Courtland Milloy, inspired perhaps by the current Presidential race, has a new factually challenged and ridiculous column today about Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE). Here are some of the highlights:
According to the task force, which met Monday, District residents get roughly 25 percent of the speed camera tickets. Maryland commuters get about 50 percent while Virginians and other visitors to the city get the rest.
Of course, for some, even that’s not punitive enough.
“As I’m sure you’ve guessed, [the Washington Area Bicyclist Association] strongly supports the expansion of automated enforcement,” Shane Farthling, executive director of the WABA, wrote in a letter to the task force. “Understanding that there are both public safety and political considerations on the matter, we hope to see the automated enforcement program used in a manner to promote the greatest overall impact on roadway safety for vulnerable roadway users.”
First of all, the first statement is not a measure of the punitiveness of the system, it is a breakdown of who is punished. So saying "even that's not punitive enough" doesn't really make any sense.
Second of all, it's pretty clear that Milloy is setting up cyclists as the bad guy here. Later he incredibly identifies one of the problems with ATE is that it doesn't solve all traffic problems.
Others complain that speed cameras don’t catch all traffic scofflaws.
Well, neither do police officers, but no one is calling for getting rid of them. Of course, he's talking about cyclists.
“Many of the new residents ride bikes, but many of us older residents need to drive cars to get to doctor appointments, jobs outside the city and attend church,” wrote Laura Gardner. “While we older residents try to creep through the city to avoid the cameras that you, Mr. Mayor, plan to put all over the city, the new residents speed through red lights and stop signs on their bikes WITH IMPUNITY! NO TRAFFIC TICKET FOR THEM.”
Well, without getting into the obvious "new resident"/"old resident" dog whistle or whether or not one needs a car to get to church, there are two other things at work here. First of all, when you're creeping through the city at 25-45 mph (depending on which road we're talking about) plus the 10mph cushion, you're still going faster than most cyclists' top speed. And second of all, cyclists do get tickets for their bad behavior. Of course, if the goal is safety then enforcing laws against dangerous driving is probably more important than dangerous cycling - though both should be enforced as needed.
But unlike scofflaw cyclists, who break the law sometimes for safety or need, and sometimes out of expediency, drivers - it appears - break the law for the sheer joy of it.
I enjoy driving fast. Not reckless driving, just cruising at speeds more appropriate for road conditions than the posted speed limit sometimes permits.
OK, so you like breaking the law. How adorable.
Lately, though, some jurisdictions have ramped up efforts to kill that feeling — to actually steal the joy of driving altogether — by “getting people out of their cars,” as D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) likes to say.
Why, drivers just want to enjoy the fun of breaking the law and here come the mean old cyclists who want to take that away just because they selfishly want to make it home without having their pelvises crushed. If "killing the feeling" is what it takes to avoid killing our neighbors, that seems like a fair trade to me. His claim that the "joy of driving" is being stolen is also pretty over the top. Cry me a river. What exactly is it about promoting roadway safety for vulnerable users does Milloy find objectionable?
I do think that talking about "getting people out of their cars" isn't the right goal or the right way to frame it - it sounds like social engineering. I prefer the goal of freeing people from their cars - allowing people who would prefer to bike or walk to work the opportunity to do so; and the goal of more accurately capturing the negative externalities of people's decisions, but not of forcing people into choices they don't want. Along this line John Townsend of AAA adds:
“When you look at plans for the future of transportation in the District, much of the focus is on making cars optional in the city,” he said. “To make more room for pedestrians and cyclists, they want to make less room for cars. But most people in the city still get to work by car, and I don’t see them having any options in the foreseeable future.”
Of course, the ATE isn't about getting people out of their cars, it's about making the roads safer (and ironically reducing congestion) and Milloy and Townsend intentionally conflates the two to serve their purposes. Heaven forbid that we should make cars "optional," I prefer the days when cars were mandatory and the poor and unlicensed were screwed. That's the America I fell in love with.
And townsend is wrong on the facts. Most people in the city do not get to work by car. Only 41% of DC residents do so. Milloy is wrong too.
In response to a growing backlash by motorists, the D.C. Council recently formed a “Safety-Focused Automated Traffic Enforcement Task Force.”
That is not the reason for the change. In fact, there are more people who contact Mary Cheh's office in support of the program than against it. Which is remarkable because people are more likely to complain than to support.
Another deceptive part is this:
Among the task force’s objectives is determining whether higher fines for speeding lead to improved driver compliance. There is much evidence to suggest that they do not. And yet, having raked in $66.7 million through the first three quarters of fiscal 2012 from speed and red light cameras, the city is gearing up to haul in an additional $86.2 million in 2013.
But the increased haul is not from increasing the fines, it would be from more fines from more cameras. In fact, the task force is mostly looking at lowering fines - something Milloy never mentions. He actually implies the opposite.
The economic pain caused by the high-tech crackdown cannot be overstated.
Actually it can, and Milloy makes a nice run at it.
One person talks about how driving is his livelihood and that he can't prove that he wasn't speeding a week after the event. That is a fair concern, but I suspect the rate of false positives is very low. If not, then perhaps the program should be shuttered, but Milloy and Townsend have no evidence that that is the case.
He later complains about "hyper-vigilant parking enforcement" as though suddenly doing one's job well is something to be belittled. What level of vigilance is correct? Where else should law enforcement only be mildly vigilant? And, while one can complain about speed limits being set to the wrong speed, because the system of setting them is poorly defined and explained, what is the argument against parking enforcement? You get to rent a parking space at a very low price, but you have to move your car before your time is done. There is nothing unfair about that.
As for a real argument against the cameras, we have Milloy's highly attuned scientific mind to rely on.
In my travels, I see speed cameras do more harm than good.
Well, that's all the research I need. Forget the data that MPD and others have that differ. I mean, for fuck's sake, Milloy can SEE the harm they do. Are you people blind? [If so, you'll be screwed when Townsend finishes creating a world where driving a car is mandatory, so who cares]
“Automated traffic enforcement” is what it’s called. Highway robbery is what it is.
Why is that if ATE were possible for cyclists and were deployed against only cyclists that I have the feeling that Milloy would cheer it on rather than find that a crime was being committed?
For the record, I support setting the fines lower - at the point where it stops changing behavior, and putting in more cameras - even if that means losing money. I don't think this should be used as a sin tax or a commuter tax. I think speed limits should be reviewed and the reasoning for their setting should be transparent and well-defined online. I think cameras should be used where they can improve safety - not where they can raise revenue - and that they should be reviewed periodically to see if they're achieving their goals. And yes, if they could apply it to cyclists I would be fine with them doing it where it would make people safer.