stop sign camera

Neighbors Question District Stop Sign Camera That Raised Nearly $1M in Two Months

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Residents in one Northwest D.C. community are seeing red when it comes to a stop sign camera that's been there for years.

The News4 I-Team found a nearly 2,000% jump in tickets since the District upgraded the camera to a newer model.

"It's an enforcement tool that's penalizing people for living in this area," said Renee Bowser, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Petworth.

The city first installed the camera at the intersection of Kansas Avenue and Buchanan Street in 2013 after neighbors requested it. They thought it would make the area safer since there's a school, church and park right nearby.

But now the ANC has heard so many complaints, it passed a resolution calling the stop sign camera "predatory" and "a revenue-generating initiative."

Based on the ticket numbers obtained by the I-Team, that one camera generated nearly $1 million in ticket revenue just in November and December of 2020.

If cars have stopped and come to a complete stop, it's still taking the picture. We see it. Our neighbors have seen it.

Petworth Action Committee President David Dzidzienyo

"It's making people angry. It's making people avoid the area," said Bowser. "We want the money to be refunded to them fully."

Kim Lockett lives within walking distance of the camera and has gotten three tickets there.

"The first time I got a ticket, I paid the ticket," Lockett said.

But she said she's positive she stopped when she got her second ticket, because it was just a few days after she received the first one.

"I'm still confused as to how the whole thing works," said Lockett.

And she's not the only one. Earlier this month, the I-Team arranged to meet Lockett at that intersection and nearly a dozen people either showed up in person or contacted the I-Team later.

"I've received two tickets on the same day," said Kelli Smith, a school teacher who said she always stops at the stop sign.

In June, the District upgraded to a new camera that can reset quicker to catch more cars.

Petworth Action Committee President David Dzidzienyo questions whether the city also increased the camera's sensitivity.

"If cars have stopped and come to a complete stop, it's still taking the picture. We see it. Our neighbors have seen it," Dzidzienyo said.

An I-Team camera saw it, too.

In just about an hour of recording one afternoon, the camera flashed once when a gray SUV approached the stop line and then again when the driver entered the intersection, even though he had stopped for a full four seconds.

"I think they need to recalibrate the camera," said Bowser.

A silver car drove up and stopped at the line for four seconds, and the flash went off anyway.

"It just seems like it's really inconsistent or not operating the way that it should," said Jim McMahon, who also lives nearby and has also gotten ticketed at the intersection.

Fines for running a stop sign in the District are pricey, starting at $100.

In the last two months of 2019, the camera generated 451 tickets. In the same time frame in 2020, the camera generated 8,938 tickets, an 1,800% increase.

"You cannot say when you hear those numbers that we don't have a problem on our hands," said Dzidzienyo.

The D.C. Department of Transportation declined the I-Team's request for an on-camera interview but suggested a switch from just daytime operation to 24 hours a day may have caused the dramatic jump in tickets. A spokesperson said the camera is operating accurately.

Neighbors say they can't believe that.

"I was walking the other day and I noticed the camera was just flashing," said Smith.

In a letter to residents, a DDOT representative said the flash and video camera activates if a car is approaching the stop sign at a speed that might prevent it from coming to a full and complete stop, which the city defines as having the wheels completely stopped before the white line.

DDOT also said a flash does not necessarily mean a driver was ticketed, since human examiners vet each video before a ticket is sent.

But the I-Team camera also spotted vehicle after vehicle rolling through the intersection without fully stopping, or some even stopping in the crosswalk, without the flash going off.

"That just doesn't make any sense," said Lockett. "I just hope that the city works with us because that's what we want. We want to work together to come up with some sort of resolution."

None of the neighbors who spoke with the I-Team wanted the camera removed; they all agreed it's needed for safety.

But they say they shouldn't have to avoid an intersection in their own neighborhood or stop so long the cars behind them begin honking.

Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.

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