Six months after Seattle started using school-zone traffic cameras to fine speeders $189 for each violation, Mayor Mike McGinn announced a plan to use the money the tickets generated to fund more cameras.
“We have to do what we can to make sure our roads are safer for everyone,” McGinn said Tuesday in front of Nathan Eckstein Middle School in Wedgwood.
The school is one of five that could get speed cameras installed next year on overhead flashing school beacons. The four others are Bailey Gatzert Elementary on East Yesler Way, Dearborn Park Elementary on South Orcas Street, and Roxhill Elementary and Holy Family Parish School, both on Southwest Roxbury Street. Traffic data showed those areas were most in need of better speed enforcement, McGinn said.
The city started using the cameras in December at four school zones on Greenwood Avenue North, Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, Fauntleroy Way Southwest and Fifth Avenue Northeast.
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Since then, at least 30,000 tickets have been mailed to speeders, according to Greg Doss, Seattle Police Department strategic adviser. That adds up to $5.67 million in fines, $3.3 million of which the city has collected so far, said Mayor’s Office spokesman Aaron Pickus.
McGinn said he plans to reinvest all revenue from the fines in the cost of leasing and operating school-zone traffic cameras and other road-safety projects. With eight cameras already installed and nine more planned, each of the 17 cameras would be leased for $4,750 per month.
“I don’t want this to be about revenue,” McGinn said. “We don’t want people to be cynical about this program.”
The mayor said he’s asking the City Council to expand the traffic-camera pilot program because there’s already proof the cameras have made school zones safer. From the week of Dec. 10 to the week of April 22,
the average number of tickets mailed dropped 16 percent, the mayor said in a news release. Of those fined, 96 percent did not reoffend.
Other cities also have seen a decrease in citations over time. Data from both red-light and school-zone speed cameras in Bellevue show the city processed 22,798 citations in 2010, 17,456 in 2011 and 15,038 in 2012, according to the Bellevue Police Department.
However, school-zone speed-camera data from other Washington cities show there can be monthly variations in the number of tickets.
In Longview, for example, traffic citations dipped after January when 185 tickets were mailed out for violations in front of two schools, then rose in May to 205 tickets.
McGinn’s staff acknowledged they based their decision on early data but say they believe the cameras could make schools like Eckstein safer.
Pedestrian accidents were a problem near that school even before a drunken driver struck a mother, her newborn son and her in-laws in late March, according to Jim Curtin, community traffic liaison for the Seattle Department of Transportation. Dennis and Judy Schulte were killed, and their daughter-in-law and grandson face a long recovery.
In the past year, four other children — none seriously injured — were struck by vehicles near Eckstein.
“There’s a lot of speeding and distraction that’s putting kids at risk,” Curtin said. “Children are so small; even if you’re in a compact sedan it’s hard to see them all the time.”
The fixed speed cameras catch violators with two sensors installed in the road. When the sensors recognize a vehicle traveling at more than 20 mph during school hours, a camera atop a flashing school-zone beacon snaps a photo of the vehicle’s license plate.
Seattle police Capt. Mike Nolan
said it’s easier to make an impact on driver behavior with the cameras than with police officers, who have to spend five to 10 minutes on each violator they pull over.
“One of the biggest bonuses for the Police Department with these fixed speed cameras is they are a huge force multiplier,” Nolan said. “You’re getting a much larger group of violators.”
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.