Lake Forest Park city council increases traffic camera fines

Sunday, May 26, 2024

A new No Racing Zone sign greets drivers entering Lake Forest Park on 178th street where the speed limit drops from 30 to 25 mph - photo by Oliver Moffat

By Oliver Moffat

Lake Forest Park will increase traffic camera fines starting this summer after new state laws encourage cities to use cameras to improve safety. The city designated 178th a no-racing zone to allow the city to leave the cameras active all the time (not just during school hours) despite an equity analysis raising concerns about the traffic cameras.

At the Thursday, May 23 meeting the Lake Forest Park city council voted to raise traffic camera fines to the maximum allowed under Washington state’s recently expanded laws.

With the passage this year of House Bill 2384, cities in Washington can now increase automated traffic camera fines and Lake Forest Park is speeding ahead to raise fines from $130 to $145. Repeat offenders can have their fines doubled to as much as $290 under the new law that takes effect on June 6, 2024.

The change comes after the city recently added 178th to its list of designated no-racing zones, allowing the city to leave the traffic cameras on all-day throughout the year whereas before they could only be active during school hours when Brookside elementary was in session.

Speaking in support of the plan, Council Vice Chair Tracy Furutani, said “the fact is we are going to see increased traffic volumes as the Link Light Rail stations open. And my concern is that once September rolls around and the kids start coming back to school, especially along Brookside, that there will be significant potential interactions between traffic and the walking school children.”

A graph from Lake Forest Park, shows how fast vehicles are going east-bound on 178th 

The camera infraction recidivism rate is less than 10% which, according to the city, means that the cameras are effective in getting drivers to slow down. Data collected from the Washington State Patrol’s website shows there have been a total of 45 collisions on 178th over the last ten years with crashes on the rise from a low of two in 2020 to five in 2023.

“I know that this is going to be revenue generating for the city. But that’s not the principal reason that we are doing this. We are doing this because we are very concerned about pedestrian and multi-modal safety,” Furutani said.

The city pays an external company a flat monthly fee of $4750 to operate each of its fourteen current cameras (totaling $798,000 per year). That external company does not get a percentage of the fines or any kind of commission.

The previous state law required cities who adopted traffic cameras like Lake Forest Park to give 50% of the revenue back to the state to fund transportation safety projects. 

But to entice more cities across the state to install traffic cameras, the legislature changed that rule this year: now cities can keep all the ticket revenue for three years as long as they spend the funds on traffic safety improvements. After three years, the state will take a 25% cut to fund state-wide traffic safety projects.

According to the city’s budget, traffic fines will generate $3.84 million this biennium for the general fund. At 30% of the budget, the city’s largest line item at $11 million is the police department. The city spends $2.5 million a year on transportation - making up 7% of the city’s budget.

At a December 14, 2023 meeting the city council designated 178th a no-racing zone. Then at an April 30 special meeting, the Lake Forest Park city council voted to keep the automated cameras active year round, 24 hours a day within the 178th no-racing zone.

In 2022, state law allowed cities to use automated traffic cameras to enforce speed limits on streets designated “restricted racing zones” and a new state law took effect in 2024 which also makes “drifting" illegal.

A map from the Washington State Patrol website shows the locations of the six collisions in the past ten years attributed to street racing in Shoreline, Lake Forest Park and Kenmore 

A public records request filed with WSDOT returned a total of ten crashes attributed to street racing in Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, and Kenmore since 2010. A search on the Washington State Patrol’s website found six street racing crashes in Shoreline and Lake Forest Park in the past ten years. 

In comparison, there were 1,785 crashes in Lake Forest Park alone over the last ten years according to the Washington State Patrol’s website.

Recent changes to state law expanded where cities can deploy cameras and allows city employees to review tickets where previously a police officer needed to review each ticket.

State law requires cities to complete an equity analysis to prove traffic cameras will not disproportionately target historically over-policed people. The Lake Forest Park report raised concerns about the city’s traffic cameras. 

A graph from the city shows more than 90% of traffic camera tickets are received by people who don’t live in Lake Forest Park 

According to the police department, although less than 4% of Lake Forest Park residents are Black, 12% of people who received a traffic ticket in the city were Black. Only 8.5% of the traffic camera fines were issued to residents of Lake Forest Park - the majority of ticket recipients were from out of town.

Under the new state law, vehicle owners can dispute the ticket in court and (under the new state law) the fines must be cut in half if the owner of the vehicle is a recipient of a state public assistance program. But that requires fighting the ticket in the Lake Forest Park court.

Meanwhile in Shoreline: on June 10, the much anticipated (and overdue) Annual Traffic Report will be reviewed by the city council and traffic enforcement cameras will be discussed. While neighboring cities including Lynnwood, Lake Forest Park, and Seattle have long embraced the use of traffic cameras, the Shoreline city council has opposed their adoption in the past.

5-26-2024 corrections: 
-The camera infraction recidivism rate is less than 10%.
-traffic fines will generate $3.84 million this biennium for the general fund.
-At a December 14, 2023 meeting the city council designated 178th a no-racing zone. Then at an April 30 special meeting, the Lake Forest Park city council voted to keep the automated cameras active year round, 24 hours a day within the 178th no-racing zone.


Just My Opinion May 26, 2024 at 9:29 PM  

Shoreline City Council - Get a clue! We have light rail coming and NO remediation for increased traffic and speeders is underway. Come sit by my house or take a walk around the neighborhood and see the traffic here is very different than the west side of the city.

Anonymous,  May 27, 2024 at 10:33 AM  

If you haven't noticed shoreline police citations are at or near all time lows and it shows with the way people drive. Just waiting for them to cry they don't have budget despite having almost 12 million less from citation fees.

Anonymous,  May 29, 2024 at 5:27 AM  

There's a huge backlash coming with this push for speed cameras everywhere. The cities are working hard to reduce speed limits that were developed using the proven 85th percentile prevailing speed method, to new lower speed limits that only the slowest drivers observe.

This isn't all that big a deal when unreasonable speed limits go unenforced and unobserved, but speed cameras are pitiless. If you drive 31 on a road that used to be marked 35, is safe at 40, and is now marked 30, you're getting a citation. People will not stand for living in Speed Trap Village where the evil eye penalizes safe drivers who putter by at slow, yet newly illegal speeds.

Meanwhile, the real reckless drivers who endanger everyone are not going to be deterred. They'll still be out there driving 50 in a 25, paying attention to their phones instead of the road, and driving drunk/high. Since camera tickets don't involve a stop from a human officer and investigation of the driver for inattention or impairment, dangerous impaired drivers will still avoid being held accountable. Our elected officials are setting themselves up for failure with ineffective policies, but they'll be so drunk on revenue from the tickets that a few of them will have to be tossed out of office before the others will pay attention.

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