Councilmen push for vans to catch speeders in act
Vehicles would take photos of lawbreakers
By ANGELA GALLOWAY
They are speed traps on wheels -- and they might soon be coming to Seattle.
Several Seattle City Council members want to deploy high-tech photo-snapping vans to catch speeders near elementary and middle schools. The radar-equipped vans would work similarly to the cameras that already nab red-light runners at four Seattle intersections. Alleged speeders would get citations in the mail.
If proved reliable, the technology could free police officers to handle other needs, Councilman Tom Rasmussen said.
"There are a lot of other things that they can and should be doing," Rasmussen said. Speed enforcement is "very important. But when cameras and technology can do that just as well, potentially, then I support using that."
With Mayor Greg Nickels set to unveil his 2008 budget proposal Sept. 17, the council members held a news conference Wednesday to promote their proposed pedestrian safety spending, including $250,000 for several vans in 2008.
Meanwhile, Nickels held his own news conference Wednesday to boast about one of his ideas for the budget: a $3.5 million contribution to a $21 million 84-unit apartment project for the homeless that Plymouth Housing Group plans for a site at First Avenue and Cedar Street.
About 25 of the units would be set aside for the city's "Housing First" initiative, which aims to find permanent housing for chronically homeless people who need intensive medical treatment or other services.
"Housing First not only saves lives, it makes us safer as a community and it saves money," Nickels said. He added that the program, which has developed 80 such units in recent years, cuts costs to emergency rooms, jails and other services.
At their event, Councilmen David Della, Nick Licata and Rasmussen also said the city should spend $1 million to add 24 red-light cameras to intersections and spend $500,000 more on roadway safety improvements.
"We need to get people to lower their speeds," said Licata, whose teenage stepson suffered traumatic brain injury several years ago when he was struck by a car while crossing a busy Seattle street. "He has got great spirit. But he has to struggle with things that he never had to struggle with before."
Speed-enforcement vans already are used in Washington, D.C.; Phoenix; Dayton, Ohio; Albuquerque, N.M.; Fort Collins, Colo.; and San Jose, Calif., according to two private companies that provide the services, American Traffic Solutions Inc. and Redflex Traffic Systems Inc.
Asked about the council's proposals, Nickels was quick to say he's been working for some time to improve pedestrian safety.
In fact, he said, the council rejected such funding proposals for several years. "I'm really pleased the council is on board," Nickels said.
Licata, council president, responded that the political issue of "pedestrian safety has become like a stagecoach -- and we're both struggling over the reins."
Still, "we're both going in the same direction, and we both consider it a priority."