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Drivers face photo-enforced school zones and more red light cameras in Federal Way

Panther Lake Elementary crossing guard Bev Duncan waves a flag and gives hand motions May 14 to motorists who are speeding through the school zone. The school is one of three that could see speed-detecting cameras replace police patrols by late summer. - Jacinda Howard/The Mirror
Panther Lake Elementary crossing guard Bev Duncan waves a flag and gives hand motions May 14 to motorists who are speeding through the school zone. The school is one of three that could see speed-detecting cameras replace police patrols by late summer.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

Speed-detecting cameras in school zones — and more red light photo cameras — could be in place by late summer.

The city is looking to expand its red light photo enforcement program by adding two cameras at the South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South intersection to cover the north and south approaches; a camera at the South 312th Street and Pacific Highway South intersection; and three automated photo speed enforcement cameras in three school zones.

The program's existing four cameras — located at South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South, and at South 348th Street and Pacific Highway South — generate revenue and compliance from motorists who may otherwise run red lights.

"We're convinced the technology has made the intersections safer," interim police chief Andy Hwang said.

Two more cameras on South 320th Street will take the intersection's total count to four: One to cover each of its approaches. Based on vehicle accident study, South 312th Street experiences several motorists running red lights daily, Cmdr. Stan McCall said. Many of the violators are not simply failing to stop before taking a free right-hand turn, but proceeding straight through the intersection, he said. The statistic is why the city is contemplating placing a camera at the location.

Camera-enforced school zones

The speed-detecting cameras may be placed at Southwest 320th Street near Twin Lakes Elementary, 4400 S.W. 320th St.; 21st Avenue South near Saghalie Middle School, 33914 19th Ave. S.W.; and 1st Avenue South near Panther Lake Elementary, 34424 1st Ave. S.

The locations were selected based on the number of speeding violations documented in the school zones, McCall said.

"Clearly, this technology is very efficient," Hwang said. "We do get a lot of complaints from parents about speeding in school zones."

The cameras calculate motion, distance and speed, McCall said. The cameras can detect violators traveling at speeds in excess of 60 mph, according to a memo provided by interim city manager Brian Wilson. The cameras will be activated by the school zone's flashing lights or set on a timer. Only violations during school hours will be captured.

School zone speeding tickets range from $189 to $784. However, state statutes may classify camera-issued tickets separately than school zone tickets, costing the speeder less than a ticket issued by an officer, McCall said.

Compliance, rather than revenue, is the goal for the cameras, he said.

"The threat of receiving a ticket really does get people's compliance," Hwang said.

Like red-light enforcement cameras, speed-detecting cameras photograph the license plate of the vehicle committing the violation. Tickets are sent to the registered owner of the vehicle. An online link to view a 12-second video of the offense is provided. Officers will review the data provided by the cameras to ensure a violation took place prior to a ticket being issued, according to the memo.

Reviewing videos is estimated to take 100 to 120 hours per month, and will be documented as police overtime hours, according to the memo. The increased cost is expected to be covered by the revenue the red light and speed-detecting cameras bring in, according to the memo. The speed enforcement cameras will free up police to patrol other areas of the city, Wilson said.

Budget impacts

Operating the 10-camera program is estimated to cost $49,000 per month, according to the memo. The city's existing four cameras are gleaning an average of $61,900 per month, according to the memo.

"We'd look for this program to be self-supporting," Wilson said.

Utilizing the extra cameras will impact the Federal Way Municipal Court and its ability to handle the increased number of tickets and the court appearances that could accompany them. Wilson said he plans to have a conversation with the court staff about expanding the red light photo enforcement program.

"The purpose of this entire program has got to be public safety," city council member Mike Park said.

The city council is scheduled to vote on the program's expansion at 7 p.m. May 19 at its regularly scheduled meeting at City Hall, 33325 8th Avenue S.

Check it out

The red light photo enforcement pilot program began in August 2008. The first 30 days of the program were considered a testing period, in which red light violators were not issued a ticket. Since October, the program has continually created revenue for the city. Through March of this year, motorists running red lights and caught on camera have generated $212,929 in city revenue, according to the memo provided by interim city manager Brian Wilson.

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