Every day is now Picture Day for drivers who exploit the marked bus lanes in three Seattle corridors, under a new camera-enforcement program that might spread citywide.

The cameras went live Tuesday on southbound Aurora Avenue at Galer Street, where motorists are tempted to bypass thick traffic near Seattle Center; at Olive Way crossing Fifth Avenue, a mainline for Snohomish County express buses; and on Third Avenue near Stewart Street, the north end of downtown’s bus zone.

Drivers can expect a warning notice for the first violation, followed by a $75 fine for each additional violation.

In the next few weeks, more bus lane cameras are planned for Third Avenue at James Street, and Columbia Street at First Avenue. Other cameras will penalize drivers who “block the box” by occupying an intersection on red where Battery Street crosses Fourth Avenue, where Fourth Avenue meets South Jackson Street, and along Westlake Avenue North through the wide Valley and Roy streets junction.

These missions take camera enforcement beyond its customary roles of catching red-light runners and school-zone speeders.

In early 2021, the city began camera enforcement at the low-rise West Seattle swing bridge, to nab users who weren’t in the allowed categories such as freight, van pools, buses or approved workers such as longshore union members. Currently police mail an average 9,000 fine notices and 6,000 warnings a month, based on low-bridge camera images, said Ethan Bergerson, spokesperson for the Seattle Department of Transportation. Hundreds of other drivers have concealed their license plates to avoid fines, and are occasionally pulled over by traffic police.


Downtown’s new bus lane cameras may surprise some drivers, because three months have passed since SDOT announced them.

SDOT limited them to eight intersections, because transit and “blocking the box” cameras were approved only temporarily by the state Legislature, until mid-2023. A proposed amendment, which passed the House last month, would stretch the pilot project into mid-2025, allowing Seattle more leeway and locations. Cameras plus operating costs, paid to a private supplier, have been estimated at $48,000 each per year.

Because of the 2023 time frame, the city chose not to install enforcement cameras at Mercer Street, the most notorious place where intersections become gridlocked. Cameras there would have required new utility poles and wiring at significant expense.

Half the revenue will go into state walk-bike safety projects, and half is budgeted by SDOT for accessible signals that make noise or vibrate, aiding blind pedestrians. New cameras are expected to yield $1.4 million this year, though Bergerson said SDOT can’t make an accurate estimate until after they’re turned on. That amount, combined with $500,000 in other city funds, could pay for 35 to 40 accessible signals, he said.