Marks: An Early Vote on Speed Cameras

In 2009, the Baltimore County Council approved the creation of a speed camera program at 15 school zones throughout the county. The debate leading up to this vote was extremely controversial.

I attended the public meeting at the Towson library where county officials took questions from a mostly unsympathetic crowd. Baltimore County is the most conservative of Maryland’s largest metropolitan counties, and many residents resisted the idea of a surveillance system in their neighborhoods. Critics also complained that the real purpose behind speed cameras was to boost county revenue. In the end, only Republican Councilman T. Bryan McIntire opposed the legislation.

The newly-inaugurated Baltimore County Council will soon consider expanding the program by removing the 15-site cap. Councilman Tom Quirk will introduce this bill at the January 3rd legislative session.

I respect Councilman Quirk and believe he has sincere intentions. We have had many conversations about reforming the way Baltimore County plans its infrastructure so that more people can walk and ride bicycles to their destinations.

This is a very difficult issue for me. Philosophically, I prefer other ways to improve school safety, such as traffic calming and a stronger police presence. I’m also aware that many people, especially conservative, strongly oppose speed cameras. Many point to the state government’s use of speed cameras in the Baltimore Beltway construction zone even when no work is occurring.

At the same time, the Baltimore County Police Department can point to statistics that show improved safety at the current locations, and there is at least one poll that shows broad public support for these cameras—including among Republicans.

After talking to Councilman Quirk and my colleagues, I believe the support is already there for this legislation to pass—regardless of my vote. Therefore, I will be working to influence what eventually passes the County Council.

That process has already started. I suggested to Councilman Quirk that each Councilmember have the right to review any speed camera site in his or her district, and that language has been included. I respect the Police Department’s professional expertise, but if a County Councilmember already reviews zoning, traffic regulations, and grants, then there is no reason why speed cameras should not be part of that oversight responsibility.

I have started to reach out to learn other ways we can tighten and reform this program. I will be asking many questions leading up to the vote in early February.

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