Bill to expand camera enforcement introduced in Olympia

Earlier today, state legislators introduced a bill that would allow the City of Seattle to expand the use of cameras to enforce traffic laws, a priority for the city as it works to keep traffic on its downtown streets flowing.

Currently under state law, automated camera enforcement may only be used for stoplight violations, railroad crossings, and school zone speed violations. The bill introduced today would allow their use to be expanded to:

  • cars stopped mid-intersection or blocking crosswalks;
  • cars in transit-only lanes;
  • cars blocking emergency response vehicle entry or exit areas;
  • cars in public-transit boarding areas such as bus stops.

This is high on the city’s legislative agenda. It wants to ramp up enforcement to keep traffic flowing (particularly buses) on the city’s busiest streets, but it knows that having police officers pulling cars over to ticket them often creates blockages in the process of deterring them, creates safety issues for officers, and can cause erratic behavior by other drivers when they see a car pulled over.

At a briefing in Council member O’Brien’s committee two weeks ago, SDOT staff said that installing a camera costs about $10,000, but then the revenues generated from tickets covers the ongoing operational costs — and then some. SDOT staff declined to weigh in on what additional revenues should be used for.

Notably absent from the bill is authorization to enforce cars blocking bicycle lanes. I asked O’Brien after the briefing about that; he said that it was not part of the legislation but that he would “think about it.”

If the state bill passes, the city will need to pass its own ordinance to move forward with expanding camera enforcement. City staff estimated that could happen by May or June, with the first pilot of new cameras in the first or second quarter of 2020. The city even has a plan for where the first five cameras might go:

The House version of the bill has been referred to the Transportation Committee.