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A speed study conducted at this school zone outside James Monroe High School in October found that more than 60 percent of drivers exceeded the flashing 15 mph speed limit by at least 10 mph. (Photo by Joey LoMonaco)

Lights, camera, infraction: Automated school zone speed enforcement coming to Fredericksburg

by | Jun 24, 2024 | ALLFFP, Fredericksburg, Schools & Education, Traffic

For as long as Holly Clark has been biking alongside her three children to Hugh Mercer Elementary School, the most treacherous stretch of their daily commute has come just before reaching their destination.

“Really, the scariest part of it was just crossing Cowan Boulevard,” said Clark, referring to the intersection, marked with a crosswalk, that leads directly up to the school building.

One morning in January 2023, Clark saw her fears realized when her 9-year-old daughter Lucy was nearly struck by a car that had run a red light. The next day and understandably still shaken, she approached a police officer stationed outside Hugh Mercer to ask what could be done to make the area safer for pedestrians.

“Can you guys maybe ticket people?” Clark remembers asking.

“We do,” the officer replied. “What we’d really like is traffic cameras, but we’d have to get the city on board for that.

“I said, ‘OK, let me see what I can do.’”

Clark called Councilor Jon Gerlach (Ward 2), who then broached the issue with his fellow councilors and City Manager Tim Baroody. At its June 11 meeting, City Council voted 7-0 to approve a contract with Altuimint, Inc. for the installation and automated enforcement of speed cameras at school zones outside Hugh Mercer and James Monroe High School.

Once the cameras are fully operational, a process that Gerlach says should occur sometime this fall, they’ll use LIDAR to monitor speeds and generate violation notices — speeding tickets — that would be electronically reviewed and validated by the Fredericksburg Police Department. Altuimint would then mail a summons and collect payment on behalf of the city.

“It’s appealing because there are so many violations,” Gerlach said during a recent interview. “The numbers are astonishing in the afternoons when school lets out.”

According to one speed study, conducted outside the James Monroe school zone in October 2023, nearly 63% percent of drivers exceeded the posted 15-mph speed limit by more than 10 mph when lights were flashing.

A second study found similar results on Cowan Blvd., with 2,799 of the 4,638 drivers (61.1%) who passed through the school zone between 2:45-3:30 p.m. clocking in at more than 10 mph over the 25-mph speed limit. Another 7.7% were going more than 21 mph over the speed limit.

At the June 11 city council work session, Capt. Crystal Hill, the patrol captain for the Fredericksburg Police Department, told councilors that automated cameras could factor into her agency’s “multi-prong approach” to speed enforcement along with targeted patrols and the use of grant funds from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Hill explained that speed cameras are permitted in school zones across the Commonwealth under Code 46.2-882.1, which became law in 2020. The code establishes a civil penalty not exceeding $100 and mandates that a sign warning of a speed monitoring device (SMD) be placed within 1,000 feet of the school zone.

As the statute is “self-executing,” it doesn’t require a local ordinance prior to adoption.

Hill said FPD spoke to several vendors before recommending Altumint, which is already operating in the city of Suffolk in the Hampton Roads area. Based on the contract, Fredericksburg qualifies for three cameras, a “bidirectional” device on Washington Avenue and one facing in each direction on Cowan Blvd.

The city isn’t responsible for any upfront costs but will pay Altumint $14 per summons for the first 250 mailed summons each month. Beyond that monthly threshold, the city will be charged $12 per summons.

The summons aren’t considered moving violations and will be mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle, Hill said. The code calls for a 9 mph tolerance, meaning that drivers must exceed the posted speed limit by at least 10 mph to receive a violation.

Based on estimates derived from the speed studies, the city anticipates issuing between 1,600 to 2,160 summons per month for a net annual revenue of approximately $900,000, with an additional $300,000 going to contractor fees. At its meeting on Tuesday, City Council will consider a financial policy concerning the use of those proceeds.

A memo from city staff recommends that the funds go toward “the development and implementation of pedestrian safety projects, and in particular but not limited to pedestrian safety projects near schools or along known pedestrian routes to schools.”

Hill said that Altumint will help coordinate public education and outreach efforts about the project before it’s fully implemented, a process that she said could take up to five months.

“We don’t want to surprise the public,” she said. “It’s 100 percent about safety. We want folks to slow down. We do not want it to be a secret.”

Gerlach conceded that his signature safety initiative is unlikely to garner universal community support.

But — like far too many drivers in school zones — he’s not willing to pump the brakes.

“Some people are going to say this is Big Brother,” Gerlach said. “’I don’t like the fact that I can get a ticket just because I’ve been photographed.’ There’s going to be some folks — especially those who get tickets — who are going to be angry.

“My response to that is simply: What’s more important to you, getting to your destination a couple of minutes later or potentially saving a life?”

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