As we’ve examined Lynnwood’s use of traffic-enforcement cameras, city officials have more than once suggested that fairness demands we compare what they’ve been up to with Seattle’s red-light camera operation.
OK, let’s do it.
Details about Seattle’s program are here. About 30 red-light cameras reportedly are watching 21 intersections around Seattle. Lynnwood has about one-third as many cameras. Both communities issue $124 tickets to the owners of cars and trucks that the cameras say have rolled into intersections after the light has turned red.
Lynnwood reported more than $4 million revenue from enforcement-camera tickets in 2010. The city of Seattle anticipates about $4.5 million in camera-ticket revenue this year and about $4.1 million in 2012 (PDF, page 65). That’s correct: Seattle has triple the cameras but reports collecting about the same amount of revenue from camera tickets as does its much smaller sibling 17 miles north on I-5.
I’m not going to speculate about why that is. At this point, I’m just comparing stats found in public records.
Both Seattle and Lynnwood contract with American Traffic Solutions, Inc. Representatives of the Arizona company insist they are in the life-saving business, so much so that the company’s marketing is all about “red-light safety cameras.”
Officials in Lynnwood have long maintained their camera program is about safety as well. When pressed for supporting data, though, they recently acknowledged there haven’t been big drops in traffic collisions at intersections with red-light cameras. Some are down, some have stayed the same and some have recorded upticks. Fewer injury accidents have been tallied but overall the numbers are small — too small, the city acknowledges, to credibly conclude cause and effect.
Seattle police have been careful about claiming big safety impacts from cameras there. An early study in 2007 after the first cameras were installed in Seattle found there simply wasn’t enough data. A second study in 2008 didn’t budge the needle much either, though it reported substantial drops in red-light running at intersections where drivers learned the cameras were present.
Some in Seattle seem convinced they are safer because of the unblinking vigil provided by red-light cameras. One fan recently wondered whether Tim Eyman cares about pedestrian safety, what with his pesky initiatives to press for public votes on camera programs. She didn’t think much of initiative efforts in Monroe, or Eyman’s hometown of Mukilteo, where 71 percent of voters last year decided against red-light cameras. Perhaps Mukilteo voters felt safer having traffic infractions issued by cops on the street rather than from cops parked at desks reviewing photos and video gathered by cameras?
Tickets from red-light cameras reportedly comprised about 15 percent of the $29.9 million in fines taken in by the City of Seattle in 2010.
In Lynnwood, two-thirds of ticket revenue in 2010 — and 75 percent of all the tickets issued– came from traffic cameras. Police there in 2009 spent enough time reviewing camera video and images that they logged the equivalent of an officer working fulltime, 40 hours a week, for half a year.