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Updated Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 11:31 PM

Warning: Cameras catch 6,000 speeders near 4 Seattle schools

By Alexa Vaughn
Seattle Times staff reporter

Mayor Mike McGinn said he expected traffic cameras near four Seattle schools to catch a lot of speeding drivers when the devices went live Nov. 1.

But almost 6,000 in less than a month?

"We were surprised," McGinn said.

Because there were so many speeders, the warning-citation period that was to end this week has been extended to Monday, Dec. 10, he said. From that day on, the registered owners of vehicles caught driving faster than 20 mph in those school zones while beacons are flashing will receive a $189 ticket in the mail.

Cameras have been installed in front of Broadview-Thomson K-8 School on Greenwood Avenue North, near Thurgood Marshall Elementary on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, Gatewood Elementary on Fauntleroy Avenue Southwest and Olympic View Elementary on Fifth Avenue Northeast.

If drivers keep exceeding the speed limit in the numbers they did in November, the city of Seattle could collect between $2 million and $4 million in ticket revenue a year, McGinn said.

But bolstering the city budget is not the goal of the speed-camera pilot project, he said.

"Our goal is not to write tickets, it's to reduce speed," McGinn said.

Ways to invest ticket revenue above what the city projected for 2013 — $800,000 — into engineering and public-safety improvements at Seattle schools are being explored, according to the Mayor's Office.

The city pays American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company that owns and maintains the eight cameras, $38,000 per month for the automated speed-camera pilot program, according to the mayor's office. ATS will send out tickets after a Seattle police officer has signed off on the evidence for each one.

Residents near some of the school-zone cameras, as well as some drivers, say they have noticed a few glitches.

One day this month, a camera near Olympic View Elementary flashed whenever anyone speeding at any time of day passed it, said Kristin Baldwin, who lives nearby. She couldn't stand in her living room or bedroom without getting a migraine, she said, because of the incessant camera flashes.

"It was like living at a disco," said Baldwin, who said she got less than two hours sleep the night the camera went berserk.

The next day, after Baldwin complained, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) fixed the camera, and it hasn't been much of a nuisance since, she said.

Seattle police say the cameras are recording all day, but drivers will be ticketed for speeding only when the school-zone beacons are flashing — times when children are most likely to be walking to and from school. Like red-light cameras at some intersections, the camera shoots a picture of the license plate.

The speed-camera pilot project is scheduled to end June 30, 2013, unless the City Council decides to extend it. Before approving any more cameras, the City Council will release a report by June 7 detailing how effective the cameras have been in improving safety.

If the pilot program proves successful, McGinn and City Council members have said, they would like to see cameras added to more school zones.

Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or avaughn@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.

Information

Camera problems? Malfunctions can be reported to SDOT at 206-684-7623.


ELLEN M. BANNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Lights from a speed camera blink near a school-zone crossing on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South in Seattle. Cameras have been installed at four school zones and speeders will start being ticketed $189 by mail Dec. 10.




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