been so positive. Preston said he's confronted drivers only to be cursed at and told to mind his own business. Someone moved the camera near Gregory's house so it no longer had a view of the street.

Del. Brooke E. Lierman, who introduced legislation to give the truck camera system more teeth — currently there's no real sanction if violators don't pay their tickets — said she has received threatening emails saying the proposal would hurt people's livelihoods.

"I want truck drivers to be able to make a living just like anybody else," the Baltimore Democrat said, but not at the expense of people living in "safe and vibrant communities."

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The first two cameras went online in March. Four more followed in April. Rob Liberati, the transportation official who oversees the city's traffic cameras, said truckers will be able to contest a ticket if they can show that they were on a street to make a delivery.

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The cameras have signs to give drivers the opportunity to get back onto authorized streets before being photographed.

"We want them to take the truck routes," Liberati said.

Officials say it's still too soon to know whether the cameras will have the effect on truck traffic everywhere that the camera on Gregory's street has had.

City Councilman Zeke Cohen, whose district is home to four of the new cameras, said a resident task force he helped to establish to study truck traffic is already interested in adding more cameras. That would require legislation in the City Council.

"The challenge that we face is, as you know, we have a limited amount of police resources," Cohen said. "It doesn't always make a lot of sense just having officers sitting there waiting for illegal trucks to come. … The cameras provide a technological approach to ensuring that truck drivers are held accountable."

Traffic camera locations

Chesapeake Avenue, between St. Helena Avenue and Detroit Avenue

Broening Highway, between Cardiff Avenue and O'Donnell Street Cutoff

Pulaski Highway, near Haven Street

Fayette Street, between Broadway and N. Ann Street

President Street and Fleet Street

Boston Street and Clinton Street

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