At our community meeting in January, speeding was identified as the number one concern for MD 198 in Burtonsville. Nearly everyone at the meeting agreed that permanent speed cameras would be a welcome solution for Burtonsville. The Coalition investigated the feasibility of cameras and determined that it would be very difficult to get them installed.
Police not willing to install permanent speed cameras
Although MD 198 is a state road, the County has jurisdiction over speed enforcement. The Montgomery County Police Department's (MCPD) Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit (ATEU) is responsible for operating the Red Light Camera Enforcement program and Safe Speed program.
Last week, we received responses from MCPD Traffic Division Captain Thomas Didone and ATEU Manager Richard Hetherington. Both essentially stated that permanent speed cameras were out of the question.
Captain Didone's response was short:
"No, we will only seek portables because they work as effectively as fixed but allow us to maximize them in the hundreds of locations in the county who have a proven effort.
"Fixed pole speed cameras are no longer in our contract so they are not going to happen in the future. Mr Richard Hetherington will be responding with more information about any cameras on RT 198."
Mr Hetherington provided a more detailed and helpful explanation, which is provided in full at the bottom of this blog post. In summary, he wrote that the County is is shifting away from permanent cameras and instead acquiring mobile units, which the ATEU claims are more effective.
Additionally, he wrote that speed cameras are only allowed in residential zones, so it would not be possible to install in the 30-mph segment of MD 198, which is zoned commercial. Mr Hetherington offered to investigate the possibility of placing temporary cameras between Athey Rd. and Burtonsville Drive, on the west side of Burtonsville once the weather warms up.
Speed cameras rake in millions for Montgomery County
Although the County's ATEU has indicated they are not interested in installing more permanent speed cameras, it is worth noting that gross revenues from Speed Camera Enforcement last year are the highest they've been in seven years. In fiscal year 2016, more than 400,000 citations were issued, generating nearly $20 million in gross revenue. However, due to a change in the way the County pays the speed camera vendor, the operating expenses have increased 30% over the previous fiscal year. The County is currently planning on re-bidding the speed camera contract and may find a new vendor.
School zones may provide opportunity to revisit question
Mr Hetherington's response missed one important detail: he neglected to mention that speed cameras are allowed in non-residential areas if the area falls within a school zone. [SEE CORRECTION BELOW]
According to Maryland Transportation Code 21-803.1, the State Highway Administration (SHA) may establish a school zone "within a half-mile radius of a any school". As shown in the map below, a half-mile radius area centered around Burtonsville Elementary School would encompass all of the Burtonsville business district, where the speed limit is 30 mph. It is unclear from the legislation if the school zone has to be a half mile or if it could be smaller.
CORRECTION: According to Brian Anleu (Burtonsville resident, fix198now Coalition member, and staffer for Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker), "while state law allows counties to establish school zones in commercial areas, Montgomery County has a specific exclusion in the speed camera law that limit cameras only to residential districts."
Image obtained from www.freemaptools.com
If the SHA established an official school zone here, permanent speed cameras would be allowed in Burtonsville, but only if MCPD includes them in their new contract.
Additionally, the school zone would result in higher penalties for speeding. The fine for anyone pulled over for speeding in a school zone is doubled. The higher fines apparently are not applied to tickets issued by speed cameras.
Although drivers generally do not appreciate speed cameras, and many people accuse them of being designed primarily to generate revenue rather than improve safety, it does seem that many Burtonsville residents are fed up with a lack of progress in addressing the speeding issues, and as a result, welcome cameras in Burtonsville's business district.
If the community asks us to further investigate the possibility of speed cameras, the Coalition to Fix MD 198 would be willing to do it. Please comment below or attend our next meeting to share your thoughts.
Below is Mr Hetherington's response in its entirety:
"I wanted to take the opportunity to touch base regarding the request to have permanent cameras installed on Rt. 198 in Burtonsville. There are a number of issues to consider, some of which you may not be aware of, so I will share that information with you now.
"1. We are no longer installing permanent speed cameras, otherwise known as 'fixed poles'. Because we have a limited number of cameras to use throughout the County they limit our ability to move them around to other locations when needed.
"2. The number and type of cameras that we have are negotiated with our vendor. We, the County’s A.T.E.U. are the decision makers when it comes to determining the number and type of cameras that have. We are currently preparing our next RFP and subsequently our next contract. Expanding the number of fixed pole cameras will not be part of that negotiation.
"3. The most effective cameras are the ones that we can move around to many different locations eliminating the phenomenon of people slowing down just prior to the camera and then accelerating as they exit the enforcement zone, typically 200 – 300 feet from the camera. In short, drivers get used to the fixed poles and adjust their driving habits for that short distance but over time the camera’s impact on permanent behavior decreases. Moving them around and coming back periodically has been proven to be the most effective method to change driver behavior over the long term.
"4. Our selection criteria for potential sites takes into consideration many factors: speed limit on the roadway, volume of traffic, the percentage of vehicles that normally travel at a speed in excess of 12 miles over the posted speed limit, crash data, pedestrian traffic in the area, and other similar factors. Other factors that come in to play is the amount of 'right of way' that the County has along the stretch of road which allows us to put a camera there, if it is a State Rd. (in this case it is) we need to get a permit from the State allowing us to put a camera there, which is not always guaranteed, the amount of slope and grade on the road, are there turns or other fixed objects (trees, mailboxes, sheds, etc.) that would block the view of the camera in the desired location, and other physical limitations.
"5. The road in question has to be zoned residential and we are prohibited from placing cameras in commercially zoned locations.
"These are some of the issues that get taken into consideration when we identify potential enforcement sites.
"We normally use 'Metro Counts' (the black tubes you sometimes see across the road) to get the traffic volume and speed data to include in the analysis. Unfortunately, once the weather turns cold the adhesive used to adhere the tubes to the road surface doesn’t perform very well. We usually suspend using this device until the weather consistently turns warm again as we like to keep the counts down for at least a 7-day period to get an accurate assessment of the traffic speed and flow. We sometimes have other methods available to us and if we can make that happen then we will try and get this data shortly.
"In looking at this location with some of my staff, it would appear that based on the zoning of the area we would be limited to the roadway between Athey Rd. and Burtonsville Drive, on the west side of Burtonsville. I have directed my staff to begin an evaluation of this area and we will attempt to get the traffic data that we need as the weather allows. If you have any further questions regarding this, please do not hesitate to contact me.
"Richard L. Hetherington
Manager, Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit (A.T.E.U.)