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New York Avenue at Bladensburg: Hit the gas, and speed cameras hit back

There are speed cameras -- either mobile or fixed -- monitoring both incoming and outgoing vehicles on New York Avenue NE.
There are speed cameras -- either mobile or fixed -- monitoring both incoming and outgoing vehicles on New York Avenue NE. (Mark Gail/the Washington Post)
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"Just because people have been sitting in traffic doesn't mean that when they hit that light it suddenly becomes the autobahn," Burke said. "If you don't want a ticket, the name of the game is 'Slow down.' "

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The aggressive use of red-light and speed cameras is one reason the District's traffic-fatality count has dropped to record lows, Burke said. He pointed out that fewer than 2 percent of New York Avenue drivers have received speeding tickets.

"I don't seen how anyone can say enforcing the speed limit is unfair," Burke said.

Aaaah: Fairness, the elusive American ideal enshrined in those yellowed parchment documents signed by the Founding Fathers.

Never mind that speeding is illegal; never mind that the 40 mph speed limit is clearly posted on an oversize sign smack in the middle of the roadway. Fairness, they will tell you, is what it's all about.

"What's happening at this [camera] site is violating the concept of freedom," said Isaac Kramnick, professor of government at Cornell University. "You've come all this way through traffic and now the government is stepping in with a ticket at this crucial moment of freedom."

Yes, freedom, not to the mention the American way of life.

Kramnick points to renowned English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who said in 1651 that freedom is the absence of hindrance to motion.

Freedom, Hobbes likely would agree, is a green light at Bladensburg Road.

Finally, the last hindrance to motion is overcome, and freedom awaits.

And what is freedom in America?

"The automobile is the symbolic icon of freedom," Kramnick said. "It is in the use of the car that we exercise our freedom. It taps into the psyche of what it is to be an American."


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