Jun 27, 2023 - Politics

Seattle council considers speed cameras to catch street racers

A map of West Seattle and Northeast Seattle side by side showing proposed areas that could be made restricting racing zones, with roads highlighted in red along Alki Beach and near Magnuson Park.

Seattle is considering designating six areas where automated cameras could be installed to ticket people for street racing. Graphic by City of Seattle

Seattle city officials are thinking about setting up cameras to automatically ticket people who engage in illegal street racing — particularly near Alki Beach and Magnuson Park.

Driving the news: A proposal before the Seattle City Council would authorize six "restricted racing zones" throughout the city. That designation would give officials the ability to install automatic traffic enforcement cameras to identify and ticket drivers caught speeding there.

  • The plan wouldn't install the cameras immediately but rather authorize the city transportation department to do so at a later date.

Why it matters: High-speed racing poses a serious safety risk, said Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, the sponsor of the measure, during a committee meeting last week.

  • Police can't safely chase street racers — and enforcement is further complicated by the Seattle Police Department's recent low staffing levels, Herbold said.

Details: The measure before the council would set up no-racing enforcement zones in six locations in West Seattle and Northeast Seattle. Herbold and Councilmember Alex Pedersen, a cosponsor of the ordinance, said these areas have been the subject of numerous complaints about street racing in recent years.

  • Alki Avenue SW between 63rd Avenue SW and Harbor Avenue SW;
  • Harbor Avenue SW between Alki Avenue SW and SW Spokane Street;
  • West Marginal Way SW between SW Spokane Street and 2nd Avenue SW;
  • Sand Point Way NE between 38th Avenue NE and NE 95th Street;
  • NE 65th Street between Sand Point Way NE and Magnuson Park, as well as roads inside Magnuson Park.

Plus: Councilmember Dan Strauss said at last week's committee meeting that he also plans to propose a zone near Golden Gardens Park in Ballard where cameras could catch racing violations.

Of note: Before putting up the cameras, the city would have to complete an equity analysis exploring how the cameras would affect communities of color and other marginalized populations. The city would also need to allocate money for the new cameras.

The big picture: Seattle has been steadily expanding its automated traffic camera program in recent years, including to catch violators who illegally block intersections, drive in bus lanes and speed in school zones.

  • That expansion has been concerning to some, including the group Whose Streets? Our Streets!, which has noted that a larger share of traffic cameras are placed in communities with more people of color, immigrants and lower-income residents.
  • Those neighborhoods also have some of the city's least safe roads, the group writes on its website, due to "historical disinvestment."
  • City Councilmember Tammy Morales said during last week's committee meeting that it's important to design streets to be safer for both pedestrians and drivers and not think that cameras will solve the problem on their own.

What's next: The city council's transportation committee is expected to discuss the street racing enforcement proposal again in mid-July. More areas may be added.

  • If the ordinance is voted out of committee, it would still have to win the approval of the full council.
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