24/7 speed cameras coming to College Park

July 16, 2014
Maryland speed camera Speed camera monitors traffic in a Silver Spring school zone. (Robert Thomson – The Washington Post)

Speed cameras near the University of Maryland campus in College Park will soon be in operation 24 hours a day.

College Park decided to increase enforcement in the area where three pedestrians have been struck and killed by cars this year.

The incidents in the Route 1 corridor have shaken the community, prompting local and state officials to make road safety improvements and redirect engineering and enforcement resources to prevent more tragic deaths.

“As soon as possible we will have the cameras up and running so people, if they are thinking about driving through College Park, they are going to drive at the speed limit,” Mayor Andrew Fellows said Wednesday morning.

The plan, he said, is to have at least one camera on Route 1, active 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, by the time students return to campus for the fall semester.

On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously authorized the use of speed cameras 24/7, ending a policy that limited the city to use of the automated enforcement from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Most Maryland jurisdictions with speed camera programs enact those hours of operation to follow state law that limits  enforcement to use near K-12 school zones during daytime hours, Monday through Friday.  But College Park officials say the city can make the change because state law also allows 24-hour enforcement near universities and other higher education institutions.

Officials this week also announced other pedestrian improvements to the area where the fatal crashes occurred.  Those efforts include lowering the speed limit along U.S. Route 1 between Guilford Road/Guilford Drive and Berwyn Road to 25 mph from 30 mph, by Aug. 1.  State Highway officials also are installing a fence in the Route 1 median between Knox and Hartwick Roads to deter pedestrians from crossing outside the crosswalks, and will add a pedestrian signal at the U.S. 1 and Hartwick Road intersection.

The area near where the fatalities occurred is highly transited by students who visit the bustling commercial zone within close proximity to the main university campus.

College Park officials say they are still discussing whether more than one camera will be deployed to the area.  The cameras must be within a half-mile of university property, and can be on Route 1, and other local roads.

Speed camera programs in Maryland have been widely criticized among road users who say jurisdictions have used them primarily as revenue enhancers. But law enforcement officials say the programs have helped reduce speeding and injuries and fatalities.  In Maryland, revenue from the programs has decreased in many of the localities that have them, something that government and police officials say shows a shift in road behavior. College Park last year collected $1.6  million in fines from speed cameras; the year before it collected $2 million; and in 2011, the city received $3.6 million from the program.

Fellows said the program has been successful in deterring speeding in the city, and he hopes its expansion will contribute to greater safety in the Route 1 corridor. The three fatal  incidents this year occurred outside the current hours of speed camera enforcement.

“One death is a tragedy. Three is a horrific tragedy, and I think that the actions that we are taking are extraordinarily well-warranted,” Fellows said.

Earlier this month, 21-year-old Janelle Marie Oni of Randallstown, was killed about 3 a.m., by a hit and run driver as she walked in the 7600 block of Baltimore Avenue, police said. She had just graduated from Salisbury University, and had been having dinner with sorority friends in College Park.

In April, Carlos Pacanins, 23, of Chevy Chase, was struck by a car while crossing Baltimore Avenue and Knox Road, at about 10:20 p.m., police said.

Cory Hubbard, 22, was struck and killed on the same stretch of roadway at 2 a.m. on Jan. 17. He had just finished a semester abroad in Australia. The Maryland student died in what police called a hit-and-run accident.

Some of the incidents also reportedly involved alcohol use by either the pedestrian or the driver, officials said.  More police will be deployed to enforce traffic laws in the area, authorities said.

“There is a pedestrian aspect— people not crossing safely. But also there is a driver aspect: people are driving too quickly,” said Fellows.  “We were horrified that even one person would lose their life here… We want to make sure this never happens again.”

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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