A bill to let Seattle use automated cameras to catch drivers blocking crosswalks and bus lanes won approval in the Washington State House Monday evening, reviving an effort that appeared dead just a month ago.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, passed the House 57-41 and now heads to the state Senate.
“The only way that we can move more people from West Seattle, which I represent, to downtown Seattle, where the jobs are, is on transit,” Fizgibbon said. “Those transit lanes can’t operate when people are driving in them and they’re violating the rules of the road.”
The vote was largely along party lines, with Republicans raising concerns about drivers traveling from outside Seattle who may be confused by the city’s traffic laws.
Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, said the tickets would “have the effect of being a regressive tax borne by people driving in Seattle not from Seattle who aren’t accustomed to Seattle’s shoddy road conditions and confusing street signage.”
Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, who called driving in downtown Seattle “an absolute nightmare,” said the bill “penalizes those of us from the country.”
Under the bill, Seattle could use cameras like those already in use at some red lights and school zones to ticket drivers illegally using bus-only lanes or blocking crosswalks on some city streets.
Supporters say cars in bus lanes delay the transit more people are depending on and blocking crosswalks puts people using wheelchairs in harm’s way. The disability rights advocacy group Rooted in Rights, the Transportation Choices Coalition, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration and the Seattle City Council lobbied for the bill.
Rooted in Rights program director Anna Zivarts said pushback against the bill was often framed from a “windshield perspective.”
“From a driver’s perspective, it’s just one little mistake, just one little misjudgement … But from the perspective of a pedestrian, your life is at risk. There is no way to safely roll or walk across the street,” Zivarts said by email.
Durkan praised the vote Monday evening. Traffic cameras would “free up resources to allow Seattle Police Department officers to address other public safety needs in our city, and reduce the significant risks they face when enforcing our traffic laws,” Durkan said in a statement.
Under the bill, the cameras would be allowed under a pilot program that would run through 2021. The program would begin with a grace period offering warnings but no penalty until January 2020. Then, drivers would get a warning on their first violation. In Seattle, bus-lane and crosswalk violations carry a $136 penalty.
The cameras could only be used in and near downtown and on certain roads that travel into and out of downtown or connect to roads that do. The city would send half the money collected from the tickets to the state. Directing money to the state allowed the bill to return from the dead after missing a key legislative deadline last month.
Along with bus lanes and crosswalks, the cameras could be used to issue violations for stopping in certain areas restricted for emergency response vehicles and people boarding public transportation. Commercial trucks delivering goods in bus lanes between midnight and 5 a.m. would get a warning only.
Privacy concerns from the ACLU of Washington helped stall an earlier attempt. The ACLU worried about a separate bill moving through the Legislature that would have allowed police to use traffic-camera photos for criminal investigations. Today, photos from the cameras can only be used for the applicable traffic rules and tolls.
Fitzgibbon said the ACLU was involved in crafting the latest iteration as a compromise. The group did not respond to a request for comment.
All nine members of the Seattle City Council said in a letter to the ACLU that they opposed broader use of the cameras and, if data from the cameras was used “for other surveillance or police purposes,” Seattle would discontinue its use of the cameras.