Red-light camera fines in Bellevue start Wednesday
By JOSHUA ADAM HICKS
Bellevue Reporter Former Staff Writer
February 2, 2010 · Updated 5:36 PM
Bellevue will add some sting to its camera-cop surveillance program Wednesday by imposing $124 fines for motorists who run red lights at the intersections monitored by video along 148th Ave. NE.
The move follows a nearly one-month grace period in which the city mailed only warnings to offenders.
Starting Wednesday, citations will count as civil infractions, but they won't appear on driving records like moving violations, and they won't affect insurance rates.
"Because it doesn't show up on a motor-vehicle report, an insurance company can't assess that," said Darrin Sanger, spokesman for the Northwest Insurance Council.
The city in January installed red-light cameras to monitor north- and southbound traffic at Bel-Red Road and 148th Ave. NE, as well as southbound traffic at 148th Ave. NE and Main Street.
Citations go out to the registered owners of vehicles that fail to make a complete stop on red before the crosswalks of designated intersections.
The program is part of a five-year pilot project designed to test video-based traffic enforcement in Bellevue. The city launched its program in September, installing speed cameras in school zones near Stevenson and Lake Hills elementary schools.
Cameras in those areas monitor westbound traffic on NE Eighth St., 143rd Ave. NE, SE Eighth St. and 143rd Pl. SE during school start and release times. Signs with flashing lights alert drivers during reduced-speed hours in those areas.
The city began issuing $124 fines to speeders caught on camera beginning Sept. 30, following a one-month grace period.
In January, the city launched the second phase of its camera-based enforcement program, this time targeting red-light runners at the designated intersections along 148th Ave. NE.
"The reason we are running this pilot program is to make our streets safer," said Bellevue Police spokeswoman Carla Iafrate.
But not everyone is convinced of the program's virtues.
Bellevue is one of 24 defendants in a class-action lawsuit alleging that their camera-based traffic-enforcement programs deny due process and provide illegal incentives for issuing tickets.
Bellevue Police used the cameras to issue 2,722 tickets from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31. At that rate, the city is due to collect around $337,528 for roughly three months of enforcement.
The city pays American Traffic Solutions $4,750 per month to operate each of its two speed-zone cameras and $3,750 per month for its three red-light cameras. That amounts to a cost of $20,750 per month.
The net benefit to the city for that three-month period from October through December would be $275,278 – from speed-zone fines alone – using these figures.
The number of speed-zone citations handed out by the city has increased significantly since Bellevue implemented its video-based enforcement program.
Over 1,088 citations were credited to the speed-zone cameras in their designated areas for October 2009, more than double the number of infractions for that same month in 2008, when there were no cameras.
In January 2010, there were 820 warnings issued for cars running red lights at 148th Ave. NE and Bel-Red Road. There were only two citations issued for the same violation in 2009.
The city has an option to terminate its contract with American Traffic Solutions after 12 months. The company is contracted to capture images, process data, and mail infractions.
Police officers can still issue standard citations in areas monitored by traffic cameras. Infractions handed out that way will affect driving records and insurance.