After months of traffic counts and warnings to drivers passing through school zones, the Spokane City Council agreed to put automated cameras near three Spokane schools to nab speeders.
By a vote of 6-1, with Councilman Mike Fagan dissenting, the council agreed to have cameras monitor vehicle speeds near Finch, Longfellow and Stevens elementary schools.
The cameras, which will act and look much like the city’s red-light cameras, will be mounted near signs and have flashing yellow lights warning drivers of the 20 mph speed limit.
Cameras will be in place near Finch and Longfellow by the beginning of the school year in August. Implementation at Stevens will take longer. The cameras will only operate during posted hours in the morning and afternoon.
Teresa Fuller, a police department spokeswoman, said the city will imitate its red-light program, following similar procedures and using American Traffic Solutions to operate the school zone cameras, the same company that administers the red-light program.
“We’ll still do a 30-day warning period, just like we did with the red-light cameras,” Fuller said. “If the City Council decides to go forward with more intersections, each new camera will have a 30-day warning period.”
There are a handful of other Washington cities that have a school zone camera program, and Fuller said Spokane would likely follow their lead in setting a threshold for tickets between 26 and 28 mph. Speeders will be fined between $222 and $796 depending on their speed.
Fuller said the tickets would be more like parking tickets than moving violations, so infractions would not affect insurance rates or be linked to a driver’s license record. She also noted the program would be self-sufficient.
“There’s no taxpayer money funding these programs. The violators pay for the program,” she said. “The only people that pay for these programs are the ones running the red lights and speeding near schools.”
Councilman Jon Snyder said the city was “not trying to trap folks.”
“We’re only doing it where there are 20 mph flashing lights. And then we’re only doing it twice a day,” he said. He pointed to the long public process that has led to the program, and noted that more remains, including how revenue generated by the program would be spent.
Kevin Morrison, spokesman for Spokane Public Schools, said the district supported the program and hoped the revenue would be put back into programs increasing traffic safety and calming near the schools, such as Safe Routes to Schools. He pointed to a state law that says 50 percent of fines collected from speed infractions in school zones go to “improve school zone safety, pupil transportation safety, and student safety in school bus loading and unloading areas.”
“That would be the ideal,” he said. “Anything we can do to increase the walkability of our schools is great.”
Morrison said the schools would not do any outreach to parents about the cameras, but reasoned if they weren’t following the law, they would soon enough.
“I think that street signage or the fine, whatever comes first, will be enough,” he said.