The Issaquah City Council voted 5-1 at the Nov. 7 council meeting to authorize a traffic study of red light violations at six intersections in the city to determine if it would be beneficial to install red light cameras to monitor the intersections.
American Traffic Solutions, in partnership with the Issaquah Police Department, will conduct the one-month study at no cost. After completion of the study, the police will analyze whether cameras are the best fix or if other options should be considered.
“The combination of the fact that this is not a cost to the city, does not commit us to taking a particular policy action yet … I think that going out and getting the data is not a bad idea,” Councilmember Tola Marts said.
Ryan Raulerson, interim commander of the Issaquah Police Department, told the council that between January 2012 and August 2016, police analyzed the number of collisions in town that were caused by a driver running a red light. It was found that during the four-and-a-half-year time period, red light violations were the root cause of 86 car crashes, equivalent to about 3 percent of police responses to reportable collisions. None of the accidents were fatal.
Approximately half of the accidents occurred at six intersections. The problematic intersections, which will be the focus of the study, were Highlands Drive Northeast and Northeast Park Drive, Highlands Drive Northeast and Northeast High Street, Southeast Issaquah-Fall City Road and Southeast Black Nugget Road, State Route 900 and Newport Way Northwest, State Route 900 and Northwest Maple Street, and Newport Way Northwest and West Sunset Way.
If installed, the cameras would only catch drivers who enter intersections once the light is already red; if a driver enters an intersection on yellow and the light turns red afterwards, this would not be grounds for a ticket. Tickets, which would be mailed to the violators, would be the equivalent of a parking ticket, meaning they would not go on drivers’ records.
“I feel morally culpable if the light turns red as I’m clearing the intersection … so this is a level removed from that,” Marts said. “This is somebody who has really, really either misjudged or intentionally ignored the light system.”
Councilmember Bill Ramos, who voted against the bill, said that he was not in accord with the measure for multiple reasons.
“I know there is a concern about speeding in Issaquah … but I’ve never felt from anyone — from engineering, from police, from citizens — a concern of red light issues,” Ramos said.
He noted that when police pull over a person for running a red light, it is a moment of education for not only the violator, but also for everyone else driving by.
“I want that education to happen and I want that moving violation to happen, versus three or four weeks after the fact you get a ticket in the mail, which doesn’t bring in education … and also turns a moving violation into a parking ticket,” Ramos said.
Ramos additionally expressed fear that Issaquah may become known as the “city of automated traffic enforcement.”
Council President Stacy Goodman pointed out that the city currently has just one traffic camera system on Second Avenue Southeast, commenting that “it would be a long time before we were known as a ‘camera city.’”
In response to a question from Councilmember Mary Lou Pauly, Raulerson assured the council that the potential cameras would be “supplemental to police enforcement” and would not replace active police enforcement on the street.
“This agenda bill talks about a study. It does not talk about installing any cameras … I support the study because I would like to make decisions based on data,” Goodman said. She added, “We’ll have a lot of questions before we install any cameras because it would be a big change and it would be a big policy decision.”
Councilmember Eileen Barber was not present for the vote.