This is a submitted column from Bradley Hills resident Ayaz Shaikh. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BethesdaNow.com.
Recent discussion in Bradley Hills has centered on the new speed cameras installed on Bradley Boulevard. Several have complained of citations in the 42-45 miles per hour range (the speed limit is 30 miles per hour) when they believe they were driving more slowly precisely because they were aware of the cameras.
The Montgomery County Police Department has defended the accuracy of their cameras. The question as to accuracy, however, misses more critical objections to the new cameras: Namely that they operate as an unfair surprise and are actually detrimental to traffic safety.
To understand this, one must appreciate how traffic cameras issue citations and the geography of Bradley Boulevard in relation to the placement of the new cameras.
By law, speed cameras can only cite drivers going 12 miles per hour over the posted limit, a fact known to most drivers. Hence, speeds can often range 7-10 miles per hour in excess of posted limits, traffic permitting.
Bradley Boulevard turns sharply at an almost 90-degree angle near the intersection of Huntington Parkway. The posted speed limit on Bradley Boulevard for the entire stretch from Seven Locks Road to the Huntington Parkway approach is 35 miles per hour, dropping to 30 miles per hour for the first time just a few yards before Bradley turns southward and hits Huntington Parkway.
The traffic camera in the 5900 block of Bradley is placed just south of Huntington Parkway. This placement gives rise to both the fundamental unfairness and the potential danger posed by the cameras.
I reside on Bradmoor Drive and confront this every day as I drive my daughter to school. I know exactly where that camera is placed and have yet been caught multiple times because acceleration to 43 miles per hour is sometimes unavoidable out of my turn on to Bradley Boulevard. It is one reason why so many in the neighborhood have been ticketed.
The cameras are also cleverly situated near a drop in the speed limit — in the optimum spot most likely to trap drivers. Many drivers miss the lone 30 miles per hour sign and are immediately nabbed by the camera. Even for those who see the sign, the immediate reaction is that the decrease in speed limit is to account for Bradley Boulevard’s sharp turn.
That inference is entirely logical, as this stretch of road is outside the vicinity of a school zone, and there appears to be no other reason for the drop in speed limit. Bradley is no more residential or dangerous in the 30 as in the 35 miles per hour zone.
This accounts for the reason why so many drivers are being cited for driving in the 42-46 miles per hour range, which would be fine in the 35 miles per hour zone. The camera is situated to capture drivers as they naturally accelerate out of the turn to their prior speeds.
Apparently, the county surmises that it is easy to raise revenue by surprising its citizens and serving up fines for driving behavior that is so natural as to be instinctive. But this unfairness might not even be the most pernicious aspect of the camera.
That confronts drivers on Bradmoor Drive making the left turn on to Bradley Boulevard. Bradmoor intersects Bradley in a T-intersection, just before Bradley makes it sharp turn, and just about 20 yards west of Huntington Parkway.
Bradmoor drivers making a left turn on to Bradley (a typical route for D.C.-bound traffic) face the following situation: To the right, traffic is typically coming at a speed of 35-40 miles per hour. (Those going up to 41 will not be cited by the new traffic camera ahead). On the left the driver faces two additional challenges. The Huntington Parkway intersection feeds traffic onto Bradley that is accelerating in order to merge. And because of the sharp bend in Bradley, the left turning Bradmoor driver is unable to see far down street, and must assume oncoming cars around the bend.
The net result of these circumstances is that the left turning driver must make the turn and quickly accelerate in order to flow into oncoming traffic.
In the course of making the turn and accelerating safely, the driver can easily shoot, for a moment, over the 40 miles per hour mark. The camera is placed – again quite cleverly — to capture that momentary acceleration and cite the driver.
As a result, the traffic camera ironically makes this intersection more dangerous by forcing tentative or over-cautious behavior and adding a distracting consideration (avoiding a citation) into an already complicated turn.
This is a circumstance where Montgomery County is raising revenue by putting citizens in jeopardy. It would behoove the county to reconsider this camera before there is a dangerous accident and costly ensuing lawsuit that will dwarf the revenues raised by the camera.