Bill proposes speed cameras for the Boulevard

Posted: February 02, 2014

Speed cameras, which could result in $100 fines for motorists, may soon be coming to Roosevelt Boulevard, the notoriously dangerous highway in Northeast Philadelphia.

State Sen. Michael Stack (D., Phila.), who has introduced a bill to authorize the cameras, said Friday that he was optimistic the legislature would pass the measure this year.

Stack led an information session Friday in Center City on the cameras, gathering supporters such as Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, and representatives of the insurance industry and manufacturers of the cameras.

"I think cameras will help tremendously to reduce the number of accidents" on the Boulevard, said Ramsey, who brought speed and red-light cameras to Washington when he was police chief there. "We'll be making a huge mistake if we don't take advantage of the technology we have available.

"If you don't want a ticket, don't speed," said Ramsey. "It's not that complicated."

But a cautionary note was sounded by Jenny Robinson, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, who noted that a speed-camera program in Baltimore had so many problems it was shut down last year by the city.

Some of the cameras in Baltimore had high error rates, Robinson said, and a AAA road-assistance vehicle there was ticketed by a camera for doing 57 m.p.h. while it was stationary.

Stack said his bill would include provisions for assuring the accuracy of cameras "to make sure that doesn't happen here."

The cameras would photograph the license plates of vehicles moving faster than the permitted speed and generate a ticket that would be reviewed by police before being mailed to the vehicle's owner. The fine would be $100.

Initially, Stack's bill would limit the cameras to the Boulevard, but the program could be expanded to other sites in Philadelphia and across the state. Stack said the program could be operated by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation rather than the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which runs Philadelphia's red-light-camera program.

The cameras would be paid for and installed by a company, such as American Traffic Solutions of Tempe, Ariz., which currently operates Philadelphia's red-light cameras, or a unit of Xerox Corp. of Norwalk, Conn., the company that operates many E-ZPass systems and ran the troubled Baltimore speed-camera program.

Xerox is installing the $129 million electronic-fare-collection system for SEPTA, and won the contract to take over Philadelphia's red-light camera program this month. ATS is protesting that award.

Stack's bill says that speed cameras could not flag motorists who were within 10 m.p.h. of the posted speed limit, and that motorists could not be assessed points on their driver's licenses or auto insurance.

Roosevelt Boulevard, a 12-mile-long stretch of 12-lane highway through the Northeast, has a reputation as one of the most dangerous streets in the nation. Since 2001, 144 people have been killed in traffic accidents on the Boulevard.

An accident in July in which a mother and three of her sons died was a catalyst for the speed-camera bill, Stack said.

Samara Banks, 28, and her children were struck while trying to cross the Boulevard near Second Street in Feltonville by a vehicle police said was drag racing. Two drivers were arrested and charged with murder in the deaths.

"This has got to stop," Stack said. "My intention is not to expand Big Brother, my intention is to save lives."

Opponents of speed cameras contend that the devices are used to make money for states and municipalities, not to improve safety.

"These cameras will likely increase crashes, ticket safe drivers, and violate the rights of people," said Jim Sikorski of Luzerne County, Pa., a member of the National Motorists Association, a group that is against speed and red-light cameras. "You are walking in a legal minefield here. Once people see that money is the motivation here and elderly people get tickets, they will complain."

Twelve states and Washington, D.C., currently use speed cameras. And 12 states prohibit their use.

Use of speed cameras has been increasing, said Michael Fagin of the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. He said 135 cities and towns, including New York City and Chicago, now use the cameras, up from 20 in 2005.



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