Police seek approval for up to 10 speed cameras

March 18, 2013

Photo courtesy T. Carter Ross

BY SUSIE CURRIE AND NKONGHO BETECK  — An ordinance before the Hyattsville City Council would authorize up to 10 speed cameras in the city – double the number originally approved for the speed-monitoring program.

Hyattsville’s first speed cameras began operation on February 19 with two cameras in each direction along the 3700 block of East-West Highway, near America Boulevard. In the first seven days of operation, 70 warnings were issued, according to Sgt. Chris Purvis of the Hyattsville City Police Department.

The city has gotten approval for three more cameras: two in each direction along the 5900 block of Ager Road, and one in the 7000 block of Adelphi Road, southbound.

Police Chief Douglas Holland told the council at its March 4 meeting that City Attorney Richard Colaresi said that “recent interpretations” of state legislation meant that any additional cameras “may need to be authorized legislatively.”

Holland hastened to add: “That is not to say that we are going to have ten. This is merely placing a maximum number that we can have in the city, and it’s doing it at one time so that we don’t have to change the ordinance each time we add a camera to our system.”

The council is expected to approve the measure before the 30-day warning period ends on March 19. After that, drivers will be fined $40 if they are going 12 or more miles over the posted speed limit.

But it’s unclear where any new cameras would be placed in Hyattsville, a city of about three square miles. Speed cameras operate year-round in designated school zones Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Of the 10 spots with the greatest number of violations, according to a week-long study conducted last year, four that are on state-maintained roads are off-limits, including three on Baltimore Avenue.

The Maryland State Highway Administration also denied the city’s request to monitor the spot with the most violations: the 3300 block of East-West Highway, which recorded 7,851 westbound speeders.

Holland says information on any new locations will be posted on the city website. But the warning period – for both current and future cameras – ends on March 19.

Due to increased speeding, particularly in the University Town Center area, the cameras are intended to “change behavior,” said Purvis, who believes traffic will begin to slow once they are installed.

Hyattsville resident Helen Knowles has been caught by speed cameras before. She agrees that the cameras will change her driving behavior.

“They make you more aware of your surroundings and what the speed limit is so you make sure you’re always going the right speed,” she said. “Wherever I get caught, I remember.”

Although the measure is intended to encourage safe driving, residents are also questioning whether it is a way to generate revenue.

“I have some problems with the fact that the maintenance and operation of the cameras and the administrative aspects of issuing tickets and collecting the fines are handled by private contractors,” said resident Mark Graham. “Their involvement tends to support the notion that the cameras are deployed as a profit making enterprising and not as a safety measure.”

Still, he said, the “speed camera technology allows a more efficient use of police resources, especially in these times of tight municipal budgets.”

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