Revived Seattle block the box bill continues to gather momentum
The Senate Transportation Committee has advanced a bill that would allow Seattle to use automated traffic safety enforcement cameras to nab drivers blocking crosswalks and intersections, or transit-only lanes.
The bill was requested by Seattle city leaders, including Mayor Durkan and Councilmember Mike O’Brien. The city wants to expand the use of the cameras to enforce those blocking drivers, but needs the state’s approval to do so, hence the bill from Democratic Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon.
The bill was presumed dead when it missed a key cut off deadline earlier in the legislative session, but Fitzgibbon managed to revive it by adding a provision that puts revenue from the camera tickets into a state highway safety fund.
The new bill is significantly stripped down from the original version. In its current form, violators would only be issued warnings until 2020. After January 1 of that year, citations would then be issued for anyone committing their second and/or subsequent offense after that date.
At Wednesday’s Senate Transportation Committee hearing, Captain Sean O’Donnell with SPD’s traffic division told lawmakers that cameras will be a huge help in enforcing these traffic laws.
“The violations this bill addresses can currently only be addressed by a law enforcement officer who personally witnesses the violation. Ultimately, the goal of enforcement is not to issue citations — it is to change behavior. At many of our most congested locations, meaningful behavior change may be temporarily affected through emphasis patrols, but emphasis patrols as well as singular on-viewed violations create their own hazards,” O’Donnell explained.
O’Donnell stressed that among other things, emphasis patrols are resource intensive, and require moving officers off of their regular patrol duties, and away from being able to respond to other traffic issues like crashes.
He said writing tickets or giving warnings in person also clogs up city streets, since officers generally have to make those stops in busy traffic lanes, which can also be a safety issue in and of itself.
Then there is the issue of officer safety, which O’Donnell said cannot be overstated.
“Every year, officers are seriously injured or killed when struck be vehicles while they’re engaged with stopped motorists,” O’Donnell said.
Jeff DeBeer with the Washington Trucking Association wasn’t totally opposed, but expressed some concerns on behalf of the organization.
“We agree with the underlying policy, but with the automated enforcement I think it imposes some problems that a camera just can’t see,”DeVere explained.
“Imagine a truck — which is fairly long — has to have enough room when they cross that intersection so they don’t block it. So they’ll stay on one side of the intersection, wait until there is enough room and then of course when they start moving forward, two cars jump into that area so they’re stuck in the middle of that intersection, and no there’s a photo taken of the license plate without having that background, or that discretion that an on-the-scene officer would have to use that judgment,” DeVere added, offering to work with lawmakers on a potential exemption for truckers, at least during peak hours.
Anti-tax activist Tim Eyman spoke against the bill.
“I just hate ticketing cameras. Voters hate ticketing cameras. Conservatives hate ticketing cameras. Progressives hate ticketing cameras,” Eyman exclaimed.
“It’s basically taxation through citation,” Eyman added.
However, Anna Zivarts with a group associated with Disability Rights Washington told lawmakers this was about public safety, especially for those in wheelchairs, who can’t finish crossing the street if their ramp is blocked.
“When drivers block intersections and curb ramps, they are not only making crossing difficult for pedestrians — they are also putting our lives at risk,” she explained,
Zivarts pointed to a Georgetown University study finding that those in wheelchairs were 33 percent more likely to be killed by drivers than other pedestrians, and that more than half of those deaths occur at intersections.
With the bill now advanced out of the Senate Transportation Committee, Democratic Chair Steve Hobbs noted it was still a work in progress.