Cameras cut speeding, but raise drivers’ ire

April 6, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Cameras installed along Southeast Second Avenue to deter speeders have cut the number of violations since the Issaquah Police Department started issuing citations last April.

The city recorded about 110 violations per day in May 2009 — about a month after speeders started to receive $124 fines for exceeding the 20 mph limit. By January 2010, the number of violations had fallen to about 40 per day — a drop of about 64 percent. The city released the data March 31.

Police issued 4,920 citations for violations caught by the cameras. The devices generated about $360,000 for the city.

Officials said the numbers showed the need for the cameras in a school zone packed with everyone from kindergartners to high-school seniors. Detractors said the cameras catch unknowing motorists and overcharge violators.

The city did not complete a formal cost analysis for the photo-enforcement program, although officials said the effort incurs significant expenses related to Issaquah Municipal Court, and the city finance and police departments. Police officers must review and then approve or reject each violation.

The city did not hire additional workers to handle the increased number of infractions.

Officials contracted with American Traffic Solutions, a Scottsdale, Ariz., company, to administer the cameras. The contract costs the city $4,750 per month.

Court Administrator Lynne Jacobs said the workload for court staffers ballooned after the city activated the cameras. The city judge and prosecutor also had to set aside time to handle camera-enforcement violations.

Police Chief Paul Ayers said the cameras meant increased tasks for officers, too, especially if police allow a few days’ worth of violations to accumulate.

Despite the added workload, “the cameras seem to be meeting the goal of slowing people down,” Ayers said.

Workers installed the cameras in March 2009 in a school zone near Clark Elementary School, Issaquah Middle School, Issaquah High School and Tiger Mountain Community High School. Dozens of lead-footed drivers received warnings for about a month, and then, in mid-April, the city started penalizing speeders.

The cameras operate from 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. on weekdays, and shut down after school and during school holidays. Officials touted the program as a way to free up traffic officers to patrol other areas.

No plans exist to expand the camera network beyond Southeast Second Avenue.

Most drivers caught speeding by the cameras paid the $124 fine, but hundreds of people challenged more than 900 citations in municipal court.

The largest group of challengers — representing 691 violations — requested and received mitigation hearings, where the driver admitted to the infraction and asked Judge N. Scott Stewart for a reduced fine. Another 225 said they did not commit the infraction and challenged the citation. About 10 percent of the violators failed to pay the fine; the court referred their information to a collection agency.

Jacobs said most of the challengers said they did not see speed limit or photo-enforcement signs, or the pole-mounted cameras. The court also heard another common excuse: “We have folks that say their car just can’t possibly go that slow,” she added.

The infraction is a noncriminal offense, similar to a parking ticket, and does not become part of a driver’s record.

Although Issaquah School District officials did not participate in the decision to install the cameras near Clark Elementary, spokeswoman Sara Niegowski said the district supports the photo-enforcement program as a safety tool.

“We have such a high density of students, staff, parents and community members going through there, especially at the start of school and the end of school,” she said.

Pole-mounted cameras, installed last year to monitor traffic on Second Avenue Southeast in both directions near Clark Elementary School, have resulted in more compliance to the 20-mph, school-zone speed limit. By Greg Farrar

A growing but controversial trend

Issaquah joined a network of local governments statewide and across the nation when the city activated the cameras last year.

State lawmakers passed legislation — later signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire in 2005 — to allow cities to issue citations to drivers photographed violating red lights or speed limits.

Anne Teigen, a transportation policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the trend to add enforcement cameras continues to grow nationwide.

“Cameras have gone from red lights and speed, and they have now expanded to school zones, railroad crossings and toll roads,” Teigen said.

Studies conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety on Arizona, Maryland and Washington, D.C., roadways showed a 70 percent to 95 percent decline in speeding in areas where enforcement cameras had been installed.

“When drivers know there’s a virtual guarantee that they’ll get a ticket, they slow down,” institute spokesman Russ Rader said.

Cameras caught Steve Sheehan, a Sammamish Plateau resident, speeding — three times within one week — on Southeast Second Avenue late last year. He said he did not see the signs posted to alert drivers to the cameras and, as a result, received fines totaling $372.

If a police officer had enforced the speed limit instead, Sheehan said he could have avoided the stretch of road. Sheehan said he did not see any children in the area when he received the tickets. Cameras caught him twice in the same day as he picked up poinsettias for a fundraiser, and again, he said, when he returned a week later to deliver a Christmas present to a teacher at Issaquah High School.

Sheehan, 60, contested the fines in a letter to municipal court and the court cut the penalty to $160. He said he plans to avoid the street in the future.

“If it’s purely for safety, why don’t we have it at all of our schools?” Sheehan said.

The cameras also riled other drivers as well, enough to prompt a class-action lawsuit last year. Attorneys said officials in Issaquah, Bellevue, Seattle and more than a dozen other Washington cities had overcharged drivers caught by speed and red-light cameras.

The lawsuit also accused officials of entering into deals with camera manufacturers in order to make money. The suit asked for cities to refund fines collected as a result of photo-enforced violations.

Attorneys said the state law intended for the photo-enforcement tickets to be treated as parking tickets. Instead, cities treated the photo-enforced infractions the same as violations caught by police officers.

The plaintiffs claimed state legislators intended for tickets to equal the amount of a parking ticket — about $20 — when lawmakers approved the law. The cities named in the lawsuit charge from $101 to $124 for photo-enforced tickets.

U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour in Seattle dismissed the lawsuit March 2.

“The code does not require a traffic-camera infraction to be treated like a parking infraction in every single respect,” he wrote in the dismissal order.

Seattle attorney David Breskin represented the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit. Although he said he respects Coughenour, the attorney said the judge did not interpret the law as legislators intended.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs appealed the decision last month.

“With all due respect to the judge, we think he got it wrong,” Breskin said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

How cameras catch speeders

The photo-enforcement system — installed across from Clark Elementary School near the intersection of Second Avenue Southeast and Southeast Evans Street — uses roadway sensors to alert the cameras to speeding vehicles.

The system includes a pair of cameras to record video of the violation and snap a photo of a speeding vehicle’s rear license plate. Drivers receive the violation in the mail about 14 days after the incident.

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Comments

9 Responses to “Cameras cut speeding, but raise drivers’ ire”

  1. Robert Young on April 7th, 2010 10:52 am

    Just when is a school holiday? The lower speed limit does not apply on school holidays. However, unlike the stretch of road on Newport Way NW, where the City of Issaquah maintains a flashing light to indicate when school is in session, the City installed the cameras by Clark Elementary school without the flashing lights.

    Why? Apparently to be able to capture those who are under a mistaken impression a school holiday is in effect when it is not. I was driving my daughter to a medical appointment one day when she was home from school. Somehow, my brain equated that my daughter sitting beside me on a day she was home from school meant there was a school holiday in effect. Until the camera went off snapping my picture for going over 20 mph.

    While I benefited from a lower fine by requesting mitigation, I see no effort by the City of Issaquah to provide flashing lights at this section of road to clearly indicate when school days are in effect and the lower speed limit is to be observed.

    The City of Issaquah is clearly negligent by proceeding with public entrapment and apparently just intends to maximize the number of fines it is able to collect. I hope someone legally challenges the city to step up and install clear indicators to the public when school is in session, instead of continuing their policy public entrapment by one school route monitored by cameras, while incongruously providing clear indicators on aother section of road that is not monitored by cameras.

  2. Steve on April 7th, 2010 11:29 am

    I’m sick of fighting with the sheeple who embrace this invasion of privacy. Note that I have never receive any sort of photo-violation of any sort. I simply despise Big Brother watching me come and go from above.

    Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em… With technology cheaply available today, let’s just install a speed governing chip into every car and replace all of these cameras with transmitters that push the appropriate speed limit parameter for every stretch of road. Problem solved and no stupid cameras!

    What? That merely improves safety without generating revenue? Why, that is just illogical!

  3. Jeff on April 7th, 2010 12:47 pm

    I drop my son off at Issaquah High and drive 15 mph just to be sure I don’t get my picture taken. Talk about a crawl…I have friends that come up from Auburn, and they cant believe how low the speed limits are in Issaquah. I think its a police ploy for entrapment. Or, it could be my old age bitterness too.

  4. Jimbo on April 7th, 2010 10:35 pm

    Here’s an idea, if you don’t want to chance getting caught by the camera, avoid it. If you choose to use that road, obey the speed limit. Don’t know what it is at a particular time…? Avoid it.

  5. Traffic Violations Attorneys | www.trafficviolationsattorneys.com on April 11th, 2010 2:06 am

    […] to receive $124 fines for exceeding the 20 mph limit. By January 2010, […] Read more on Issaquah Press Cell phone law might not work WILKES-BARRE – City council would be “spinning its […]

  6. Philip Lampman on September 23rd, 2010 4:43 pm

    Clearly nothing less than revenue collecting by the city. I dare anyone to show me evidence that the difference between 27 mph and the posted 20 mph saves lives or provides increased safety. Given that logic closing the road to any vehicular traffic should provie the ultimate measure of complete safety. Perhaps the city should also consider padding the sidewalks and road shoulders near the High School to ensure additonal safe measures for bicyclists and pedestrians.

    Make no mistake; I am as much an advocate for traffic safety as anyone, but such a draconian method of additional “taxation” on local citizens can only create animosity between local public officials and the people they represent and “protect”..

    Have any post-implementation audits been done since these devices have been installed to prove they have contributed to increased safety to the community or have freed up law enforcement officers to spend more time lowering our crime rate?

    For that matter, given an estimated 900+ tickets issued per month, according to some reports, done anything to lower taxes in other areas? I doubt it.

    I suppose though that at least these eyesores along Issaquah’s public streets do make Sammamish a more attractive place to visit. For me, I see no reason to go to Issaquah now that I know I’m being watched. What a low-class and obviously political move to make Issaquah the eastside’s version of White Center or Auburn.

    Just my opinion…

  7. Bob McCoy on September 29th, 2010 10:14 pm

    Mr. Lampman et al:

    The difference between 20 MPH and 27 MPH is an increase in kinetic energy of 82%. That’s the increase in smacking energy if you hit something. Your reaction distance increases by 35% and your braking distance by 82%. That means you need more room to stop. A lot more distance than what society legislates you should need in a school zone.

    It appears that 2nd Ave SE is about ¾ mile from end to end. At 15 MPH, you can cover that distance in about 3 minutes. At a crisp, legal, 20 MPH, you cut your traversal time by 45 seconds: only 2 minutes and 15 seconds. But wait! Before you decide how much you’re willing to pay, at 27 MPH it takes 1 minute and 40 seconds. You save an amazing 35 seconds over the legal speed of 20 MPH, and it only costs $124 to save those 35 seconds—a mere $3.54 per second, or about $12,800 per hour. And the best part about this particular tax: you yourself choose whether to pay it. No one forces you to purchase the precious seconds of timesavings—no, you buy them by yourself. There is no entrapment, no police officer telling you to “step on it,” just you and your foot.

    Most cars are equipped with a gear selector. That’s the thing marked with PRND2L or R–1234… or similar. You can use that to help you manage your speed. You probably learned that, but apparently have forgotten. It really works. When you get to a School Zone, try a lower gear. Learn to control your vehicle. Pride yourself on your ability to make the car do what you want it to do. Think about how you’re saving 12-grand per hour in school zones. Or not. It really is your choice.

  8. city of seattle photo enforcement program | my Album on April 22nd, 2011 11:08 pm

    […] Cameras cut speeding, but raise drivers' ire : The Issaquah Press … Apr 6, 2010 … The city recorded about 110 violations per day in May 2009 … Officials touted the program as a way to free up … Seattle attorney David Breskin represented the … The photo-enforcement system — installed across from … […]

  9. Linda Harer on October 27th, 2011 8:38 pm

    Issaquah is the only place I know that says you must go 20 mph while kids are inside their classrooms. Insanity. It is ludicrous and obviously simply a speed trap program. Well, Issaquah, good-bye. I used to drive out of my way to shop there….hello Maple Valley where sane enforcement exists.

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