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River Road camera snapping up speeders

A radar-triggered camera flashes a strobe to photograph a motorist exceeding the 35 mph speed limit on Bay Street near the Emerald Queen Casino. (Drew Perine/The News Tribune)

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Stacey Mulick; The News Tribune
Published: 12/10/09 7:56 pm | Updated: 12/11/09 5:44 am
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Maybe that ribbon of pavement connecting River Road to the city of Tacoma should be renamed “Pay Street.”
A radar-triggered camera erected on the Bay Street curve near the Emerald Queen Casino snapped photos of close to 2,100 speeders during its first week of operation, city officials said Thursday.
Nearly 830 tickets – at $101 a pop – already have been mailed and another nearly 1,260 are being prepared for the registered owners of cars caught speeding between Dec. 2 and Wednesday, Tacoma police spokesman Mark Fulghum said Thursday.
The infractions are treated like a parking ticket and do not go on a driver’s record.
If that rate holds, the camera could generate up to $11 million a year in citations.
“Those numbers surprised us,” Fulghum said. “It’s a fairly sharp corner and people take it too fast coming from River Road.”
By contrast, another speed camera erected recently near Downing Elementary School in the city’s North End has yet to record a speeder, Fulghum said.
“We expected some violators,” he said. “We knew there were some concerns there.”
The two cameras were erected as part of a citywide effort to reduce car crashes through the use of unmanned technology and targeted traffic patrols. Tacoma also has nine red-light cameras within its city limits. The Bay Street curve camera was erected under a pilot program approved by the state Legislature. The curve in the 2900 block of East Bay Street averages more than 100 crashes a year and is hard to patrol with motorcycle cops, police said.
The speed limit around the curve is 35 mph although a yellow caution sign advises drivers to go 25 mph. The camera is configured to trigger when someone eclipses a speed above 35 mph, but police won’t say at exactly what speed.
Police commanders have said in past that drivers who a “reasonable effort” to stay close to the speed limit won’t trip the camera’s trigger.
“It’s not set to trap anybody,” Fulghum said.
It’s still catching people.
During a 15-day warning period prior to Dec. 2, the camera photographed 4,988 speeders. The registered owners of 4,634 vehicles received letters advising them to slow down, Fulghum said.
The warning period ended just after midnight Dec. 2.
Between then and Wednesday morning, the camera caught 2,113 violators, Fulghum said. They represent about 9 percent of the estimated 22,500 cars that drive that stretch of eastbound Bay Street daily, according to state Department of Transportation figures.
The school zone camera is near the intersection of North Orchard Street and 26th Street in the North End. It is activated 30 minutes before classes begin and deactivates 30 minutes after school lets out.
Fulghum said the camera and the signs warning of it could be deterring drivers from speeding through the 20 mph zone.
“It looks like the signage and the camera being there are more of a deterrent than the potential of having a traffic officer there,” Fulghum said. “The desired effect is to slow people down and lessen the chance of someone getting run over or getting into an accident.”
The Downing camera is the first of three school-zone cameras to be set up in the city. The other two are scheduled to be erected at McCarver Elementary and Stewart Middle schools some time in the future.
Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268

Staff writer Adam Lynn contributed to this report.