By Polly Keary, Editor
Monroe citizens have voted against ticketing cameras twice, and in April the city informed the camera company that contracts would not be renewed, but the saga of traffic cameras may not yet be over in Monroe.
A growing number of people are speaking out in support of keeping cameras in the school zones, while anti-camera activist Tim Eyman is preparing a lawsuit against the city of Longview over that city’s traffic camera initiative process that could impact Monroe, as well.
Traffic ticketing cameras were approved by the city council in 2007, and were installed in 2010. But they’ve never been popular. Tim Eyman, a well known Mukilteo anti-tax activist, helped organize a Monroe citizens’ initiative to force the city to do away with the cameras and go to voters before ever getting into another contract. The city sought a judicial ruling on the validity of the initiative, and it was struck down in part, and almost entirely on appeal, but the legal battle cost the city about $80,000.
The cameras, including a set of red-light cameras at U.S. 2 and Kelsey and two sets in school zones on Main Street and on Fryelands Boulevard, will be removed at the end of the year when the three-year contract with camera company Redflex ends.
Monroe Police Chief Tim Quenzer said he doesn’t care about the red light cameras. But, he said, Monroe has a problem with speeding in school zones, and he’d just as soon see the cameras in those zones stay.
Those cameras are only on when school is in session, but they’ve identified a large number of speeders, one of whom blasted through the 20 mph Fryelands school zone at 65 mph.
Quenzer initially supported the use of cameras in 2007, citing the regular complaints of school crossing guards that drivers were going too fast and not paying attention to the presence of kids.
“The reason we chose those two (Frank Wagner Elementary and Fryelands Elementary) is they are walk-to-school schools,” he said.
The police force doesn’t have enough staff to watch traffic in each of the school zones in the town, and although it would be feasible to at least post an officer near Frank Wagner during the morning and afternoon walk times, Fryelands presents a challenge.
There is nowhere in that school zone on Fryelands for an officer to pull over and watch for speeders. And drivers still behave badly there, he noted.
“People look at that as a freeway,” he said. “The people that drive through there and get tickets are passing a sign that says schoos zone, passing a flashing light that says school zone, and past a sign that tells you your speed. And they still go too fast.”
The tickets have improved the situation there, though, he said.
“Since we implemented the cameras, there haven’t been any complaints from the crossing guards,” he said.
And overall speed has come down, he added, especially from Monroe drivers. Each September when school begins, there are a fair number of Monroe citizens that get tickets, but by October, nearly all speeders ticketed are from outside the town.
That reflects statewide trends he said, citing a study that showed that, in nearly every town with school zone speeding cameras, the number of speeding vehicles was dramatically reduced.
In a Facebook discussion on the cameras, some residents were expressing support for their use on school zones.
“The subject of red light cameras fairly needs to be broken into two separate issues; the actual traffic signal cameras and the school zone speed cameras,” stated former city council member Mitch Ruth.
“I suspect that, if the citizens had the information about how many cars are speeding, and at what amazingly high average speeds through school zones during school hours, general public opinion would dramatically reverse.”
“Keep the cameras…in the school zones. Dump the red light cameras,” agreed Monroe resident Michael Guy.
“Having once lived across the street from Fryelands Elementary with a direct view of the posted speed on the sign, I agree with Mitch,” stated Ryan Klemmer. “It was not uncommon to see speeds upwards of 50 during the morning school commute. The crosswalk at the entrance of the park is used by students and staffed with flaggers but people still speed. Keep the school cameras.”
But not everyone supports keeping them. Some say it’s too easy to fight the ticket and that they don’t seem to change behavior enough. Others point to the decisive vote against them in two advisory ballots.
Taking the cameras will also mean a loss of revenue for the city. Even after the cost of the legal battle, and after the lease payments and the cost of running the court and reducing tickets, the city came about more than $250,000 to the good last year. Some of that money went for expenses associated with the Jacque Rothenbueler murder investigation, and some went for equipment.
As Monroe residents continue to debate the merits of at least the cameras in school zones, Tim Eyman has filed suit in the state Supreme Court against the city of Longview over that city’s refusal to put a camera initiative on the ballot unit, instead seeking legal review, and that case could impact Monroe, as well.
“The city of Longview took a similar obstructionist approach as Monroe did with regard to our local red-light camera initiative,” Eyman wrote to Monroe’s city officials. “There was no reason to appeal two lawsuits (Monroe’s and Longview’s) so just Longview’s case will be reviewed but the actions of both Longview and Monroe will be judged by the high court.”
Eyman said he doesn’t know what, if any, legal impact a decision in his favor could have on Monroe, though.
“It depends on what the state Supreme Court says and how they rule,” he said. He expects a decision in 2014.
The cameras are slated for removal Dec. 31.