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CSG in the News: Bowser does an end run around D.C. Council, transfers traffic camera program to DDOT

Bowser does an end run around D.C. Council, transfers traffic camera program to DDOT

By Luz Lazo Oct. 1, 2019 at 6:43 p.m. EDT, Washington Post

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has moved the city’s automated traffic enforcement program — which deploys speed, red-light and stop-sign cameras — from D.C. police to the District Department of Transportation, doing an end run around the D.C. Council, which opposed move.

The transfer, effective Tuesday, ramps up an ongoing fight between the mayor and the council over some of the city’s transportation priorities. And it comes after the council nixed a request by Bowser (D) to move the nearly two-decades-old automated enforcement program to DDOT, citing doubts about how the transfer would increase its efficiency.

Bowser administration officials said that the mayor did not need the council’s approval to move the team of 20 city employees overseeing the traffic camera program to DDOT. The mayor had proposed the transfer multiple times in recent years, and each time her request was denied by the council. The administration touted the transition as critical to the mayor’s Vision Zero strategy, a plan to create safer streets and lower the number of traffic fatalities and injuries.

“This is a mayoral program because it is operational,” Deputy Mayor Lucinda Babers said. “The mayor did have the ability to make the transfer without legislation. She simply utilized her authority as the mayor to make this transfer.” Bowser signed an executive order Friday authorizing the change.

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who chairs the panel’s transportation committee, said she found Bowser’s decision to go around the council “troubling,” and “disrespectful” to the legislative body…

Because DDOT is leading the city’s traffic safety efforts, Babers said, it makes sense that it oversee automated enforcement….

In May, Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, wrote that transferring the program to DDOT was one of a number of actions the mayor could take to make city streets safer.

“Traffic cameras can be an effective approach for discouraging dangerous behavior by drivers,” Cort wrote in Greater Greater Washington. “By placing oversight of this tool with the agency responsible for managing our streets, automated traffic enforcement could more effectively improve safety. Traffic cameras are helping now, but they could be used much more strategically if DDOT is able to integrate them into its safety programs.”

“Traffic enforcement is a function of law enforcement agencies, not transportation departments,” said John Townsend, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. He said the transfer will probably increase the number of traffic citations issued, which he said would undermine the program’s integrity….

“This is only about revenue,” Townsend said. “This is not about traffic safety. This is about scoring political points.”…

“Everything will be on the table as we look at Vision Zero,” Babers said. “It is absolutely critical that we take a stronger stand in terms of what is in our power to control.”

View full Washington Post story here.