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Photo enforcement in Federal Way gets the green light through 2013

A sign alerts motorists to photo enforcement at the corner of Pacific Highway South and South 320th Street in Federal Way. - Mirror file photo
A sign alerts motorists to photo enforcement at the corner of Pacific Highway South and South 320th Street in Federal Way.
— image credit: Mirror file photo

Federal Way will continue to use photo enforcement cameras into 2013.

On July 20, the city council unanimously approved renewing and extending the city's contract with Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS). Council member Roger Freeman was absent.

The company's cameras capture photos and take brief videos of red light and school speed zone violations. The city has contracted with ATS for the cameras since 2008. Use of photo enforcement has generated mixed reactions from the public. Local leaders say the cameras make the city's intersections and school zones safer.

"I know that a lot of people have a problem with the red light cameras," mayor Linda Kochmar said. "Part of the problem is, how do you improve the situation? This really was effective."

Camera locations

Eleven cameras are used in Federal Way. Seven red-light cameras are located at three intersections.

• Four cameras monitor the South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South intersection.

• Two cameras are located at the South 348th Street and Enchanted Parkway South crossing.

• One camera photographs red light runners at South 312th Street and Pacific Highway South.

Four speed violation cameras are located in school zones.

• Cameras are placed at Twin Lakes Elementary, 4400 S.W. 320th St.

• Cameras are also at 21st Avenue Southwest, near Saghalie Middle School and Fred Meyer.

The city began photo enforcement in January 2008. Two cameras each were placed at the South 320th Street and South 348th Street intersections. An eight-month warning period ensued before the cameras began photographing violators that September. That year, a total of 4,154 tickets were issued, according to police records.

In 2009, the program was expanded. Two more cameras were placed at the South 320th Street/Pacific Highway South intersection, and cameras were introduced to the two school zones. One camera was installed at the South 312th Street location. A total of 12,318 tickets were issued, according to police records.

Revenue generator

The cameras usher in much-needed revenue for the City of Federal Way. Red light infractions typically cost $124. School zone speeding infractions vary in price.

In 2009, the city netted $849,277 from the program, according to city records. As of May 2010, the city has gathered a net revenue of $445,871 from the cameras this year.

The money goes to the Traffic Safety Fund, which pays for traffic safety, compliance, education, prevention and enforcement, finance director Tho Kraus said in an e-mail. Ongoing allocations include $450,000 to police operations, $50,000 to municipal court operations and $330,000 to traffic division operations, she said.

"The whole purpose is simply to improve what was happening at our intersections," Kochmar said.

Public response

The cameras are controversial. In June 2009, Federal Way and 17 other Washington cities were named in a class action lawsuit due to their use of photo enforcement cameras. The lawsuit was brought by eight individuals claiming the cities charged too much for the photo enforcement tickets. In March, U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour dismissed the lawsuit.

Police records show collision rates at South 320th Street/Pacific Highway South and South 348th Street/ Enchanted Parkway have wavered since cameras were installed. Records for the South 312th location were not available. Despite public complaints, records show rear-end collisions at the intersections have not dramatically increased since photo enforcement began. From 2005 to present, they account for around 40 percent of collisions at the two intersections.

• In 2005, there were a total of 95 collisions; rear-end collisions accounted for 35.

• In 2006, 102 collisions took place; of these, 43 were rear-end incidents.

• In 2007, 73 collisions occurred and 29 were rear-end collisions.

• In 2008, the year the red light photo program began, 58 collisions, 28 of them rear-end incidents, were documented.

• In 2009, which brought additional cameras to the system, 101 collisions were documented. Rear-end collisions accounted for 41 of those.

• Through April this year, 22 collisions, eight of them rear-end collisions, have taken place at the two crossings. Police expect around 66 total collisions by year's end.

Rules of the road

Red light and speeding violations are documented with ATS and reviewed by Federal Way police before motorists are issued a ticket.

Infractions are not issued unless a driver enters a photo-enforced intersection after the signal has turned red, or is speeding in a school zone during hours in which children are typically present. Signs and warning signals alert motorists to the cameras.

To escape a ticket, motorists must make a full stop before crossing into the crosswalk or intersection. They must also fully stop before making a right-hand turn. Most of the complaints about the cameras are regarding tickets issued for failure to come to a full stop before turning right, Kochmar said.

The enforcement cameras record a 12-second video of each violation. The video does not capture the face of the driver. ATS sends violators their ticket, with a link to the video. The driver can then personally view the violation.

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