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Tuesday, September 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Fagan calls school camera article “blatantly false and misleading”

In today's paper, we had an article about speed cameras going up near three Spokane elementary schools.

The cameras, which were approved by the Spokane City Council Monday evening, will act and look much like the city’s red-light cameras, and will be mounted on or near signs that have flashing yellow lights warning drivers of the 20 mph speed limit. The cameras will be in place near Finch and Longfellow schools by the beginning of the school year in August. A third school, Stevens Elementary, will get its cameras a bit later. At all three locations, the cameras will only operate during posted hours in the morning and afternoon.

Councilman Mike Fagan, the sole council member to vote against the proposal, emailed the paper this morning suggesting the article misled readers. His criticisms were focused only on the story's initial paragraph, which read:

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.

Fagan called the line "blatantly false and misleading," specifically the part about traffic counts and warnings, and asked for a correction. We will not run a correction, but below we will clarify the story's lede paragraph.

His first criticism was about the traffic counts. Those counts were done in November and February, and we reported on both.

We reported on the February counts in March, writing:

On a recent day in February, 84 percent of drivers heading southeast on the road during posted “slow” hours were clocked at more than 26 mph – 6 mph over the 20 mph speed. If a police officer had written a ticket for each of the 438 people who sped that day, the $210 tickets would total at least $90,000.

The traffic counts in November came before a December story we wrote. In that article, Spokane Police Officer Teresa Fuller said the schools were chosen in part with the guidance of police "crash data," and that "speed studies" were being conducted.

Fuller said the areas around Longfellow and Finch are “high-impact corridors,” but the city is still conducting speed studies to see how many cameras are needed and in what configuration.

Fagan also took exception with the phrase "warnings to drivers" in today's story. This clause could be construed as meaning citations were handed out to drivers, though the article never said as much and in fact later pointed out a 30-day warning period would precede any citations being given. But, Fagan is correct in suggesting it could have been more clear.

Citations were not handed out. Instead, the story referred to the year-long public discussion of the topic, which came before the City Council at numerous meetings, and appeared in various local media a number of times.

We first reported on the idea of speed cameras in school zones in April 2014, when we wrote:

Motorists speeding through school zones could be the next target of Spokane’s push into automated traffic enforcement cameras.

With statistics suggesting red-light cameras have helped improve safety at intersections, while also hauling in millions of dollars in fines, Spokane now wants to know more about automated speed cameras that state lawmakers have authorized for use in school and road construction zones. Seattle and Tacoma already are using them.

At the time, we wrote that a "spirited debate" would ensue, and it did. Aside from our coverage, all three television broadcasters - KHQ, KREM and KXLY - reported on the subject. So did Spokane Public Radio. The Inlander jumped in a little bit as well.

We hope that clears up any confusion that readers might've shared with Councilman Fagan.

Nicholas Deshais
Joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He is the urban issues reporter, covering transportation, housing, development and other issues affecting the city. He also writes the Getting There transportation column and The Dirt, a roundup of construction projects, new businesses and expansions. He previously covered Spokane City Hall.

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