A D.C. Council member has asked the city’s transportation officials to review some roads and intersections policed by traffic cameras to ensure that there is proper warning and the configurations are fair. Council Member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) says she sent her letter to the interim director of the District Department of Transportation after receiving many email complaints. In this picture from June 2012, speed cameras capture motorists on I-395 near 2nd Street NW in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Daniel Britt/The Washington Post)

A D.C. Council member has asked city transportation officials to review high-earning traffic cameras to see whether their high revenues are justified or whether they are configured unfairly in a way that contributes to the perception among some that Washington is a speed trap.

Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), in a letter dated Aug. 28, asked  the interim director of the District Department of Transportation to review several roads and intersections with cameras that have triggered complaints from constituents. Tops on that list was the intersection at the 2200 block of K Street, she said.

And that was about all AAA Mid-Atlantic’s John B. Townsend needed to call attention yet again to a city that he says has “paved the streets with gold” thanks to its ubiquitous traffic cameras.

Townsend, citing city records, said nearly two dozen speed cameras earned at least $1 million in 2016. The busiest collected more than $13 million.  And some of the most lucrative are nowhere near schools or residential areas.

“[I]s it for traffic safety or for revenue generation?” Townsend asked in a written statement.

In her letter, Cheh asked DDOT’s interim chief, Director Jeff Marootian, to review several roads and intersections that have generated a lot tickets — not to mention constituent ire — to ensure that the speed limits there are appropriate and that sufficient warnings are given. Some are set up in areas where the roadway engineering may seem to encourage a higher speed or there’s not enough signage, her letter says.


“I would like DDOT’s thoughts on how to foster safe driving behavior along photoenforced thoroughfares while also decreasing the perception that the District is setting up ‘speed traps’ for profit,” her letter says. She also asked city transportation officials to give some thought to what might improve compliance in those spots.

Cheh, in an interview late Tuesday, wanted to make it clear, however, that she has no beef with the cameras, especially red light cameras because they cut down on the the incidence of people running red lights.

“But there are some circumstances where either the configuration of the road or the failure to give adequate notice that it may be operating almost like a speed trap,” Cheh said.

In line with previous inquiries about their configuration and warnings,  she just wants to make sure they’re fair. In the past, Cheh said, she and other council members have wanted to make sure that the cameras are properly placed and the fines are reasonably calibrated to change motorists’ behavior without cleaning out their bank accounts.

“I wasn’t saying stop it,” she said. “I was just saying, ‘Tell me why that’s so.’”

But Cheh also said she wonders what it means when some traffic lights are generating more than $1 million a year.

“There’s this expression I love that says, ‘A turtle on a fence post requires an explanation,'” Cheh said. “So that’s all I’m saying: tell me how that got there, how that happened.”

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