City Scrambles to Spend Speed Camera Money

The College Park City Council seemed to be taken off guard Tuesday by $350-600,000 in city speed camera funds that must be committed to “public safety” projects (including pedestrian infrastructure). The money must be committed in the next two months or it will be returned to the state. The relatively large sum (equivalent to 10% of the city’s total budget) was perfectly foreseeable when the cameras were authorized last November, but for whatever reason no project prioritization conversation has occurred until this week.


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Unfortunately, various neighborhood factions (see video above) will inevitably descend upon City Hall attempting to eke out their “fair” (read: small) share of the money in the coming weeks. The city as a whole would be much better served by a small number high-value, cost-effective investments that will save lives. A pedestrian activated HAWK signal where the Trolley Trail crosses Paint Branch Parkway or a full traffic light at Route 1 and Hartwick Road come to mind. The latter project would also expand accessibility to floundering businesses on the east side of Route 1 in Downtown. Each project would cost about $80-100,000. City staff should immediately begin conversations with the state to assess the feasibility of planning such projects on non-city roads in the expedited timeline (Funds must be committed by June 30th). The City Manager has done a tremendous disservice to the community by not already having these conversations.

On a similar note, we continue to be dismayed but the relative lack of attention being paid to the impending State Highway Administration (SHA) Route 1 crosswalk reconstruction project from Albion Road to Paint Branch Parkway. That initiative is going to be a major missed opportunity if SHA is left to run with whatever their highway engineers feel like doing. Traffic camera money could easily be used to supplement or complement those propsoed state investments and perhaps even extend them north of Paint Branch Parkway towards the emerging mixed-use district there.

20 thoughts on “City Scrambles to Spend Speed Camera Money”

  1. SHA has completely screwed up the crosswalks and sidewalks on east-west highway around the intersection with Adelphi and Queens Chapel. it would be so nice to see a better job done on Rte 1 at paint branch.

  2. It was not nearly as easy as David claims. The Route 1 camera became operational in early February and from mid February to late March it generated over a million dollars in fine revenue for the City, which dwarfed the revenue from the other three camera locations which became operation in late 2010. By late March the compliance with speed limits drove future revenue way down and the relocation of the Route 1 camera south of University Blvd and the slashing of enforcement hours worked to severely reduce fine revenue for the forseeable future.

    The City Council requested speed cameras in spring 2010 but state/county approval for locations and conditions were solely controlled by the state or county.

    While the money is a one time windfall our ability to spend it on state or county roads is impossible because the state/county are unwilling to do the things we request. It is not at all a matter of who would pay for it.

    I hope this helps put some perspective on the issue.

  3. With all due respect to Bob, It was perfectly foreseeable that the city would get at least $150,000 from the operation of cameras from the beginning…. even when taking into account the various costs associated with them. Everyone knew that that money had to be spent by the end of June. In the first month of speed camera operations (starting November 15th), the city was pulling in about $9,000 a day! Who controlled where the cameras were put when is irrelevant. The money has been pouring in since November.

    Surely if there was proper time and attention paid to this early on, then council and staff could have arranged for one of the above mentioned projects via Eric Olson (county) or Jim Rosapepe (state). Interestingly, there has been 0 community engagement as it relates to SHA’s crosswalk project. What kind of crosswalk treatment are they using? Will there be countdown lights? When will they be implemented? Nobody has any idea and city staff are unresponsive and vague.

    It’s the city’s job to force the state’s highway engineers to engage the community on matters like this. There are few issues more important to the citizens of college park than being able to cross Route 1 safely.

  4. Before the Route 1 camera was approved and installed it looked like speed camera money would amount to less than $600,000 for the fiscal year. That money was to go for existing contract policing to free up money to fix City streets since the almost $700,000 a year in state funds we used to get to repair our streets had been virtually eliminated the previous year by the State. The excess money we have to spend (or encumber) before July only represeents about one-third of the speed camera revenue that we can keep, not all of it.

  5. Also, the City has spoken numerous times with the County Department of Public Works and Transportation and with the State Highway Administration to put additional safety measures (including the exact HAWK-type signal that David mentions) at the Paint Branch crossing and at various points along US 1. DPWT has been very resistant to any additional safety measures at the Paint Branch crossing – they say their traffic studies don’t merit it – and the SHA has been equally resistant to safety measures in other areas.

  6. These conversations are occurring at least 2 months late. Period. It doesn’t matter how you phrase it.

    Again, the city is not appropriately engaged with SHA on the crosswalk update. You’ve been so focused on getting a handful of Capital Bikeshare stations that you’ve totally missed the ball on one of the most important ped infrastructure investment projects in the city in a decade. Even in North Carolina, where NCDOT operates like a 1957 highway-building agency (and owns nearly every street in every town), municipalities work more closely with the state agency on such improvements. They have robust bike-ped plans and hound NCDOT ruthlessly. MDOT invented Context Sensitive Solutions. Surely, you can work with them.

    Has the city spoken to the County and state about the Paint Branch crossing since December 2009 when federal guidelines (MUTCD) changed to allow signalization at low volume pedestrian crossings? Prior to that, there was a catch-22 problem where low volume crossings, which would be high volume if you could cross them without being struck by a car, were not recommended for signalization. The county has no federal guideline to hide behind now. With College Park giving them the money, they wouldn’t have funding to hide behind either. Interesting quotes from bob in the article about it:

    http://rethinkcollegepark.net/blog/2009/1775/

  7. While Paint Branch may be a viable future option, the speed camera at the crossing did work to improve safety at that location. Depending on the cost of such a signal to the city, it may not be the Council’s preferred way to spend this windfall amount. With respect to Route 1, SHA is developing a plan for resufacing the road in southern College Park in the fall, and part of the plan calls for the City to pay for improved pedestrian crossings, as we have some Federal earmark money that can used for that purpose.

  8. It seems there is a lot of ambiguity and confusion as to what exactly SHA will be doing on Route 1 through the southern portion of College Park this Fall. So . . . the city has to pay for improved pedestrian crossings, but SHA isn’t being responsive to the types of improvements the city wants to see?? How much money is earmarked for improved pedestrian crossings . . . what types of improvements will this earmarked money go toward? How is the city council attempting to engage the SHA? Some clarification from the city council would be appreciated, but I’m questioning if they will be able to offer any. Please prove me wrong.

  9. SHA’s project is primarily repaving. The City has the “opportunity” to pay for additional pedestrian crossings and more visible pedestrian crossings, too. Upgraded pedestrian signals are not part of this project, but on another timeframe.

    The construction is scheduled for September. I don’t think SHA and the Staff are ready yet to bring options to tthen City Council.

  10. Even though Route 1 is a state highway perhaps we should consider along with contributions from the University placing some high intensity lighting in “downtown” College Park from Knox Road or thereabouts north to Paint Branch or even up to Berwyn Road.

    It is difficult to see pedestrians at night in those areas, and high intensity lighting bright enough to make it almost into daylight might be a good way to spend part of that money.

  11. I agree, we have some too dark areas where pedestrians cross, especially in the University View area. So that is suggestion to pursue.

  12. In reference to Robert Catlin’s comment above (#9): Can you please explain what timeframe upgraded pedestrian signals are on? We really need a light at Route 1 and Hartwick Road to make that a safe crossing. There are no crossings with a light anywhere near that intersection, and it is difficult to see cars coming up the slight hill on northbound Route 1. This is a very convenient – yet dangerous – spot for crossing between the neighborhoods on the east side of Route 1 to the businesses on the west side.

    If the city could complete a highly visible pedestrian safety measure such as a light at this intersection, I think it would make College Park residents feel much better about the speed cameras.

  13. I have not heard a schedule for the new upgraded crossing signals. with respect to Hatwick, SHA has rejected our traffic light requests ther at least twice in the past decade. I understand a new request is being made. I will see what the status is.

  14. Bob, thank you for checking into the status of upgraded crossing signals. At Hartwick Road, is it possible for the city, rather than the state, to install a traffic light? Any insight you can provide on city versus state opportunities and responsibilities for improving Route 1 would be appreciated. For example, the planters with trees in the middle lane of Route 1 in downtown College Park greatly improve the appearance of the road. Did College Park install these, or the state? How can we get more of these on Route 1? I was disappointed when Route 1 south of College Park was repaved, but no planters were installed in the turn lane. It seems like something that is relatively easy to do, but has huge returns in terms of aesthetics and probably also for safety.

  15. I have some answers for you Cynthia. State Highway will revisit the issue of a traffic light at Hartwick & Route 1 and get back to the City in July. It has not been an issue of paying for signals, if the state’s answer is no, it is no. The state doesn’t waant to have a policy that communities can get what they want simply by paying for it.

    State Highway does not like planted medians. To water and maintain medians, even if it is done by the City, such as the City does downtown, requires that a travel lane be closed for maintenance vehicles. The State vetoed a City proposal for a landscaped median across from Ikea a few years ago when the street improvemnents up there were being made.

  16. Thanks Bob, it seems like a but of a stretch to say that SHA isn’t concerned about the $100K price tag of a new light, although I agree that that’s not the only reason that they would choose not to install one. What makes this 3rd ask different than the previous 2? It sounds like this might need to be politicked a little more. Are they looking for sufficient ped crossing or just traffic?

  17. Thanks for your response, Bob. I hope the Hartwick Rd light decision will be different this time – with the number of people crossing there and the short sight distance for both pedestrians and cars, I can’t believe they could say a light is not needed there.

    It is really a shame that the decisions for traffic lights and landscaped medians could not be made on a more local basis. This is OUR community, and like it or not, Route 1 is College Park’s “Main Street.” The city and its residents should have more influence over the appearance and pedestrian safety of this road.

    Landscaped medians make such a huge difference in appearance – every time I drive down Route 1, I think of how much nicer it would look with trees in the middle. The SHA is extremely myopic to only consider the maintenance issues. Occasionally closing a lane of traffic is a small sacrifice for more trees. Perhaps the case could be made for designing vegetated medians as green infrastructure to absorb stormwater and protect the Chesapeake Bay? (As Edmonston did with it Green Street project, see http://edmonstonmd.gov/GoingGreen.html)

  18. Is SHA aware of the RTCP article written on Hartwick Rd and Route 1? I passed it along to Stephanie, but don’t know if it moved anywhere from there. I’m not expecting SHA to do anything b/c of a RTCP article, but it wouldn’t hurt.

  19. Or else it will be returned to the state, eh? Return it to the people. I’m guilty of 4 tickets in a row. Mail the tickets faster at least. Jeez. It takes 3-4 weeks to receive your ticket once the cam tickets you. Quicken your pace slow pokes. That’s how you’re ripping people.

    Or you can use the money to bust the college park prostitutes. Oh wait… those may be students. I can never tell the difference. Same apparel.

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