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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane council approves photo-red

Running a red light soon could cost drivers $124, even if a police officer doesn’t witness the violation.

The Spokane City Council on Monday approved a contract with American Traffic Solutions of Arizona to install cameras to catch drivers who run red lights and approved spending $67,000 to hire a police officer to run the program.

“To me, I don’t see the harm in giving it a try,” council member Nancy McLaughlin said following spirited debate over the controversial program, which won approval on a 5-2 vote. Council members Bob Apple and Michael Allen opposed the contract.

Spokane Police Sgt. Eric Olsen said the program will start this summer with six cameras that will each watch an approach to an intersection. He said the city and ATS will select locations with the highest number of collisions, such as Sprague and Division.

Under the contract, ATS will charge $4,600 a month for each camera that photographs one approach to an intersection. The money will come out of fees paid by violators. If the tickets don’t pay for the program, the city will not have to make up the difference. That’s unlikely to happen because ATS requires that each camera be used at locations that average at least eight violations a day.

The city estimates it will net about $190,000 a year, though some predict the amount will be much higher.

The popularity of red light cameras has been spreading across the country. Many experts say the cameras help reduce injury crashes, but critics say cities are more interested in the cash windfalls the programs generate.

Michael Kyte, director of the National Institute for Advanced Transportation Technology at the University of Idaho, said fewer drivers likely would run red lights if the law was better enforced.

“Anything people can do to encourage people obeying the law is important,” Kyte said in an interview last week.

Still, not every city has deemed cameras a success. Some studies show that camera programs lead to corresponding increases in rear-end crashes and in 2005, the Washington Post reported that Washington, D.C., experienced a substantial increase in crashes and injuries under its program.

Allen, who opposed the program, questioned the city’s motives in deciding to install the cameras.

“It sounds to me more like a revenue source,” he said.

But Councilman Al French said he still is experiencing effects of a side-impact crash from more than two decades ago and argued the program would be beneficial. “My own personal history tells me I’d rather be hit from the rear-end rather than from the side,” French said.

Mayor Mary Verner contends profit is not a motive for the city and pointed to last year’s decision to spend any money made on the program on traffic safety improvements, such as traffic calming projects and better signage at schools.

Spokane has considered photo-red cameras at various times over the past decade and a half.