District of Columbia mayor wants to 'cover' the city with traffic cameras

The mayor of the nation's capital says he wants to “cover the entire city” with traffic cameras, resulting in sharp criticism from driver advocates and lawmakers about a plan meant to rake in millions more in fines for the city coffers.

District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray, a Democrat, announced the plan this week as an effort to improve bike and pedestrian safety in the nation’s capital but acknowledged the additional $25 million or more in annual revenue is needed to close a $172 million budget gap.

“It’s outrageous,” said AAA spokesman Lon Anderson. “We support automated traffic systems when they’re demonstrably for safety. But this was in the budget. This is a money grab in the guise of traffic safety.”

The plan to add more speed and traffic cameras is part of Gray’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal.

Right now, the city has 70 fixed and roving red-light cameras and roughly two dozen speed cameras that can result in a ticket as high as $250.

“Eventually, we would like to be able to cover the entire city,” Gray said in response to questions about how many more cameras he wants.

The city collected a record $50.9 million in automated-camera revenue in fiscal 2010 and is on pace to break that mark this fiscal year, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic, which gathered the numbers through Freedom of Information Act requests.

This is not the first time critics have argued that adding cameras is more about money than safety, pointing to several speed cameras on a major access road to Interstate-95 having no nearby homes or schools.

The additional camera revenue would be on top of $92.6 million in parking fines and as much as $40 million in parking-meter revenue the city collects annually, according to most recent figures.

“I do think we are reaching a point where people have had enough of tickets,” Council member Muriel Bowser told reporters after Gray’s budget hearing Tuesday.

Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier has said increased traffic enforcement has essentially cut fatalities in half over roughly the past 13 years – in a city that has become increasingly bike and pedestrian friendly.

However, AAA questions why the number of tickets has essentially doubled over the past several years if motorists are driving more safely.

“People in cars are now the enemy,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic’s John Townsend.