This is part of our Better Baltimore series, which aims to use readers’ feedback and ideas to hold government agencies and powerful entities accountable. We’re also interested in stories about readers and communities driving change on their own. Have a tip? Tell us.
What can be done to tame reckless driving in Baltimore and other cities? Baltimore transportation officials say the city’s Interstate 83 speed camera program might offer a blueprint for curbing high speeds, reducing crash severity and incentivizing vehicular decorum.
The initiative, launched about six months ago, came in response to national concerns about the rise in traffic fatalities as a residual effect of the coronavirus pandemic. But to some area motorists, the addition of new speed cameras on the Jones Falls Expressway (JFX) signaled long-awaited relief for what they referred to as well-established unsafe driving conditions in Baltimore.
“I had really altered my travel route because I just don’t want to be scared and dealing with all that craziness; I just avoid it,” said Rachel Hendrickson, a Towson resident and one of a handful of Baltimore Banner readers who asked us to look into the effectiveness of the speed camera program. “Do people think they’re invincible? They [drivers] are creating panic in their trail and chaos behind them.”
We asked the Baltimore City Department of Transportation a series of questions about the speed camera program and other initiatives they have to enforce safe speeds. The following questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
The Baltimore Banner: What is the I-83 speed camera program?
Baltimore City Department of Transportation spokeswoman, Marly Cardona-Moz: The I-83 speed camera program is the first of its kind and distinct from the other speed camera programs in Baltimore city, such as the school zone cameras or red light cameras.
BB: How is it distinct?
BCDOT: The red-light and school zone speed camera programs are distinct from the JFX/ I-83 speed camera program in the following ways: School zone and red-light cameras are citywide and located on city roads. The school zone speed cameras are designed to increase safety by reducing driver speeds in school zones. The red-light photo enforcement units are designed to cite vehicles that enter a specific intersection after the traffic light has turned red.
This is distinct from the JFX speed camera program because the two fixed location speed cameras installed on I-83 are the only interstate speed cameras program in the U.S. of their kind. Only one other county in Maryland uses interstate speed cameras in the form of a wheeled speed camera unit.
The goal of the authorizing legislation for the I-83 speed cameras is to provide the technology to modify driving behaviors and ultimately reduce severe and fatal crashes on the interstate.
BB: What are the takeaways from the first months of data collection from the I-83 cameras?
BCDOT: We are seeing evidence of slower speeds on I-83. Below is the breakdown of the total 153,251 citations issued:
Northbound I-83, W 41st St.: 70,933
Southbound I-83, W 41st St.: 82,318
During the 90-day warning phase, 202,071, warnings were issued. During the first 90 days of live citations, 109,851 warnings were issued, indicating that the effects trickled down. This corresponds to a 54.3% drop in warnings and citations issued since the program’s implementation.
Meanwhile, the average issued warning/citation speed has dropped from 65.9 mph to 65.3 mph, indicating that motorists are slowing down. Official crash data for the corridor will not be available until summer 2023 when it is submitted to city DOT by the Maryland Highway Safety Office.
BB: Are there plans to scale the program either by adding more cameras to I-83 or other areas in the city? What does the timeline look like, if so?
BCDOT: At this moment, the BCDOT is solely focused on collecting data from the first year of the I-83 speed camera program’s performance.
BB: How much money have the two cameras generated?
BCDOT: We are not providing figures at this time. However, the legislation for the I-83 speed camera program requires that all revenues be directed toward the cost of operating the camera program on I-83 and I-83 roadway safety improvements within Baltimore City.
BB: And now, two questions from our readers. One wanted to know why there are not more speed cameras, red-light cameras and speed ticketing agents to deter drivers on city streets and major roads.
BCDOT: Traditional methods of speed enforcement are not possible on I-83 within Baltimore City due to the existing width of roadway shoulders, fiscal and engineering constraints, and resource challenges. The Maryland State Police took over non-automated traffic enforcement responsibilities of I-83 from the Baltimore Police Department earlier this year.
As for city roads, speed cameras are the enforcement mechanism and all programs are limited by governing laws.
For example, Transportation Article 21-809 governs the placement of photo enforcement units and gives the city the power to only enforce within a “school zone,” a segment of road up to a half-mile radius of a school for any grades kindergarten through 12th where school-related activity occurs.
BB: Another reader asked why there aren’t additional methods of traffic enforcement aside from school zone and red-light cameras.
BCDOT: There are several alternatives currently being used by the City of Baltimore. Examples of other tools used to decrease speeding in Baltimore include bump-outs (curb extensions that extend the width of the sidewalk and curb line), flexible bollards (used to guide traffic toward appropriate areas) and traffic delineators (reflective devices installed in a series at the side of a roadway). Pavement markers may have different reflective surfaces designed to act as a visual guide for drivers when abnormal road conditions are present.