Urban Politics #253: Speed Cameras and Pedestrian Saftey


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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.
With assistance from my Legislative Assistant Lisa Herbold.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

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CONTENTS:  

  • SPEED CAMERAS AND PEDESTRIAN SAFETY
  • OTHER POSSIBLE STRATEGIES FOR REDUCING SPEED IN SCHOOL ZONES
  • COUNCIL’S MOBILE VAN PHOTO SPEED ENFORCEMENT PROPOSAL

 

SPEED CAMERAS AND PEDESTRIAN SAFETY

In the Seattle City Council’s Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee on April 1, the Council got some good news about one of its 2008 budget proposals.

The 2005 Washington State Legislature has authorized the use of photo detection to enforce speed limits in school zones. The same year they also authorized red-light camera enforcement. As Public Safety Committee Chair, I led the City Council to quickly use this authority (See Urban Politics 243).Last Fall, the Council included $176,000 in the 2008 Budget for a pilot program designed to test the effectiveness of using photo detection to abate speeds in school zones. Before using the Council 2008 budget funding, the Mayor directed the Seattle Police Department (SPD) to consider other approaches of speed enforcement in school zones to accomplish the same purpose. SPD considered four options, including the Council’s Mobile Van Photo Speed Enforcement proposal.

OTHER POSSIBLE STRATEGIES FOR REDUCING SPEED IN SCHOOL ZONES

  • SPD Emphasis of speed enforcement requires two or more Traffic or Motorcycle Unit officers, with hand-held radar sets to detect and document violations. Officers can only deal with one motorist at any given time. Other motorists in the area who might be in violation of the limit will likely not be stopped or cited.
  • Flashing traffic beacons are currently at 28 schools and accompanied by signs that advise motorists that the ‘speed limit [is] 20 when flashing or when children are present.’ A test of the effectiveness of beacons will be done later this year.
  • Radar Speed Boards are located at six arterial locations with heavy traffic volumes. Another 10 will be on line later in 2008. These boards allow the motorist to see the recorded speed of the vehicle as it approaches the sign. Testing the effectiveness in reducing speeds will also occur late 2008. The City estimates that radar boards have resulted in a 3 to 5 mph speed reduction. Radar boards are not currently used in school zones because Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) doesn’t want them placed near marked crosswalks or other traffic signals/signs in school zone because they might confuse or distract oncoming motorists. This policy may yet be re-examined.

Both Flashing Traffic Beacons and Radar boards still require police speed enforcement emphasis teams to be effective.

COUNCIL’S MOBILE VAN PHOTO SPEED ENFORCEMENT PROPOSAL

I was pleased to learn that after a review of these options SPD agreed with the Council that using a camera in a Mobile Speed Van is the best approach. How it works is that an officer sits in a parked van equipped with radar and camera. Citations are mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle after the fact. Officers may later be called upon to testify in Court.Unlike the other 3 options, multiple speeding vehicles can be ticketed because the officer remains in the van and does not pull over any of the subject motorists. Additionally, the van can be moved to different speeding hot spots, as long as they are in school zones. The research shows that mobile speed vans reduce vehicle speeds and crashes in the areas they are used.

Although the use of cameras for traffic law enforcement can be controversial, the reception for use of camera enforcement of speed limits to keep children safe around schools is among the most accepted uses.

The cost for a speed van initiative, including overtime for officer staffing of the van and a data gathering/research component, was set at $176,000 for the 2008 pilot passed by Council. The Green Sheet authorizing the program included the following statement:
“Of the appropriation for the Seattle Police Department’s Traffic Enforcement BCL, $176,000 is appropriated solely for development and implementation of a Speed Enforcement Van in School Zones Pilot Program and may be spent for no other purpose.”

If the mayor agrees with the Council and SPD, a vendor could be selected as soon as the end of April, with vans in place before the end of the school year.

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