Image from WAMU.

Except for Peter Shapiro, the candidates for DC Council at-large either don’t think pedestrian safety is a very pressing issue, think the only people who will vote tomorrow are drivers who’d rather speed than be safe, or both.

On Friday, the Democratic candidates for DC Council at-large appeared on the WAMU Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi and Tom Sherwood. Sherwood asked about Mayor Gray’s plan to increase the number of traffic enforcement cameras, including ones that will detect drivers running red lights or speeding through lights when they’re green.

In their answers, all 4 candidates focused on the question of whether DC is or is not pursuing the program just to raise revenue. But only Peter Shapiro gave any time at all to the serious danger to pedestrians that comes from drivers speeding, turning right on red without stopping, blocking the box, and more.

Any revenue bump will not last long as drivers adjust to actually following laws. Plus, it’s a red herring to cast doubt on the program just because it’s coming up in a budget cycle. DC needs to spend money to get cameras. Therefore, the program has to be part of the budget. MPD has been trying to buy the cameras for over a year, and budget and procurement have long been the obstacle.

Below are the candidates’ answers:

Sekou Biddle: Putting aside the fact that these cameras will certainly change Tom [Sherwood]‘s driving habits, I’m not a fan of this idea because, frankly, it looks like we’re taking what was initially designed to be a public safety tool and turning it into a revenue generator. We see in the budget the claim that we’re not having tax and fee increases, but we’re looking to generate more revenue through speed cameras, and then using those cameras to do both speed and red lights. This really is disconcerting, and we need to really think about what we’re using them for.

Vincent Orange: I do not support the idea. We’ve already raised in excess of $100 million through the speeding cameras and parking tickets and things of that like. I think that now it’s become a revenue generator, and to say that we’re going to cover the entire city with this apparatus is not a good idea in my view.

E. Gail Anderson Holness: I don’t think it’s a good idea. I think it’s a waste of taxpayer money to use the funds to put those cameras in place ... I think there are other options to raise funds for the District of Columbia. I’m out there waving in the mornings and I see Maryland and Virginia tags coming into the District. There ought to be some kind of commuter tax.

You don’t let the good suffer with the bad in this instance ... of course Tom, some of us go over the speed limit a little bit every now and again, and we’re going to be subjected. But it’s going through that green light piece is a major issue, so I’m not in favor of it all.

Peter Shapiro: I think there’s a little bit of election-year pandering going on with this, because it’s an important issue, and we’ve got some serious concerns with public safety in the city. Now the key is around balance, and so the red light cameras and even speed on green can be a very healthy thing. Now the idea of blanketing the whole city doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Kojo Nnamdi: Why not?

Shapiro: Because there are many many intersections where if we put this in place, then it’s only about generating revenue. There are any number of anecdotes, you will hear people, I have my own experience with this, where it it feels like it’s essentially a trap for folks. It’s not making the community safer, so what you really have to do is make sure that we have a comprehensive plan, but that they’re located in places where they actually will reduce speed in ways that keeps the community safe.


Shapiro is right that there’s a lot of pandering here. During the debate, Vincent Orange repeated the phrase “livable, walkable,” as he did at the Urban Neighborhood Alliance forum. It rings hollow from Orange, but it’s nice that he has decided to play up the “livable, walkable” angle.

But “walkable” is part of “livable, walkable,” and part of making a place walkable is making it safe to walk around. If Orange really believed in that, he might have mentioned in his answer that it’s important to curb speeding and red light running.

Shapiro is right that we should only place cameras where they will improve safety, and it might be just fine to reduce the level of fines as DC increases the number of cameras. However, when Gray said he would “blanket” DC with cameras, he likely didn’t mean one on every corner, but rather far more than we have today. Good for him.

All 4 candidates focused their answers around their complaints of the program. Perhaps they were all assuming that most people who listen to WAMU are driving. One day, hopefully soon, people running for office citywide will feel that if they pander, it’s better to pander to residents who want safer neighborhoods than drivers who want to speed with impunity.

Meanwhile, if you are a Democratic voter in DC, vote for Peter Shapiro, whom we endorsed, in tomorrow’s primary. It’s not enough to just get a more ethical candidate if that candidate still won’t take a stand on the important issues that actually affect policy. Ultimately, the reason to have a candidate who’s not bought and sold by moneyed special interests is so they vote for better policies. Shapiro has demonstrated far more commitment to good policy than any other candidate in the race.