Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, March 16, 2012

If you run a stop sign and no one's around does it really matter? Yes, if there is a camera.

LA Weekly illustration by Peter Hoey of intersection cameras in public parks in the Santa Monica Mountains.

I have no problems with speed cameras and intersection cameras because operating a motor vehicle is a privilege (not a right), how people act while driving impacts others, and because no one has a right to break the law.

Speed cameras

While it doesn't mean necessarily that the law "is in error," part of the problem with "speeding" is that cars and roads are by and large engineered to enable very high speeds, and higher speeds can be very inappropriate depending on the land context--e.g.., a residential neighborhood, a traditional commercial district, around a school, library, park or other civic asset, etc.

I've written about that in the past, such as this entry, "Pedestrian Safety and the proposed DC 15mph speed limit."

Often, people take context cues--width of roads, amount of traffic, placement of buildings vis-a-vis the roads, condition of the pavement--and adjust their speed--usually higher--accordingly.

Another problem is that suburban residents, where speeds typically are higher, often aren't familiar with places, like center cities, where posted speed limits are lower across the city. For example in DC, unless otherwise posted, the speed limit is 25mph. In many other cities it's higher, 30mph, even in residential areas.

In Europe there has been a campaign for a couple decades to reduce speed limits in cities to 30kph and 50kph, about 20mph and 30mph respectively. This started in Graz, Austria, and the reduction in speed has been effective in reducing accidents generally and injuries from accidents specifically.

Some boroughs in Montreal are adopting similar policies.

So fine, speed cameras are great.

But they are still very controversial because people resent not being able to break the law without penalty, even though they claim their opposition has to do with concerns about over intrusive government, and how it can be a form of privatization of law enforcement, because typically such cameras are installed by a private sector firm (local governments often lack the money to do it) which reaps a significant portion of the revenue stream. (Actually I agree that this is a problem. There should be an infrastructure bank which makes loans to local governments for projects like these, not unlike the Bank of North Dakota, which is a state bank.)

Intersection cameras

I could be seen as hypocritical about stop signs, because as a fervent proponent of the Idaho Stop for bicyclists, I treat stop signs (and red lights) as yields, provided that there is no oncoming traffic.

But generally I don't have a problem with intersection cameras, because red light running, which typically happens as a traffic signal is turning, about to turn, or has already turned red, is dangerous.

But what about stop signs?

And what if maybe some stop signs ought to be yield signs?

This comes up in California, where a parks authority makes millions of dollars from intersection cameras that catch people running stop signs--presumably they do it when there is no oncoming traffic. See "Stop sign cameras ticket 70,000 in Los Angeles Parks" from LA Weekly.

On the other hand, what a great revenue source for parks, right?

Well, I would say no, especially if some of the signs ought to be yield signs, because they end up discouraging/enraging parks patrons.

There is a delicate line between reasonable charging (like for parking meters) and charging rates or fines that discourage people from coming to a park (or a traditional commercial district).

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