Tom Lee’s Deep Dive on Black Drivers and DC Speed Cameras: Vision Zero or Zero Vision?

Joseph Oschrin
3 min readApr 15, 2024

Tom Lee just came out with a piece analyzing the intersection of racism and automated traffic enforcement (ATE) devices, aka speed cameras, in DC.

His findings:

Traffic cameras get put on big, fast roads where they generate a ton of citations. Score one for the braindead ATE revenue truthers, I guess?

It is true that those big, fast roads are disproportionately in the city’s Black neighborhoods. It’s perfectly legitimate to point out the ways that highway placement and settlement patterns reflect past and present racial inequities–DC is a historically significant exemplar of it, in fact. But ATE placement is occurring in the context of that legacy, not causing it.

Besides, it’s not even clear that the drivers on those highways are themselves disproportionately Black. That’s a question worth asking, but neither I nor the DCPC study have the data necessary to answer it.

First, this account is pro-removing “big fast roads” in DC:

These roads — 295, 395, 66 — are daily reminders of racism, with the effects of noise and car pollution weighing much more heavily on Black DC residents than all others. They also perpetuate the idea that DC is a place for suburban folks (of all races) to speed in and out of, rather than a place to live. Localized colonialism. There are also numerous city roads functioning as highways that offer the same raw deal to Black DC residents, like Penn Ave SE, NY Ave NE, Georgia Ave NW, Southern Ave SE, Eastern Ave SE, North Capitol (the whole street) etc.

Second, and, as witnessed by the many incidents that https://x.com/MD_Driver_in_DC or https://x.com/oucmecalling311 post on Twitter, it is undeniably true that large amounts of drivers speeding on these big fast roads are non-DC residents. Perhaps the large opprobium that ATE faces from DC residents is that they know that non-DC residents will never pay the fines associated with then. A massive thank you for Mayor Bowser for punting on this.

And, I actually posted analysis of a previous Tom Lee piece on this very matter almost a year ago!

So, this account agrees with Tom. The ATE placements, themselves are not racist, but they exist in a larger contextual legacy of racism. Good luck selling that on a bumper sticker.

I liked the piece, but after reading, all I can think about is that my Capital Bikeshare e-bike is speed limited — there is a governor attached to the motor. I suppose, that on an 15% graded hill at 6,000 feet up a mountain, I could reach some insane speed, but generally, on regular DC streets, I can only go a certain speed. Thereby obviating any need for ATE. Speed governors in cars — a “city mode”, let’s say capped at 25mph (to start)—would work just as well as they do on my ebike. A requirement that all cars have speed governors on them to drive in DC is, itself, not racist and allows us to instead focus on real racism. Like tearing down the highways.

So the real question for Tom (and everyone else) is — why are we arguing over ATE and racism when instead we could focus on never needing ATE again? We have precious time and energy to fight car brain — we need to pick better, smarter fights. Tom has a large audience (5k followers, 91k views on his post). Is this the fight Tom should be picking? Right now in DC, Vision zero is zero vision, so I don’t think it’s in his, or our, best interest that he do so.

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Joseph Oschrin

Concerned D.C. pedestrian worried each step could be my last