EVERETT — A decade after shelving a plan to install traffic-enforcement cameras, the idea is resurfacing in Everett.
In 2009, the city was set to install the devices at four intersections and outside one school in south Everett, issuing tickets starting at $124 each. A $2 million, five-year contract for seven cameras was authorized before the city put the project on hold as a legal challenge to red-light cameras was making its way through King County Superior Court.
By the time the courts dismissed the lawsuit, the city had lost interest, said Ryan Sass, Everett’s director of public works.
Councilmember Brenda Stonecipher revived the idea after hearing complaints from residents about erratic driving and near misses with pedestrians. The proposal is working its way through the council’s public safety committee.
“We have way more distracted drivers now who aren’t quite paying attention and that’s really the scary part,” Councilmember Judy Tuohy said.
During a recent committee meeting, staff pointed to a study that showed cities with the cameras experienced 21% fewer fatal collisions caused by running a red light. But interestingly, if removed, the number of these deadly accidents increased by 30% — more than they initially went down. That uptick could just be temporary, Sass said. He emphasized the safety aspect during the meeting, citing studies that show cities with cameras are trading higher risk collisions for a few rear end accidents.
“Which is a trade a traffic engineer is always going to want to make,” Sass added.
Not everyone is convinced traffic cameras are simply a safety program, but also a way for cities to generate revenue.
Last year in Lynnwood, the only city in Snohomish County with traffic-enforcement cameras, the controversial devices generated $3.4 million in revenue. The city deploys 12 red-light and four school-zone speed cameras. Years ago, after repeated questions and records requests from The Daily Herald, leaders at City Hall and the police department admitted they had become dependent on the camera cash flow.
Monroe deactivated its traffic-enforcement cameras in 2014, citing concerns about litigation.
Red-light cameras take two pictures of vehicles and records a few seconds of video. Images can only be taken of the rear license plate, according to Tim Miller, a traffic engineer.
Near schools, cameras use radar to measure speeds of passing vehicles. Multiple pictures are captured, which must include a view of the flashing lights on the school zone sign.
A police officer then reviews the footage before a fine is mailed out. Akin to a parking ticket, the violations are not reported to insurance companies. Penalties cannot surpass current parking fines, and would likely run between $124 to $250, according to the city.
The revenue can only go toward covering the cost of the photo enforcement program or traffic safety improvements, which could include enhancements to crosswalks and signals or traffic safety emphasis enforcement.
The camera vendor charges $4,750 for each device per month and cannot share in the revenue made from tickets.
The seven locations chosen in 2009 were mostly in south Everett. At that time, it was estimated the city could gross as much as $1 million in fines during the first year.
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