The number of traffic-enforcement camera citations has slightly declined in a three-month period between February and April, Redmond police commander Shari Shovlin said at Tuesday’s city council public safety meeting.
But that is not stopping camera opponent Scott Harlan from ratcheting up his efforts to put the issue on the November ballot — and let the voters decide the fate of these hotly debated cameras.
Meanwhile, American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the Arizona-based company that has a traffic camera contract with Redmond and a number of other cities around the nation, has suspended one of its top employees for unethical behavior.
Bill Kroske, vice president of business development at ATS and the man who helped broker the camera-enforcement deal with the Redmond, has been “suspended indefinitely for violating our company policy,” according to Charles Territo, ATS vice president of communications. Kroske reportedly posted several comments on a few different newspapers’ websites, defending the traffic-enforcement cameras and denouncing its opponents, without identifying himself as an ATS official, which is against the company policy. Last week’s decision to suspend Kroske has “clearly shown that ATS has some ethical issues,” Harlan said.
Shovlin said she talked to Territo on Tuesday and he assured her that ATS is committed to being open and honest about its practices and condemned the actions of Kroske.
“Mr. Kroske is on suspension and the company is dealing with it,” Shovlin said. “When an employee does something that maybe doesn’t seem right, that doesn’t make the whole organization corrupt. It really doesn’t change our approach.”
And that approach is to eliminate “dangerous driving behavior,” she said.
It just comes down to obeying the rules of the road, which should not be difficult, said city council member and public safety committee member David Carson.
“This is a government program that is completely optional,” he said. “You don’t have to participate if you don’t run the red light.”
OVERALL DECREASE IN VIOLATIONS
The total number of violations for the pilot program, which began in Feb. 1 with a one-month warning period, has decreased overall, but has seen a slight increase from March to April, Shovlin reported.
“We still have too many violations,” Shovlin said. “I want it to get to where we don’t have enough violations so we don’t need these cameras. That would be a fantastic way to work this out.”
The cameras are located eastbound on Redmond Way at 148th Avenue Northeast, eastbound and westbound on Northeast 40th Street at 156th Avenue Northeast and westbound on Union Hill Road and northbound on Avondale Road where those two roads intersect. A speed-zone camera is also located at Einstein Elementary School, 18025 N.E. 116th St. If caught on camera, violators will receive a $124 fine, the same amount if a patrol officer caught someone running a red light or speeding in a school zone.
The total number of citations at all four locations was 2,258 in April, a slight bump up from 2,252 in March, but a decline from the 2,800 warnings in February.
The number of citations declined at all four locations from March to April, except at Redmond Way and 148th Avenue Northeast, where the citations increased from 871 in March to 941 in April after decreasing from 1,187 warnings in February.
City Council member Hank Myers, who is the chairman of the public safety committee, did express concern about the high number of citations at Einstein Elementary. The citations in the school zone decreased from 110 in March to 96 in April, but considering the speed camera is only active 40 minutes a day — 20 minutes each before and after school — “that is a pretty significant number of violations,” he said.
RIGHT ON RED
At the three intersections, about 90 percent of violations happen when a driver is taking a right turn. During March and April, 4,037 of the red-light citations were for right turns, while 267 citations were for drivers who ran a red light, driving straight through the intersection, Shovlin said.
She went on to say that drivers not stopping for red light on a right turn could potentially harm a pedestrian or bicyclist attempting to cross the intersection with a walk signal.
“You can’t see the people trying to cross the street, if you are not willing to stop,” Shovlin said. “These are behaviors we have to change. It can be dangerous for our pedestrians.”
And drivers blowing through an intersection on a red light can cause a T-bone accident, she said.
Harlan, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, wants to see the cameras eliminated from the city, saying he doesn’t “think dangerous driving behavior is out of control.”
The number of collisions at the three intersections has decreased from seven during the first four months of 2010 to six during the first four months of this year.
Even though the collision numbers are low at these camera-enforcement intersections, Shovlin said the police department’s “job is not to wait until someone is harmed. Our job is to prevent that.”
The police department has been working to educate people that it is illegal to turn right on a red light without stopping and has used discretion with the right turn on red lights when reviewing the video footage, Shovlin said. During March and April, police officials rejected 581 violations, the majority of which were “slow rolls,” through the red light, Shovlin said.
Myers said he wants to continue to analyze the citation data every two months to determine how effective the cameras are. He said he expects the council to decide the fate of the pilot program at the start of next year.
LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE
Harlan, a Union Hill resident, and his supporters are working to collect the 3,845 valid signature of Redmond register voters for Redmond Initiative No. 1 — “Let the People Decide on Red Light Cameras in Redmond.”
If the initiative is put on the ballot and passed, it would ban the use of cameras to catch traffic violators and fine them unless approved by the city council and voters. If Harlan can get the required number of signatures by June, the initiative will be on the November ballot. If the signatures are gathered after the June deadline, then it would make it on the ballot of the February special election, Harlan said.
Harlan would not disclose how many signatures have been gathered, saying “we’re not giving out signature totals until we are over the top.” But Harlan added that “so far, the signature drive has been successful.”
Harlan and his supporters are now going door to door of registered Redmond voters, rather than approaching people outside of city grocery stores.
“Residents should be expecting a person stopping by their house or dropping off an envelop with the petition in it,” Harlan said. “A lot of people have been thankful for us to take this on. It’s energizing and we are going to keep working hard. The only reason we are doing this is because we care about the city.”