It’s a race against time, as drivers know too well. Also in this Q&A, we follow up on the Seattle red-light camera program that officials rolled out more than a decade ago.
While reading at a West Seattle coffee shop, Dave Brewer left his car parked curbside longer than the two-hour posted limit.
But not wanting to leave the shop completely, he wondered just how far he could move his Subaru and return, while still following the city’s parking-enforcement rules.
“One space? The next block?,” Brewer, 56, asked Traffic Lab. “Also, could I just circle the block and return to the same parking space? Or, do I have make sure to leave that spot for a specific time?”
Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.
In this week’s Q&A, we answer that question, as well as follow up on a traffic-camera program Seattle rolled out more than a decade ago.
Here it goes:
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A. First of all, good luck circling a block and returning to a still-open parking space in Seattle.
But even if you’re successful, you’re breaking the rules.
According to Seattle Municipal Code, “No person shall move and repark a vehicle on either side of a street within the same block in order to avoid a parking time-limit regulation specified for either side of the street in that particular block.”
In other words, you can’t just move one space over or return to the same spot, according to city code.
After staying parked in a new spot off the block for a while, though, you should be OK to return to the original space, according to Seattle police spokesman Patrick Michaud.
The next obvious question: How do officers enforce that rule?
“The answer is, it’s difficult,” Michaud wrote in an email. “But Parking Enforcement Officers (PEO’s) have a decidedly low tech way of tracking this. Chalk.”
The officers mark the tires of vehicles that are closing in on their parking time, and they’ll check if the chalk is in the same spot when they return later, he said. If so, the driver could get a ticket, which cost at least $44.
So, do officers regularly catch vehicles that have moved to adjust with a time-limited zone, though they’re still on the same block?
“They sure do. I totally got a ticket for this while I was going to college a couple of years back,” Michaud wrote. “It happens.”
Q: What evaluation or report was ever released on the effectiveness of the photo-enforcement program instituted a few years ago at a number of Seattle intersections?
— J. D., Seattle
A. It’s called the City of Seattle Traffic Safety Camera Pilot Project Final Evaluation Report, dated December 2007 — sexy, right? Nothing like a 16-page Microsoft Word document for great springtime reading.
For those not sold on reading it themselves, we’ve got your backs.
Thirty-one red-light traffic cameras currently operate 24/7 at 23 intersections throughout Seattle, chosen by city officials in part for their history of accidents.
That total grew from a smaller batch officials tested during a one-year pilot project that launched in 2006, which the report analyzes.
Red-light violations fell by half, though the number of accidents stayed about the same during the pilot, the report says. Fewer of those crashes, however, caused significant injuries.
The cameras take photos and video from behind a violator’s vehicle, capturing both its license plate, the traffic lights and surrounding cars and pedestrians.
An Arizona-based vendor reviews the footage, and then sends evidence of violations to Seattle police. Officers will issue $124 tickets to a vehicle’s registered owner. The infractions don’t go on your driving record.
Between 2014 and 2016, red-light cameras issued a total of 101,845 citations, some of which came via Seattle police’s traffic-camera van, according to Seattle Municipal Court records.
The intersections with the devices are listed on the department’s website.
Don’t confuse those red-light cameras, though, with ones that monitor for speeding in school zones across Seattle.
They enforce a speed limit of 20 mph during busy morning and afternoon times, operating roughly two hours each weekday during the school calendar, according to Seattle Department of Transportation.
Beyond Seattle, 21 cities across Washington use red-light, speeding cameras or both, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, while more than 420 nationwide use red-light programs and about 140 use speeding cameras.
Those numbers, though, are continually changing.
As some communities add programs, touting public safety, others in recent years have ended theirs amid criticism from those who say the devices are primarily designed to raise money through traffic tickets.
And Washington isn’t immune to the controversy.
Years ago, anti-tax activist Tim Eyman organized a citizen-led push to ban red-light cameras in several cities across the state, including Bellingham and Monroe, through local citizen initiatives. The state Supreme Court, however, ruled that only city and county officials can decide whether to use the technology, as per state law.
Got a question?
If you have a question or idea for Traffic Lab, send it to email@example.com. We may feature it in an upcoming column.