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December 23, 2010

Signs, cameras on Caton Avenue questioned

Alexander D. Mitchell IV, a fequent contributor to this blog, noticed some issues with the signage along Caton Avenue, near St. Agnes Hospital in Southwest Baltimore.  He was kind enough to bring it to my attention.

Having figured out that a lot of Baltimore's speed cameras are now integrated into the previously existing red light cameras, I'm playing the same cat-and-mouse game as other drivers out there.

One I've discovered is so rigged: the red light cameras at Caton Avenue and Benson Avenue, just north of I-95's exit 50.

There's a problem, however:  Just try and figure out what the speed limit is here at night.  The "Speed Limit 30" signs, both northbound and southbound, are badly placed and badly faded, and their finish downright opaque at night.  Oh, sure, you can see the shiny new "Photo Enforced"
signs just installed beneath the speed limit signs, but not what the speed limit actually is.  Furthermore, there is but ONE sign advising you of the speed limit northbound as you get off of I-95, the faded one, and the speed camera is approximately 150-200 feet (by my estimate) past said sign.  This on a road where the prevailing speed is closer to 50 mph, and not without cause.

Granted, there is good reason to have a reduced speed limit in the area--there's St. Agnes Hospital right up the road, and the entrance to a parochial school (a driveway entrance, mind you, not pedestrian crossings and the like) at the light.  But I have sat there at that intersection at night, just to confirm my hunch, and seen flash after flash nabbing speeders.

Now, I have no objection to the speed cameras in principle, provided we're given fair warning.  (The camera enforcement on the Beltway and the Parkway, with lots of signage on both sides of the highway, is a perfect example--if you're still speeding after multiple signs telling you to slow down or get photo-ticketed, you deserve no mercy.)  But this certainly looks like entrapment of the kind that got several traffic cameras in Arizona firebombed.

Any chance we can get fresh signs erected at this (and other?) speed cameras to at least give the drivers fair warning?

I referred the questions to Adrienne Barnes at the Baltimore Transportation Department, and here's the answer I received:

• Most of City’s roadways have designated speed limits that have been in place for several years if not decades.  In this case as the citizen indicated that motorists are traveling at high speed, (especially in school zones)this is exactly the type of driving behavior that we are trying to modify.

• On Interstate highways multiple advance warning signs are placed because of high posted speed limits (45 MPH to 65 MPH) and multiple lanes in each direction.  In school zones along city streets the maximum speed limit would be 35 MPH.

• The speed limit at night is same as during day time and as acknowledged in the email, speed limit with Photo Enforced signs are quite visible. The school signs are also quite visible.
• The condition and placement of speed limit signs are normal as any other typical signage.  However in view of the concerns about some of the  signs being faded we will investigate their condition & placement and make the  necessary adjustments.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 9:38 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: On the roads


Most of City’s roadways have designated speed limits that have been in place for several years if not decades.

So, what is Ms. Barnes saying if not, "Screw the non-locals"?

Can we have her supervisor's name and contact information?

That anonymous remark was mine. I got so torqued out by Ms. Barnes' arrogance that I neglected to identify myself!

Adrienne Barnes is such a condescending woman that it is amazing that her job is to be a spokesperson for anything! She comes across as so smarmy and smug when I see her on TV news interviews and the response that she provided to this inquiry was more of the same. The question is very simple--can the speed limit signs be looked at to ensure that it is fair given a speed camera in the vicinity. All the other gobbledegook that she provided in the answer is unnecessary. Why use 100 words when 20 will do just fine? This is someone that has been working in government for way too long.

"So, what is Ms. Barnes saying if not, 'Screw the non-locals'? "

Has that not been the prevailing mentality or philosophy behind EVERY "speed trap" ever erected? I have cartoons from Britain and the U.S. from 80-90 years ago centered around exactly the same theme, even highlighting the word "trap"--which shows how long the mentality has existed.

Ms. Barnes,

If you wish to "modify" driving behavior, try more speed limit signs, especially the ones that show a radar read-out of the driver's actual speed below the speed limit. I've found those to be hideously effective in slowing folks down (skidding brakes, in some cases), and no one can claim that it's just a "money grab" like they can (with good cause) about speed/red-light camera fines.

I thought speed cameras were only supposed to be in school zones, by law. That school is no longer open.

COMMENT: Cardinal Gibbons at Caton and Wilkens is closed. Seton Keough at Caton and Benson remains open.

It's hard to obey speed limits when they are not posted often enough.

While it's bad in Baltimore, it may be even worse in D.C., where they've also gone speed-camera crazy.

There's about a 2-mile stretch on 16th Street NW going northbound where I'll be damned if I could spot a speed limit sign; speed cameras, though, were in abundance.

In more traffic-dense areas of D.C., I found the concern for checking my odometer to be more of a safety hazard than anything else. There are these school zones where the speed limit instantly drops 10 mph during school hours and/or Monday-Friday 8am-5pm; these create a "gotcha" trap as D.C.'s cameras are set to ticket at 10+ mph over the limit.

Trying to look for speed limit signs is the last thing a driver should be doing while navigating rush-hour traffic amid irregular street patterns, confusing traffic light signals, inattentive pedestrians with their eyes glued to their Smart Phones as they cross streets, and bicyclists who obey laws at their whim.

Most speed limits have been the same for years or decades, which makes it even more puzzling as to why people act like they don't know what mph they should be driving at.

This intentional deception may be fraud or racketeering. It's definitely not fair and our Mayor shouldn't allow this machinery to be deployed in a way that knowingly hurts people for money--this is one definition of evil. Though this is making money for the city, neither the for-profit contractor scheme or Barnes are in the public interest.

Just drive the speed limit and stop complaining. You only get a ticket if you break the law.

Lorraine, the entire point of this post is that, at least at night, you can't TELL what the speed limit is on that road until you've blown past a speed camera, especially if you just exited northbound off of I-95!

Interesting that Ms. Barnes gives 35mph as the norm for city streets in a school zone, but does not explain way 6-lane wide Caton Ave. has a posted 30mph limit.
And as of early Dec. 2011, I cannot tell the issue of fair warning has been addressed.

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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