SFMTA to Push for Speed Camera Enforcement Through State Legislation

Speed cameras could reduce speed-related crashes like the one at Pine and Gough Streets that killed a teen and put his mother in a coma in 2013. Image: NBC

The SFMTA wants to legalize life-saving speed enforcement cameras, and plans to campaign for a state law that would enable San Francisco to install them, the agency’s director of government affairs, Kate Breen, said today.

California currently has no law to allow and regulate the use of speed enforcement cameras, though red-light enforcement cameras are allowed. Speed cameras have been proven to reduce driver speeding, traffic crashes, and fatalities in cities around the U.S. and in other countries. Notably, since France adopted them about a dozen years ago, speed cameras are credited with saving more than 15,000 lives throughout the country.

The SFMTA, however, plans to take a tepid approach in its requests from the governor and the state legislature. Breen told the SFMTA Board of Directors that the agency will be seeking to authorize speed camera use only in areas around schools and senior centers, and that the legislation would also “de-criminalize citations” and set a “$100 flat fine.” The bill would have to be authored by a state legislator such as SF’s recently-inaugurated Assemblymember David Chiu, a former supervisor.

The limitations, Breen said, are mainly aimed at making the legislation palatable for Governor Jerry Brown, who is generally wary of raising fines. In September, Brown vetoed a bill that would have increased fines for dangerous driving in school zones and given the revenue to safe street improvements.

The SFMTA, said Breen, hopes to craft a proposal that “we can build a coalition around, that doesn’t necessarily engender out of the gate what we’ve seen, as practiced by the governor, his propensity to want to veto those things that really raise fines so significantly that the average motorist or person who is receiving one of these citations is unduly burdened.”

New York City was recently enabled by its state legislature to roll out speed cameras, but school-based restrictions on where and when they can operate mean that many locations prone to dangerous speeding are ineligible for camera enforcement. Advocates have been pushing to loosen the restrictions.

The benefits of speed cameras are clear. A 2010 meta-study of dozens of research papers on speed cameras found a uniformly positive effect on street safety, with a 30 to 40 percent reduction in crashes that cause serious injury or death following the rollout of most programs.

After Chicago implemented speed cameras last summer, the city reported a 43 percent drop in speeding near camera locations within the first week. At some locations, the number of speeders dropped as much as 99 percent.

In SF, speed cameras are one of the recommended tools in City Hall’s official WalkFirst Strategy to cut pedestrian injuries, which ranks the measure as “highly effective.”

As in NYC, Breen said the SFMTA’s campaign for speed cameras and lower speed limits (under the slogan, “Twenty is Plenty”) will be framed in the context of Vision Zero — the initiative to end to traffic deaths.

“Lower speed limits combined with appropriate enforcement really is the key, along with engineering and education, to achieving the goals of Vision Zero,” said Breen.

  • murphstahoe

    The before/after statistics have been presented for Fell/Masonic. Please go find them at http://www.google.com

  • Prinzrob

    Are we sure N.M.A. doesn’t actually stand for National Mansplaining Association?

  • SFnative74

    Speed cameras would decrease the incidences of speeding, which means….LESS SPEEDING!

  • SFnative74

    Thanks for not answering my question. What do you think of red light cameras at intersections that have proper signal timing? Because if your answer is still “none exist,” then you are deluding yourself and everyone who might believe your nonsense.

  • EastBayer

    Most camera programs that have been discontinued were because the city couldn’t afford them. Please read the research of Shaheen and others. Blows a hole in the ridiculous notion that cameras are about revenue, not safety.

  • And perhaps speed and red-light cameras could be part of that toolkit for slowing traffic, the same as an officer standing in the middle of the intersection, or trees reducing sight-lines, etc. do.

    Just need the establishment to grudgingly add another tool to their toolbox. Same as it ever was.

  • PhotoRadarscam

    So why did they get rid of them if it wasn’t about money? They didn’t feel like it was worth paying for safety? Why? The city pays for lots of other traffic safety devices and programs. Why not a camera that is supposedly preventing lots of crashes?

  • jcwconsult

    Cities that have extremely good public transit systems like NY and SF operate VERY differently than cities which do not have such systems. Surely you know that.

    Beware of apples to watermelons comparisons, they are not valid.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    My question was NOT what are the statisics, it was WHO or WHAT GROUP collected and analyzed them.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    Only for about 100 yards around the money grab cameras – disturbing the smooth flow before and after.

    Fixed location speed cameras are a joke for locals, a “gotcha” money grab for visitors – AS DESIGNED.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • Abe Froman

    As soon as SFMTA shows an interest in developing useful policy rather than chasing revenue, I will support this plan. Unfortunately, I doubt that’s going to happen soon.

  • jcwconsult

    I have NO problem with red light cameras at properly timed lights, and which do not abuse right on red turns. I know of only one such system in the entire USA – a system that loses significant money AND does so willingly with the council renewing the contract.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    True, and the other reason that many were discontinued was the essential revolt of the residents. Most NJ programs were still profitable, but residents increasingly told officials NO to extending the program beyond December 16th. Officials listened, and the state law authorizing cameras expired on December 16, 2014.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    With correctly set speed limits and traffic lights, ticket cameras lose money and almost no city will use them.

    To be financially viable, ticket cameras MUST ticket mostly safe drivers to raise enough revenue to even pay for their own high operational costs.

    South Dakota has the best red light cameras laws which ban the use of the cameras in the state AND prohibit state authorities from helping any other state collect red light camera fines from SD residents.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    Let me pose a question for those that disagree with me on using the science of traffic safety engineering to set posted speed limits. This is a real example and I will give the data about what happened after I get some answers.

    This is a high volume 4 lane major commuting collector route, part of a business route for an Interstate in a city. It has well marked pedestrian crosswalks at the lights at either end of the segment, and one marked crosswalk in the center of the segment that is not at a light and primarily serves pedestrians for a middle school. The 85th percentile speed in August 1995 was 48 mph. In September 2006, it was 47 mph. In January 2007 and February 2008 it was 45 mph (possibly reflecting a higher risk of ice patches). In 1995 the Pace (10 mph band with the most vehicles) was 37-46 mph and that same range was true in September 2006, January 2007 and February 2008. Throughout this entire 13 year time frame, the posted limit was 35 mph. The area was VERY regularly used for speed enforcement by the Ann Arbor Police, never by the state police.

    What would you do to the posted limit, if anything, and why?

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    MONEY is their goal. Fortunately, the chances to get speed cameras authorized in California are VERY low.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • Nicasio Nakamine

    Do you get paid by the comment? You have said your piece over and over and now you are just baiting the thread.

  • jcwconsult

    I don’t get paid anything, I am interested to see if any of those who have responded will actually answer the question.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • murphstahoe

    Aha! Ad Hominem is the first resort of the scoundrel!

  • murphstahoe

    “the other reason that many were discontinued was the essential revolt of the residents”

    Exactly what you’ve been hiding. It doesn’t have to do with safety, it has to do with being pissed off at getting a ticket.

  • jd_x

    Except you’re not here to learn anything or have a real discussion, just to bait people into responding and no matter what they say, you’ll repeat your same position over and over and over …

    We get it: you don’t like these cameras. I think an unbiased person can read all your comments and make the decision for themselves as to whether or not you truly care about the deeper issues (safety for *all* road users but especially the most vulnerable: pedestrians and cyclists) or if you just want to keep trying to justify the anachronistic position that motorists should continue to “get away” with as much dangerous behavior as possible as long as it gets them there faster.

  • jd_x

    “My views match those of the Michigan State Police, MDOT, and most county road commissions”

    Ah yes, those bastions of the livable street movement and not at all beholden to an anachronistic, car-centric view. These organizations are well-known as some of the most progressive when it comes to improving safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit users. So this definitely enhances your credibility that you care about more than letting motorists get away with dangerous behavior (though it does get them there quicker!).

  • jcwconsult

    If you think it is being a scoundrel to want to know WHO compiled and analyzed the statistics to know whether they should be relied upon, then I think you need to learn quite a bit more about how speed and red light camera supporters operate. As above, anyone who relies on the 2011 IIHS study gets false data and analysis and supports cameras based on a database that actually showed them to be safety negative.

    Analysis supporting something that comes from groups that profit from that something should be scrutinized VERY carefully for bias. We much prefer analysis from groups that have no financial or political power ways to gain or lose from their studies.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    It comes from people realizing the tickets had nothing to do with safety, only money. Crash rates went up at many NJ camera intersections, this was reported, and people realized the sales pitches were false.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    I try to respond with facts to those that do not seem to have read very much about traffic engineering science, because most of what people think they know about speed limits for example comes from the so-called safety lobby. But the safety lobby including the insurance companies makes money from speeding tickets – it is a very lucrative profit center for them – and the sales pitches are very biased.

    I prefer to try to get people to consider the unbiased research that comes from groups that do not have a financial stake in the outcome of their studies.

    I note that no one has suggested what they would do with this speed limit in my question.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    If you ever talked to a safety chief at a state DOT or state police organization, you would have a different opinion. Are traffic engineering principles and traffic laws something of a compromise? Sure they are.

    You can have zero (or almost zero) deaths in a city from car crashes – if you either ban cars altogether or engineer the roadways so drivers feel safe and comfortable for only a maximum of about 10 mph. But that city would not be viable commercially.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • Dastardly Don

    How easy it is to find untruths and then quote them. Chicago has had to retract those numbers as “unscientific” but hacks around the country, trying to push their agenda, continue to quote them. It has been proven that these are purely money grabs and do nothing to increase safety.

  • jcwconsult

    An excellent example. Chicago officials presented data showing serious safety gains for their $500 million dollar red light camera program. An unbiased analysis by A&M University in Texas showed the opposite.

    NEVER ask the fox how the hens enjoy his nightly visits to the hen house, your chances to get the truth are essentially zero.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    Look at our website, or review this 30th edition newsletter
    http://www.motorists.org/nma-first-30

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • Ken

    The answer is that we don’t have enough information to answer your question, because we don’t know why the posted speed limit is 35mph. I practice in California, so I’m not really familiar with Michigan law. However, if the statutory speed limit is 35mph we can’t change the posted speed. You also mention a middle school. If this constitutes a “school zone,” then the statutory speed limit, at times, would be 25mph. Statutory speed limits apply regardless of what the 85th percentile drive, whether it’s a residential area, business district, or school, which in California are all 25mph. Consequently, the people, acting through the Legislature, have decided that the speeds in these zones should be no more than 25mph, regardless of the 85th percentile and our reasons for setting speed limits based on the 85th percentile do not always apply.

    Now, if the posted speed limit was based on a properly conducted traffic survey that found the 85th percentile speed was about 35mph, why did people speed up? This example would then only emphasize one of the problems with setting speed limits based on the 85th percentile. This is also an example of why traffic engineers are now questioning the assumptions underlying the 85th percentile approach and whether the approach is appropriate today, given today’s faster, quieter cars and more distracted drivers and in urban areas with pedestrian and bicycle activity. This was discussed at the 2002 ITE conference.

    Furthermore, in California, speed trap laws allow local governments to set speed limits 5-10 mph below the 85th percentile based on engineering judgment, presence of pedestrians and/or bicyclists, and accidents caused by speed. if that was the case, and given the pedestrian activity associated with the middle school, I would leave the posted speed limit as it is and post plenty of signs. If you have a driver’s license, you’re capable of reading a traffic sign and driving the limit. If you are incapable of doing so or if you’re dumb enough for the street to fool then you then you shouldn’t be driving.

    Bottom line, however, it sounds like the street is incompatible with the surrounding land uses. The long-term solution would likely be to modify the street with traffic calming measures so the 85th percentile speed is 35mph.

  • jcwconsult

    You ask good questions, Ken, and thanks for the response. Since no one else is responding, I will fill in the rest.

    The limit is not statutory. Every survey for at least 20 years (and probably long before) showed the 85th speeds were in the range of 45 (bad winter day) to 47 or 48 mph. The limit was corrected to 45 in April 2008 and the 85th percentile speed range did not change in several studies over the next three years. MDOT produces safety data for Business 94 in two groups, east and west of the center of town. This is on the east group and the crash rate went down very slightly after the change – though NOT likely causal to the change. It likely just reflects the long term reduction in crash rates.

    The road is Business Route I-94, the main high volume east-west town commercial and commuting artery through Ann Arbor, and traffic calming would not be appropriate. MI law allows school zones to be posted up to 15 mph below the normal speed limit for limited hours when children are likely to be present before and after school (and at lunchtime if children are allowed off grounds). When posted at 35 mph for decades, there was NO signage indicating this was a school zone. After correction, signs were put up for the area around the pedestrian crossing near the school indicating it has a 35 limit for the allowed limited hours. From the neighborhood involved, there are very few children who use the crossing to get to school and even seeing anyone at that crossing is extremely rare. There are good sidewalks on both sides and one side was upgraded for bicycle use recently.

    I moved here in 1962 and the area was a fierce speed trap for many decades, enforcement that never lowered the 85th speed range by even 1 mph. Posted at 45 the traps are gone and so is any enforcement – on the basis of being both unnecessary and unprofitable. Note that the city council had a fit when the changes were proposed and adopted, but as a state highway MDOT and the state police have the speed limit authority. An adjacent segment was corrected at the same time from 30 to 40 mph with no change is speeds.

    I hear the argument to reduce limits for “judgment” factors like pedestrian and cycle activity. Those are visible factors that if used for engineering judgment reductions in limits have counted them twice. Florida’s speed zoning manual makes that very clear, special reductions must be ONLY for hidden hazards, not items the average driver has already used in the choice of speeds. And anyone who has studied this issue for any length of time knows that posted speed limits have almost no effect on actual 85th percentile speeds unless 24/7 enforcement is employed.

    Thanks again for the response.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • murphstahoe

    So what you are saying – is that we ought to stop building roads and start building extremely good public transit systems – because that is a competitive advantage over not having such systems.

  • murphstahoe

    Good. I want your money.

  • jcwconsult

    Only in VERY densely populated places are public transit systems practical. Most systems lose a lot of money and require heavy subsidies to exist. Note that I have NO problem with subsidized transit systems if the voters approve those expenses from general funds.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • SF Guest

    The SFMTA wants our money too, and that’s why I voted against merging the Muni with DPT. It’s rarely a good idea to merge two depts. with two different budgets.

  • Ken

    In California, the speed trap law strongly dictates applicable speeds. Basically, you start with a traffic and engineering survey, which is good for 5 years (sometimes 7), and then round to the nearest 5mph. The local government can then lower the speed limit by 5mph based on engineering judgement and another 5mph if there are bicycles or pedestrians or if there is documented history of speed-related accidents. Here in the City of Sacramento, I think there was one street in the last round of speed limit approvals whose limit was reduced from the 85th percentile. People v. Goulet, (1992) 13 Cal.App.4th Supp. 1, is the main California case on this. It’s pretty easy to lower the speed limit by 5mph based on engineering judgement and support it in court. If you want to lower the speed limit more you need a strong record with evidence to support that speed limit, but I get the sense most local governments are either too lazy to get the information and draft the necessary analysis and findings or too afraid to try.

    Traffic calming is appropriate, because of the surrounding land uses. If the plan for I-94 was to retain it as a high volume/high speed commercial and commuting arterial, then those land uses should not have been approved for that segment of the I-94. When land uses change, roads need to change too. Incompatibilities like this are a sign of poor planning.

  • jcwconsult

    Thanks, Ken, for another thoughtful reply. If you use Google Maps for 2200 Washtenaw, Ann Arbor, MI 48104 the former 35/now 45 segment runs from Brockman to Stadium. There are only a few residences on this stretch and the school crosswalk (legally 35 mph for about 1.5 hours per school day and rarely used) is just west of the bus stop near Adare Road on the northeast side of the road. Both Washtenaw as a main artery (once part of US 12 from Detroit to Olympia, Washington before I-94 existed) and the Middle School are of very long standing. And there is no other rational route to use for Business 94.

    With a 45-48 mph 85th speed for several decades, if you used a judgment factor to get to 40 and some occasional school children crossing for another -5 to get to 35, you would then have the 7th percentile posted limit it had. The area does not have a high frequency of speed related accidents.

    In our view and that of the Michigan State Police, 7th percentile posted limits make a mockery out of speed limits that virtually any driver can instinctively know are not set for safety. It is not rational to define 93% of the drivers as violators on roads with decent safety records. These artificially low limits breed disrespect for traffic laws in general and the officers that enforce them, a problem that proliferated since 1974, and is one of things that the Michigan State Police most want to fix. They have corrected literally hundreds of segments to post 85th percentile speed limits in the last decade or so in both urban and rural areas, and never had to roll one back for bad results. The command officers won two Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commission awards for their work to establish safe and realistic limits. If you are interested, go to our website at http://www.motorists.org/speed-limits/articles and you can download a Powerpoint the state police gave to the House and Senate Transportation Committees on the subject.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • 94110

    Since you’re looking for an answer… I wish Ann Arbor luck wresting this quiet city street away from MDOT.

    It looks like the state is trying to cram a freeway where a Main Street should be. The speed limits I see are still 35 (In September 2014 on Google Maps) which seems high.

    Looks perfect for a road diet to two lanes, two bike lanes, and a center turn lane, and a 25 mph speed limit. Instead in typical DOT fashion it’s four lanes of badly deteriorating pavement.

    I also notice there are from one to three bus routes servicing this street at any point. I bet they don’t get much ridership as it is. Basically, no one wants to use this lovely little street because the Michigan has turned it into a drag race strip for out of town commuters.

    But really, it’s not just about 85% or chances of speed related crashes. It’s also about chances of a pedestrian/bicyclist walking away from a collision. At 45 mph someone’s going to end up dead. At 25 mph chances are better of everyone living. The fact that we are pushing for 25 mph rather than 20 mph can be blamed on the legions of National Motorists Association Life Members.

    Michigan and Florida are two states that come to mind when I think “What shouldn’t we do in California?”

  • jcwconsult

    For 94110: Are you speaking of Washtenaw from Brockman to Stadium, visible by using Google Maps for 2200 Washtenaw, Ann Arbor, MI 48104?

    It is not a quiet residential street and has not been so for the 53 years I have lived in the area. Posted limit was corrected here in April 2008.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • Can we change “mostly safe drivers” to “mostly harmless drivers”…the Hitchhikers Guide reference helps hide the oxymoron.

    I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around your various positions:
    Money is the goal.
    Ticket cameras are not financially viable.

    Ticket cameras should be judged by the income generated.
    Other traffic devices are not judged by the income generated.

    85% percentile is safe.
    But it’s unfair to ‘prey’ upon drivers which exceed those standards.

    The best laws are based on my subjective opinions.

  • jcwconsult

    My positions:
    Money is the goal and ticket cameras are not financially viable. This means if you engineer posted limits and traffic lights for maximum safety, the cameras lose money and virtually no city will use them. Cities deliberately set or maintain improper traffic safety parameters in order to make cameras profitable.

    Ticket cameras but not other traffic devices are judged by income generated. As above, ticket cameras are almost always judged by income. SOME posted limits set to enable officer-run speed traps are judged by income. Most other devices are not.

    85th percentile speed limits AND the actual 85th percentile speeds both tend to be the safest. I have no problem with speed enforcement above the 85th plus a modest margin for speedo error, small speed gains downhill, radar errors, etc. In most cases, about 10% of the flow will be in the 5 mph interval just above the 85th, so only 5% of the flow will be 6 or more mph above the 85th.

    I try not to have subjective opinions on these issues, I rely on the unbiased research – that done by groups that have no financial or political power stake in the outcomes of their studies.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • Given that we’ve topped 91 comments on this article, and the plurality are from you making your position known, I’ll have to ask you to wrap it up. Otherwise, we’ll close the comments.

  • 94110

    Nope. I was looking at Huron Street.

    Huron Street looks like MDOT has jammed too many lanes on it. Washtenaw looks like all the worst of suburban design arterial design lined with cul de sacs, big box stores, large parking lots, huge corner radiuses.

    You’re right! Everyone is going to drive 45+ on this. Redesigning it to slow down drivers would be a huge undertaking.

    Plus, everything is so far apart on this road, it would take forever to get anywhere at 35. No one in their right mind would go 35… which means what for pedestrians who travel 1/10 of that when moving fast? Probably better to just put up signs saying “pedestrians abandon all hope!”

    I especially like that little walkway outside Whole Foods which leads people to a five lane road with no crosswalk and no corresponding walkway on the other side.

    Scrubbing through Street View’s history it looks like all of this is actually an improvement over what it used to be.

    Still, Streetsblog has a (pretty dorky) term for things like this: “stroad”.

    Good luck with your deathtrap!

  • jcwconsult

    As you wish. I have tried to respond one for one.
    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    Thanks, 94110. The writer asked me to wrap it up.
    James C. Walker, Life member – National Motorists Association I am in the Ann Arbor phone book.

  • VoiceofReason

    You don’t agree with this poster and don’t like his arguments and so you want to shut him down? As long as he is posting respectfully and directly addressing the other posters, answering the questions posed to him and having a dialogue, by what right do you tell him he can no longer engage in the conversation? Is this blog only for those who agree with you?

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