Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Auburn’s red-light, speeding cameras awash in more red ink

by Matt Rosenberg January 22nd, 2012

The chairman of the City of Auburn’s Municipal Services Committee, Bill Peloza, says he’ll be asking some questions about the future of the town’s traffic safety automated camera enforcement program called PhotoSafe when the panel meets Monday night. The committee’s agenda includes a review and discussion of a new report showing PhotoSafe’s mounting red ink and suggesting beneficial changes in driver behavior that may have resulted from the installation of the cameras is leveling off.

The new report shows PhotoSafe’s 17 traffic safety enforcement cameras operated in 2011 at a net loss to the city of $125,888. It’s possible that fiscally at least the program is a victim of its own success. Red-light infractions captured through a total of five cameras at three main intersections in Auburn and thus related revenues have continued to decrease. In the first several years after the five cameras were installed there were more dramatic decreases in red-light infractions at the targeted intersections, on the order of 20 to 30 percent annually. In 2011 though improvements in driver behavior began to level off with the smallest decline in red-light camera tickets issued by the city from year prior, just 6.2 percent. 

Auburn red-light camera violation-to-infraction conversions hit five-year low
As well, in 2011 the percentage of filmed red-light camera violations which cleared the bar to being classified as infractions for which fines could be collected declined to a five-year low of 78.9 percent, down from 85 percent in 2007. That percentage has decreased every year. Some violations do not become “infractions,” the report states, due to license plates unreadable by the cameras, emergency vehicles granted leeway, severe inclement weather or inability to confirm a violation actually occurred.

Speeding infractions captured by 12 more cameras around six schools in Auburn have also already declined dramatically, according to the report.

Injuries and collisions have not declined at red-light camera intersections
Meanwhile, compared to 2011 the combined number of collisions and injuries per year at the three red-light camera intersections has remained unchanged since 2007, the first year all three were surveilled. Collisions at three intersections rose from 31 in 2007 to 38 in 2008, then dropped to 33 in 2009, 30 in 2010 and 31 in 2011. Injuries went from 11 in 2007 to 9 in 2008, 12 in 2009, 20 in 2010 and 11 in 2011.

Committee chair wonders if it’s time to sunset some of the cameras
Peloza is a veteran council member who serves on several intergovernmental regional policy committees and worked at Boeing for 38 years in contract management. He says the PhotoSafe report to the city council committee suggests it’s at least time to discuss whether some cameras should be de-comissioned. “When possibly do we remove a photo camera, when possibly the work has been accomplished to educate motorists driving through our city? When do we reach a go/no-go position on some of them? I know the cameras have had a major effect near our schools. Many of the speeders in our school zones have been parents. We’ve made a safe haven around those schools and that’s a wonderful accomplishment.”

PhotoSafe’s red ink a concern
Although the city has been careful not to fund PhotoSafe from the general budget, Peloza said, the mounting red ink is a concern. He says he intends to ask city staff Monday night where exactly the funds are coming from to cover the losses. Another city report on PhotoSafe released last fall revealed that the program had lost $70,041 in the first eight months of 2011 and $42,635 over its full life at that point. The first cameras were installed in 2006. Based on those numbers and the new report, the city lost $$55,847 on PhotoSafe in the last four months of 2011, bringing the annual loss to the stated $125,888 and the life-of-program loss to $98,482.

However it is possible that the committee and the full council will remain convinced the benefits of the program outweigh the costs. And it is unclear whether removing cameras in Auburn might not lead to increases in motorists running red lights at the monitored intersections and speeding in the school safety zones.

More cameras could be added
Despite the growing red ink Auburn could choose to add more cameras still. The report to the committee states, “surveys are regularly conducted to locate new intersections and school zones to be added in an effort to improve public safety. In addition, the city is evaluating the possibility of adding photo enforcement at railroad crossings.”

The red-light cameras are installed at 4th Street Southeast and Auburn Way South; M Street Southeast and Auburn Way South; and 8th Street Northeast and Harvey. Two different speeding cameras per school are installed on approaches to Mount Baker/Gildo Rey, Chinook Elementary, Dick Scobee, Lea Hill Elementary, Arthur Jacobsen, and Lakeland Hills Elementary.

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