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Seattle's street safety campaign includes more photo enforcement

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Eldan Goldenberg

To make city streets safer, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced a plan to step up the number of speed zones monitored automatically by radar and photo enforcement – while urging everyone to slow down and show some "empathy."

McGinn presented his road safety campaign today in Seattle near the site where a photographer for PATH, Mike Wang, was killed while bicycling home from work, just a few blocks from the office at the intersection of Denny Way and Westlake Avenue.

At the event, the mayor's office released "The 2012 Road Safety Summit Action Plan" and also fired up the website "Be Super Safe" to promote the plan.

The action plan lays out the following specific tactics that the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Seattle police will take to lower speeds on city streets:

  • SDOT will deploy the mobile speed watch trailer to 50 locations per year: The speed watch trailer detects and displays the speed of oncoming vehicles. Placing the speed watch trailer on our streets provides another reminder to drive responsibly.
  • Install permanent photo enforcement in four school zones: Automated enforcement of the speed limit has been demonstrated to be a highly effective tactic to reduce collisions. Four new cameras will be installed in 2012 by the Seattle Police Department.
  • Support expanded use of automated photo enforcement: The State of Washington currently allows automated photo enforcement of speed in school and construction zones only and is currently considering an expansion of this enforcement tool. To determine whether this technology would be effective in other locations, the Seattle Police Department partnered with the Washington Traffic Safety Commission for an automated speed enforcement pilot project.
The Traffic Safety Commission’s evaluation of this tactic found promising results: At Seattle’s two pilot locations, Elliott Avenue West and 35th Ave. Southwest, the speed of the majority of drivers dropped considerably. Therefore, the city will work with the state to expand the use of photo enforcement systems on our streets.

  • Deploy aggressive driving response unit to patrol hotspots: SPD’s Aggressive Driving Reduction Unit (ADRU) will be deployed to collision hotspots throughout the city to target speeding, following too close and aggressive driving violations. ADRU deployments will be publicized in advance. The results of the patrols will be posted on the SPD Blotter.

Previous version of this story:

McGinn will present his road safety campaign noon today at a "Safety Fair" across the street from PATH, an organization that felt the pain of a bicycle tragedy. Last summer, a photographer for PATH named Mike Wang was killed while bicycling home from work, just a few blocks from the office.

“He was in the bike lane. He was following the posted rules of the road,” but he became the victim of a hit-and-run, which helped galvanize city leaders to take action, says Aaron Pickus, spokesman for McGinn.

After a series of Road Safety Summits last fall, the city released a draft proposal in December that called for working seriously toward a goal of zero traffic deaths. Most of that proposal made it into the final version of the campaign, says Pickus.

It's heavy on public education, including using the city's electronic reader boards to post safety messages. One tactic that most of the public will notice is stricter policing.

“We will enforce the speed limit, and we will do a lot of public messaging around those enforcement patrols,” says Pickus.

Photo enforced

Seattle will also dramatically step-up the use of automated photo speed enforcement on some streets where speeding is rampant. So far, that technology has been used sparingly, in a pilot project, between Ballard and downtown and in West Seattle. Drivers caught on camera over the limit will get tickets.

The goal is to get everyone to slow down – which protects bicyclists, pedestrians and other motorists. The faster a car is going, the worse the injuries in any collision, according to data collected by Public Health Seattle & King County.

Statewide, traffic deaths have been climbing slightly, reaching 73 last year, since they fell to an all-time low of 55  in 2010, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

Keith Seinfeld has been KPLU’s Health & Science Reporter since 2001, and prior to that covered the Environment beat. He’s been a staff reporter at The Seattle Times and The News Tribune in Tacoma and a freelance writer-producer. His work has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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