UPDATE: Burien City Council Terminates Red Light Camera Program
Burien City Council members agreed Monday night (Feb. 13) to terminate the city’s three-year-old red light camera program.
Although Jack Block Jr. said he favored renewing the contract with Redflex – but limiting the vendor to 25 percent of program revenues – the rest of the council favored ending the program.
City Finance Director Kim Krause earlier told council members that city staff was “unable to quantify the effect cameras have had on traffic patterns and behavior,” an assessment that Police Chief Scott Kimerer agreed with.
From May 1, 2009, through 2011, Burien collected $592,440 in revenue from fines paid by red light scofflaws at the three city intersections where cameras are posted. But Redflex’s costs were $611,413, for a net deficit of $18,973.
Because the contract includes a cost-neutrality clause, “the city will not pay Redflex more than the program revenues,” Krause said – meaning that while red light cameras will cost Burien nothing , neither will the city realize any revenue from their use over the three years.
Based on pre-camera data collected from Oct. 2006 to May 2009 compared with data during camera use from May 2009 through December 2011, the cameras had virtually no impact on traffic safety in Burien.
- At 1st Ave. S. and 152nd St., 11 accidents were recorded at the intersection compared to 9 since the cameras were installed.
- At 1st Ave. S. and 148th St., there was no change – 21 accidents before and 21 after.
- And at 1st Ave. S. and 160th St./Ambaum, there was a slight increase – 18 accidents before and 20 accidents after.
Kimmerer told council members that when Burien started using red light cameras, they were “somewhat innovative. What we were looking for was traffic safety. That was our number one concern.”
Police officers’ time in reviewing photos and issuing citations “is a cost we never figured out,” he added.
“We’ve had the program for a number of years. We could continue it or do without it.” But, Kimerer said in response to a question by Mayor Brian Bennett, “We would not be able to replace the cameras with officers at intersections.”
Block said his concern “is that we haven’t property capitalized on our opportunities, such as cameras to catch speeders in school zones.’’
“If one injury accident is prevented by changed behavior [by drivers] the program’s been successful,” he said. “This is intended to increase traffic safety.”
Noting he’d like to see it continue, Block suggested renegotiating the contract more to Burien’s advantage and expanding to school speed zones.
But Councilman Gerald Robison called the program “a boondoggle for the red light camera company, which makes $250,000 a year from it without any real benefit to the city plus the costs to the city for cops to write the tickets.
“I’m not in favor of of continuing it,” he declared – a position the other council members said they agreed with.
City Manager Mike Martin said the contract will lapse with no further council action when it expires on May 1.
On a separate matter raised at the end of the meeting, all council members expressed support by consensus for Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposal to downgrade marijuana from a Step One to a Step Two narcotic.
Their assent followed Councilman Bob Edgar’s request for direction on how to represent the city’s position at an upcoming Suburban Cities Association committee meeting, where the issue will be discussed.
Marijuana is classified as a Step One narcotic by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The governor’s proposal, if approved, could ease restrictions on the possession and use of medial marijuana.
Many people see this as a step toward the eventual decriminalization of all marijuana possession and use.