This week, to coincide with the start of the school year, the city of Kirkland enacted a new school zone safety camera pilot.
The project, which affects Rose Hill Elementary School, Kamiakin Middle School and John Muir Elementary School, seeks to increase safety for students and families walking and biking to school.
The cameras monitor car, bus and city vehicle speed 30 minutes before and after a school’s specific start-and-stop times. Fines will be issued to anyone exceeding the 20 mph school-zone limit. Warnings about the cameras will be issued for the first 30 days of operation.
“This is just one piece of a much larger initiative by the city to look at a number of ways we can increase safety and encourage students to walk and bike to school,” Kirkland communications program manager Kellie Stickney said.
Conversations about the pilot began in June 2018. Kirkland Police Chief Cherie Harris, public works director Kathy Brown and deputy city manager Marilyn Beard presented to the council a proposal to implement traffic cameras in certain school zones.
During that meeting, they discussed the state laws that would support the installation of the cameras and invoked other cities that used cameras in similar scenarios including Renton, Lynnwood and Issaquah. Lynnwood and Renton had used both school zone and red light cameras; Issaquah had employed school zone traffic monitoring.
Harris, Brown and Beard also offered the results of a traffic study that had been done in May. The study found that 81 percent of traffic passing through the Rose Hill area exceeded speed limits. Statistics on John Muir and Kamiakin were similar.
After being presented with the data, talks continued at January and February City Council meetings. In February, council decided to move forward with the proposed pilot. Shortly afterward, another study was completed to discern whether newly installed signs warning of monitoring impacted speeding.
“Now we’re here,” Stickney said.
Cameras in place at the schools will be turned off when school is not in session. The city has additionally ensured that there is clear signage indicating that cameras have been installed to monitor the speed limit.
There are two fines traffic violators might receive. Speeds more than 25 mph result in a $136-per-incident fee. But for speeds more than 30 mph, a graduated fine of $250 per violation will be issued. Residents can dispute a ticket through a written statement to the court or an oral testimony before the court.
According to a press release, the ordinance backing the safety cameras limits the use of revenues accrued from fines, which will continue to fund the pilot. If fines cover more than the program, they will be put toward traffic safety personnel and projects included in the transportation capital improvement plan, safer routes to school action plans and the neighborhood safety program — all of which seek to improve safety on school routes.
Each camera, including installation fees, is estimated to cost $120,000. The price, according to the city’s website, is paid in increments over a five-year contract period that allows for early termination if necessary.
Stickney said feedback from the community on the pilot has been predominantly positive.
“Generally, the community has been very supportive,” she said. “Parents especially are interested in any steps the city can take to make it more safe for students to go back and forth to school…We’ve had some parents [from other neighborhoods] want this to be at the schools their children are going to.”
Stickney added that some parents have reservations about having traffic cameras on the premises, however.
“The great thing about this program is that if nobody speeds and if no tickets are issued, then the city doesn’t actually lose out on any funds,” she said. “So, ultimately, that’d be the greatest if everybody just drove the speed limit in schools.”
Next year, council will decide where to go next with the pilot. An additional traffic study will be completed in spring 2020 to find out what impacts the cameras had on affected traffic areas.
After its results come in, council will review the data and determine how to move forward.
For more information on the pilot, visit the frequently asked questions page on the city website.