Some D.C. Council members are calling for action to address a stop sign camera that has some drivers avoiding a local intersection.
Those who live in or drive through the Petworth area of Northwest D.C. probably know about the stop sign camera at Kansas Avenue and Buchanan Street. It’s been there since 2013 after neighbors requested it for safety.
Now some of those same neighbors want District leaders to pump the brakes, after the I-Team revealed the dramatic rise in tickets last year.
A number of drivers who live in that area talked to the I-Team after getting multiple citations at the camera, including Kim Lockett, who said, "There has to be something wrong." Kelli Smith said, “I received two tickets on the same day.” Petworth Action Committee President David Dzidzienyo said he’s also heard from many families with similar stories like his. “I came to a complete stop.”
The city said it upgraded the camera in June. The District Department of Transportation told the I-Team the camera is working properly and the ticket spike may be because it now operates 24 hours a day, instead of just daytime.
The I-Team tracked two months from 2019 when the camera had just over 450 tickets and compared that to the same time span in 2020 with almost 9,000 tickets.
D.C. Council members Janeese Lewis George and Mary Cheh have heard the complaints, too.
"Our goal shouldn't be to get revenue from our community in the amounts that we are getting, and I think that's one of the key issues," George said.
They both recently met with the D.C. Department of Transportation’s interim director at the stop sign camera to discuss solutions, like a possible rumble strip or signage to alert drivers that they must stop before the white line to avoid a ticket.
"The arm pointing down, saying stop here," suggested Cheh. "You want to make sure people are not thinking that this is about money raising, and you also don't want it to be a gotcha situation, an unfair situation.”
Both council members also said more notice should be given to residents when cameras are upgraded, especially if it makes them more sensitive.
"The citations in that next two weeks that it's operating should be warning citations because people are taken by surprise," said Cheh.
A DDOT technician, who also met with the council members at the intersection, said at least two other stop sign cameras around the city have seen an increase in tickets after an upgrade as well, but not as much as the one at Kansas and Buchanan.
A stop sign camera at 27th and R streets in Southeast went from almost 250 tickets over three months in 2019 to almost 10,000 in late 2020, according to city data requested by the I-Team.
"People are frustrated,” 4D Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Jonathan Nobil said. “People are frustrated in a pandemic.”
He said he’s hopeful after hearing the possible changes that could come down the road to help his neighbors.
"Multiple people that I've talked to, you have four, six, eight hundred dollars’ worth of tickets because these are $100 each," he said. “I think everyone wants traffic safety. It's just a question of what's the right way to do it without, you know, impacting a community in an economic way that that just doesn't seem fair to a lot of people.”
And the cost of those tickets is another issue council members want to look at. The fines start at $100 and can double after 30 days.
"The penalty piece is something that's key here, especially during the pandemic where families are facing so many economic hardships," George said.
Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.