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.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

when the car lobby bugs me: encouraging law breaking

Judas Priest, "Breaking the law"

So the Examiner's cover headline screams about DC's traffic fine revenues, which is discussed in the article "D.C. rakes in $178m from drivers in past year."

Besides the fact that probably not even 10% of the serious infractions are ticketed, don't violate the laws and you won't pay fines.

My basic response to the car lobby on this issue is unprintable.

But the article and the discussion on the topic sucks generally because they provide no comparative data.  DC's "take" from traffic fines needs to be compared to comparably sized cities and cities generally.  No such data is provided.

San Francisco is about 2/3 of the size of DC, with a comparable sized population, and was projected to collect $101 million in traffic fines last year according to "In San Francisco, Parking Tickets Are the New Taxation" from New America Media.

So that might mean that DC's numbers are comparable and in the right range, despite what the American Automobile Association would have you believe.

And the reason that I have no problem with automated enforcement is that it is a far better use of scarce personnel resources of public safety officers (police) than expecting them to focus on writing tickets--although there are many times I wish they would be doing more of that too, in the face of reckless driving incidents that I frequently witness, incidents that go unpunished.

Left:  New York City has created 20mph "slow zones" in neighborhoods across the city.  See "City Greenlights 13 Slow Zones to Make Streets Safer" from DNAInfo.

However, I will say that one of the problems with speed limits in DC is that because DC is a city and a residential city at that, speed limits are lower than what drivers not living in the city are accustomed to, and I wish that better signage on this would be posted at the major entrypoints to the city, such as at Wisconsin Avenue or Rhode Island Avenue, South Capitol Street, etc.

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At 8:31 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

NYC is pulling in something like 500M. So, yes, DC getting 178 is way way too big.

(and it is a national problem. Taxes make more sense, for a lot of reasons, than fines)

And it isn't good revenue; as you said change the behavior and the revenue drops.

Probably the best way to handle it (and all fines) is throw it into the general fund, and then use it to cancel out any planned tax increases.

At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure where you get the $500 million figure for NYC. That's about the size of their *parking* ticket revenue, but as for the traffic fine revenue I can't confirm. But more importantly, NYC doesn't have a speed camera program at all yet. So even if that's an accurate figure, it's comparing a non-camera system to one based largely on cameras. Pulling people over and writing tickets costs lots of money (and it pulls police away from more important tasks as well), and so NYC's net revenue would be even smaller.

That doesn't necessarily make DC's "way way too big", but it coul dbe a useful point of comparison.

Want to protest those awful traffic cameras? Here's a way to stick at to them - let's all stop speeding and running red lights, and then those nasty fine collectors won't get a dime!

At 10:20 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yep, my bad. It is parking revenue, which does suggest also that DC is extracting too much from parking.

NYC is running a red light camera program.

Your point about behvaior modication is exactly why it is dangerous for cities to start and rely on this as a revenue source. DC is very lucky, as a city state it had broad taxing powers. Use them.

A yearly property tax on cars, or a european one based on engine size, would be far broader. Of course, the idea is to tax Maryland/Virginia residents instead of DC residents....

At 5:18 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I don't have a problem with camera-based enforcement. BUT, the use of cameras on 295 and New York Avenue between South Dakota Ave and the city line, and comparable places, is unfair, because those roads function as freeways and the speed limits are "too low" for the conditions.

as far as "taxes" go, on transpo, as you know, I recommend a payroll tax, like what goes on in the MTA district in NY State, and in certain counties in OR.

A little more on this in a second... but not the withholding tax.

At 12:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speed cameras are actually not very widespread.

Chicago -- new program this year; anticipated revenue is $30 million
Baltimore -- $19.2 million
Dallas -- none
Houston -- none
Los Angeles -- none
San Fransisco -- none
Boston -- none
St. Louis -- none

Montgomery county -- $35 million (2010)
PG county -- $7.8 million

So the DC speed camera program is much larger than most anywhere else.


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