College Park officials are re-examining existing safety measures, including the city’s speed cameras, after the deaths of two pedestrians along Route 1.
The existing speed cameras operate Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. In the last 11 months there have been four accidents, two of them fatal, on this stretch of road, all of which occurred outside of the speed cameras’ hours of operation.
The city’s Director of Public Services, Robert Ryan, said from his experience speed cameras usually reduce speed violations by about 80 percent, and Mitchell said “speed cameras are effective in reducing speed.”
Although state law restricts most cameras in Prince George’s County to these hours, the cameras near this university are located in Institutions of Higher Education zones, which are not subject to the same restrictions. The city could extend the speed cameras’ hours with approval from the state.
However, District 1 Councilman Patrick Wojahn said state representatives originally encouraged the city to apply the same time restrictions in the IHE zones, resulting in the current time restrictions.
Del. Barbara Frush (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s) said the state bill setting the speed camera restrictions was in her committee. She said the city should take other measures to improve safety, such as building a fence in the median, installing timed lights or reducing the speed limit.
“For the most part, throughout the entire state, the speed cameras were not meant for colleges,” Frush said. “We would hope by the time a young person reaches that age, they know how to cross the street. … So it amazes me … that no one takes personal responsibility for crossing the street.”
Although University Police Chief David Mitchell said both fatalities occurred when pedestrians were not in the designated crosswalk, city officials would still like to take safety measures such as reducing the speed limit on Route 1 from 30 mph to 25 mph.
The City Council sent these requests in a letter on April 15 to the State Highway Administration but has not heard back yet, said city manager Joe Nagro.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, during the times the speed cameras are not operative, are the busiest nights, Mitchell said. To reduce speed, he said there will be a parked police car in the slow lane southbound and northbound in the 7400 block of Route 1. This will calm traffic by narrowing it down to one lane in each direction, Mitchell said.
Wojahn said he would support extending the speed cameras’ operation to all hours, after the recent string of incidents.
“Accidents happen at nighttime, and the purpose of the speed cameras is to promote safety, not just during those specific times but 24/7,” Wojahn said. “If we really want them to be effective, we need them to work whenever pedestrians are present.”
However, Wojahn is concerned the state legislature would revoke the city’s ability to use speed cameras all together if the council were to make this suggestion.
“We need to look at that in broader political texture,” Wojahn said. “But I would hope that the Maryland General Assembly would recognize that this really is a matter of safety and that they wouldn’t take away the ability of municipalities to do this program.”