A DC stop sign camera brought in $1.3 million in tickets in 2 years
Footage of his vehicle at the intersection shows his brake lights were on, said Goldfield, a retired documentary filmmaker. The fine for what she considered a non-infraction was unreasonable, but challenging the ticket seemed pointless.
Goldfield said she “sincerely wanted it.”
“I think it’s just a way for the city to take advantage of people who aren’t 1,000% compliant and don’t even know they’re not,” she said. “I am for safe driving…but the rules should be clear.”
Turns out, that stop sign proved lucrative for the district. Public records obtained by The Washington Post show that a traffic camera stationed there has generated more than $1.3 million over the past two years.
The camera – hated by some residents who say it’s too sensitive but praised by others who say it promotes safe driving – is one of more than 130 traffic cameras authorities expect to generate approximately $100 million this fiscal year. Ninety of those speed cameras are speed cameras, 38 are at traffic lights and only eight are at stop signs, according to May data from the district transportation department.
The sentry posted at 37th Street and Whitehaven has provided evidence of more than 17,000 photo tickets since March 2020, according to a DC Department of Motor Vehicles response to a Post public information request. Although more than 1,600 tickets were disputed by those who received them, more than 1,400 were considered “responsible provisions” that those who have a ticket must pay.
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The total amount paid: $1,361,596, according to the archive’s response. It was not immediately clear how this compared to other traffic cameras in the district.
In a statement, the district transportation department said that nationwide, 20% of fatal crashes occur at intersections.
The statement cites a 2011 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that showed a 24% decrease in fatal crashes in 14 cities with a red-light camera program. A follow-up study showed that 78% of DC pilots favored these cameras.
The release also says traffic camera revenue goes to the city’s general fund — not the companies supplying the cameras, as some of those who have been ticketed believe.
“Accidents are easily preventable if the driver comes to a complete stop as required by law,” the statement said. “Drivers must come to a complete stop before the stop bar at an intersection controlled by a stop sign or traffic light. Stop sign units use radar to detect if a vehicle has stopped, crossed, or driven past a stop sign. Tickets will be issued when vehicles fail to stop at a stop sign.
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Residents of Glover Park, the upscale northwest neighborhood that is home to the camera, had mixed opinions about its usefulness and purpose.
Some defended the camera in a residential neighborhood where children walk to school. Southbound 37th Street is a two-lane road that carries some commuter traffic, including subway buses and delivery trucks.
Sharat Ganapati, who lives in Glover Park and often pushes her son in a stroller around the neighborhood, said the camera is welcome when “half the neighborhood is walking”. Although commuters often cross stop signs elsewhere, they cannot break the social contract at 37th and Whitehaven without suffering the consequences.
“It’s nice to see a place for once where people actually have to obey the law,” he said.
An economics professor at Georgetown University, Ganapati said pedestrian injuries and fatalities are “externalities” – meaning a side effect or consequence – of dangerous driving. Our society accepted those costs, he said — but with that stop sign camera, the District charged for the externality in hopes of eliminating it.
In other words, Ganapati said, there’s nothing wrong with a traffic camera designed to generate revenue. as long as it reduces violations and does not disproportionately affect the poor.
“DC loves money. DC decided to solve this problem but also to make money out of it,” Ganapati said. “It’s just the way DC does things.”
Jackie Blumenthal, an advisory ward commissioner, said the initial furor over the camera – which fined her and her husband – turned into a resignation.
“When the camera started generating fines, the sentiment…was decidedly angry,” she wrote in an email. “But there was a lot of back and forth about safety and counterfeit stop signs, and the complaints gradually died down.” She added, “Camera settings can be unforgiving, but like I said, it’s a small price to pay for reminding people that stopping means stopping.”
DC Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who represents Glover Park, said she tried to address concerns about the camera by urging the city to change signage. Drivers might be confused by a “pictured” sign near the intersection that might refer to the speed limit or stop sign, she said.
But no matter how drivers are alerted by the camera, according to Cheh, the fines it generates are too great.
“Whenever you have high fines for a particular camera, you have to assume there’s something wrong or at least you have to look carefully,” she said.
Paul Wittrock said he had lived in Glover Park for over 30 years, an avid cyclist for much of that time. Although he was not opposed to any traffic cameras per se, he thought the fines could be adjusted according to income to make them fairer.
Also, the camera could be more forgiving, Wittrock said. When manual transmissions were more common, authorities overlooked the rolling “California stop”. Why punish him now when rolling stops would save fuel, helping to mitigate climate change?
“How many people literally stop where your car is 100% stationary?” he said. “Hardly anyone. If they set it at a threshold to represent generally law-abiding behavior, that would be more acceptable.
Luz Lazo contributed to this report.