City Council President Andrea Campbell (Dorchester) and other councilors say they're fed up with death and destruction on Boston streets caused by texting Massholes and other bad drivers, and want to look at new methods to stop them.
Among the possibilities raised by Campbell: Cameras mounted at key intersections and along major roadways that could catch people barrelling through red lights and going way too fast and then generate traffic tickets. Also, it might be time to look at creating a BPD unit dedicated to full-time traffic enforcement, possibly staffed by officers in different uniforms than the cops who now deal with traffic miscreants only on down time from fighting other crimes.
The council agreed yesterday to let Campbell schedule a hearing with Boston police and transportation officials to go over more aggressive potential steps to reduce traffic-related fatalities and crashes.
In recent years, the city has taken several steps to try to calm traffic, including reducing the speed limit on most roads from 30 to 25 m.p.h., but without enforcement, "it's useless," she said. Bostonians should not have to be "in fear of your life when you're crossing the street driving down the street, riding your bike down the street," she said.
She added that, in conversations with officers in her Dorchester district, "many officers feel a little bit frustrated," because they want to do more traffic enforcement but are often pulled away by more pressing crime issues.
Campbell acknowledged that traffic cameras might require action by the state legislature. And she promised "a robust conversation" on issues related to increasing surveillance of public spaces and the impact on lower-income drivers. But, she continued, "people are dying, so this is urgent."
Providence, RI, issued nearly 40,000 traffic tickets - and brought in $1.8 million in new revenue - in the first five months of this year after turning on cameras aimed at catching speeders. It also created a political firestorm and sparked a federal lawsuit by motorists who said the cameras violated a state law requiring signs warning drivers of nearby cameras.
Councilor Matt O'Malley (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury), whose district sports several streets with traffic-slowing "speed tables," welcomed Campbell's proposals, but said experience in Houston and Dallas after they installed intersection cameras showed they created a new problem: Drivers hitting their brakes after spotting a camera were getting rear ended by less attentive drivers behind them.
O'Malley suggested the city look at "virtual speed bumps" - markings at intersections that at first glance look like something in the road a motorist would want to go more slowly over.
Officials in Cambridge recently rejected the idea of painting intersections to make motorist think they were about to slam into long concrete blocks, saying it might make some drivers swerve off the road. London is experimenting with less radical optical illusions to slow drivers.
Councilor Lydia Edwards (Charlestown, East Boston, North End), said any sort of increased police presence would help. She said conditions at Sullivan Square have gotten a bit better simply by having a detail cop there. And she said it might be time to consider asking developers of large new projects in the city to chip in to help with the traffic problems their developments are contributing to.