My family has been issued a $40 ticket by a speed camera set up near a cemetery in Baltimore. Whoever was driving the vehicle at the time — there are four suspects, but none of us can remember what we were doing at 8:23 a.m. on June 1 — was clocked and photographed doing 40 miles per hour in a 25 mph zone, on the northbound side of Bellona Avenue, along a cemetery.
The cemetery is quite typical — everyone is dead there, except for the occasional guy with a lawn mower.
We were all shocked and dismayed to receive the citation in the mail for the following reasons:
1. We thought Baltimore, like all other jurisdictions in Maryland, could only place speed cameras in work zones or school zones. The nearest school is Govans Elementary, way over on the other side of the cemetery from Bellona Avenue, and east of York Road, on a side street.
2. We thought there was a 30-day grace period. That is, once the cameras go into operation at a certain location, motorists are given warnings (not fines) for driving 12 mph or more over the posted speed limit during the first month of the camera's deployment. According to the Baltimore Department of Transportation's web site, the speed camera at Bellona Avenue and Broxton Road went into operation on May 24. My family's infraction occurred there only 11 days after that.
So what's the deal?
I'm not disputing that someone in my family, including me, could have been driving 15 mph over the posted speed limit. And I support speed cameras.
But, if the cameras were supposed to be deployed in school zones, and if we were supposed to be given a break for the first 30 days, then why this $40 bill for whizzing by a graveyard? And where's the prominent sign that says, "Hey, jerk, slow down. Speed camera ahead"?
Pardon me while I offer a suspicion: Baltimore is facing a severe budget crisis, so city officials are putting speed cameras into operation in an effort to snap up some much-needed revenue for the municipal treasury.
Indeed, here's an announcement from the city's website, dated May 21: "The Baltimore City Department of Transportation today announced that portable speed enforcement units will be implemented throughout Baltimore City. Beginning Monday, May 24, the new portable speed enforcement units will be rotated in school zones throughout the city on a daily basis."
The web site lists 22 locations, including the one on Bellona, for "portable speed enforcement location units" and 50 places where red light cameras have been retrofitted with "automated speed enforcement technology." (The unit on Bellona might be portable, but it's been in place for about a month now.)
Pardon me if I missed something, but I didn't think speed cameras, authorized by the General Assembly in 2009, were supposed to just pop up here and there — and, in my case, near a cemetery — but were intended for school zones to protect children on their way to classes.
And even if that's what the city plans to do — move its speed cameras here and there — doesn't each new location come with the 30-day grace period?
No, says Adrienne Barnes, city transportation department spokeswoman. The grace period only applied to the few speed cameras that went into operation last fall, not to this spring/summer offensive.
So much for that.
The web site of StopBigBrotherMd.org, which describes itself as a watchdog for "unchecked government power" and "backdoor taxes," claims Baltimore has deployed speed cameras without the proper school-zone signage and has expanded school zones to allow cameras on streets that aren't even adjacent to schools.
That appears to be what happened in the 5800 block of Bellona Avenue, where there's a speed camera along the edge of a cemetery.
"Basically they have declared everything within one-half mile of anything they can call a school to be a school zone, even if there is physical separation," says Ron Ely, editor of the StopBigBrotherMD web site.
So watch out, friends. The city needs money, and speed cameras could pop up where you least expect them — even among the dearly departed, may they rest in peace.
Dan Rodricks' column appears Thursdays and Sundays in print and online, and Tuesdays online-only. He is host of the Midday talk show on WYPR-FM. His e-mail is email@example.com.