Watchdog: Cardinal Gibbons closed, but 'school zone' camera remains

The problem: A Southwest Baltimore school closed in June, but the "school zone" signs — and a speed camera — remain.

The back story: Many students, alumni and families lamented when they heard that Cardinal Gibbons High School was closing.

Now, the parking lot off Desoto Road is filled with the vehicles of employees of St. Agnes Hospital, not school faculty. But yellow "school zone" signs at the intersection of Wilkens Avenue and Desoto still remind drivers to slow down, and a red light and speed enforcement camera monitor their behavior.

William Debord, who lives in the Morrell Park neighborhood, drives his grandson past the former Gibbons campus through that intersection to Mount St. Joseph High School, and he often sees the speed camera flash when drivers turn right on red. A sign bars right turns onto Desoto between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. — traditional school hours.

"I think it's ridiculous to have it that way now," Debord said. "There's no school there."

He's never gotten a ticket there himself, but thinks the camera should go.

Watchdog contacted Baltimore's Department of Transportation. Spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes said that although Gibbons has closed, the speed camera still falls within the half-mile radius of other schools that defines the "school zone" boundaries under state law.

She named two schools — Seton Keough High School on Caton Avenue and Unselds School on Hilton Street — along with a day care, La Petite Academy on Caton Avenue, as falling within that radius.

When Watchdog used a mapping website to check the distances, it appeared that both schools were actually seven-tenths of a mile away from the intersection. Raj Sharma, engineering supervisor in the transportation agency's traffic division, said such websites calculate driving distance, including the curvature of roads, which can artificially increase the gap.

Also, the half-mile radius extends from the edge of the school campus, which would not necessarily be the same as the distance from the building address, he said.

Barnes said the speed camera has slowed drivers since the red light camera there was retrofitted. Any school gets this added safety protection, whether it's private, parochial or public.

"Baltimore is so dense," she said. "Almost everywhere you go, there's a school zone."

The average speed at that intersection has declined by 30 percent — from 50 miles per hour during the two weeks ending April 10 to 35 miles per hour during the two weeks ending Sept. 10. But the explanation that the intersection is still within a school zone did not satisfy Debord.

"It's not right," he said. "The only reason that camera is there was because of that school. Now it has turned into a cash cow."

Randall Scott, the transportation department's traffic division chief, oversees speed enforcement cameras. His number is 443-984-2150.

Who can fix this: City residents should call 311 to report problems.

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