City to make changes to traffic camera program

The City of Renton is preparing to make some changes to its photo enforcement program, including setting cameras at three additional elementary schools and at the intersection of Benson and Petrovitsky, for red-light emphasis.

The City Council's Public Safety Committee on Monday heard a report from Clark Wilcox, commander of Renton Police Department's Patrol Services Division on the changes.

The city is looking to add school-zone cameras at Honey Dew Elementary on Union Avenue Northeast, Cascade Elementary School on 116th Avenue Southeast and Benson Hill Elementary, also on 116th Avenue Southeast.

According to studies completed by American Traffic Solutions, the company that handles the city's traffic camera contract, 19 percent of the 1,123 vehicles that passed through the Honey Dew school zone during the morning commute were traveling faster than 26 mph in the 20 mph zone. In the afternoon, it jumped to 23 percent of cars speeding through the zone.

"I was shocked when I received Honey Dew's (statistics)," Wilcox said.

At Cascade, 30 percent of the 723 cars in the morning and 29 percent of the 658 cars in the afternoon sped through the school zone.

At Benson Hill the numbers were even higher, with 37 percent of the 570 vehicles speeding in the morning and 31 percent of the 691 in the afternoon.

The study also looked at the areas in front of Highlands Elementary School and Sierra Heights Elementary, but Wilcox said the low number of violations at those two schools – due primarily to the high level of congestion through those areas – would not pay for cost of the cameras and therefore the Police Department is not recommending installing any there.

The police are also requesting a small amount of money – up to $6,000 – to place additional flashing lights around the camera at Talbot Hill. Wilcox said a common defense in the courts against the cameras is that the driver did not see the flashing lights, which are only on during certain parts of the day.

The idea behind the new lights, said Wilcox, is so that they will show up on the video reviewed by the courts so the judge will be able to see the lights flashing as the car drives through the zone.

Along with the school-zone changes, the city is also recommending a new red light camera at the Benson Road/Petrovisky Road/Southeast Carr Road intersection.

During a one-day study by the city and ATS,  tCity conhere were 47 red light violations at that intersection.

In addition to adding the new cameras, the city is proposing to remove the camera from South Second Street in front of Renton High School, which would be replaced with additional patrols, as Wilcox said the issue there is less speeding and more jaywalking and student issues.

According to statistics provided by the police, the Renton High camera nets 45 vehicles per day.

Wilcox did say the police would expect the speeding numbers to drop precipitously after the cameras were installed, as has been the case at all other locations, meaning the cameras are working to make people slow down.

The changes should not cost the city any additional money, according to Chief Kevin Milosevich. In an email, Milosevich said the cost of each of the cameras will be made up by the revenues they create.

During the committee meeting, Milosevich said the revenues form the cameras currently help fund several programs, including more than $1 million per year for the Police Department's traffic division.

But along with the revenue that makes it to the city, there are still more than $2.8 million dollars in outstanding collections.

Councilman Don Persson, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said he would like to see any additional revenue from the cameras go not into youth programs, as suggested by the police, but into attempts to collect the rest of the money the city is owed.

Part of the issue is that ATS databases do not link with the state Department of Licensing so no holds can be placed on plate renewals if the fines go unpaid, like they are for parking tickets, for example.

City Administrator Jay Covington also said the city is "beginning to explore" the possibility of bringing the traffic cameras in-house, but warned the cost to the city of administering the program may outweigh the benefits.

A committee report was generated and approved by the council to allow the police to move forward, but the item was held in committee to allow for continuing updates. The new school cameras are expected to be in place for the beginning of the school year in September.

While the changes should cost the city no additional money and may bring in increased revenues, they certainly should make the school zones safer, according to Wilcox.

"That's my whole goal," Wilcox said. "Protect our children, protect our citizens."

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