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August 05, 2007

Speeding on neighborhood streets dominates citizen complaints to Baltimore transportation officials. Although speed bumps are one remedy, they're not appropriate for every street. Instead, a city task force has proposed installing photo radar cameras at troublesome intersections. That's a practical substitute for traffic cops and a ticket-generating deterrent to speeding drivers.

If Baltimore's experience with red-light cameras is any indication, the city should see less speeding on streets where cameras are posted, and millions in additional revenue.

No doubt, traffic accidents are a problem. State highway safety officials say the city accounts for 19.2 percent of all traffic accidents in Maryland, which last year totaled 19,168. No other jurisdiction comes close proportionally, they say. And a speeding driver can kill: In 2006 alone, city police reported 44 traffic deaths, nine of them speed-related.

The speed camera recommendation by the Task Force on Traffic Calming and Pedestrian-Friendliness is only that. City officials will have to win approval from the state legislature to install the cameras in Baltimore. To ensure its approval, the city should limit camera use to problem intersections or corners where children congregate, as they do near schools.

Montgomery County is the only Maryland jurisdiction that has speed cameras, but it hasn't had them long enough to assess their impact. Since cameras were installed in Washington, D.C., six years ago, the city has reported a decline in its speeding rate from 17 percent to 2 percent.

Frank Murphy, a city transportation official, says the presence of red-light cameras in Baltimore is an apt comparison. Traffic studies from 1999 (the first year of red-light camera operation) to 2005 have shown a 73 percent drop in accidents involving the running of a red light, as well as a 7 percent reduction in general traffic accidents citywide and a 49 percent drop in traffic deaths.

Red-light cameras, by the way, have generated as much as $11 million in ticket revenue in a single year for the city. In the last year, the revenue declined to $4.8 million, a drop that some attribute to the cameras' deterrent effect.

Saving lives should be a priority in Baltimore, and speed radar cameras are a good way to help do it.

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