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City Council uses $3.2 million collected from red-light runners and school-zone speeders to build sidewalks

February 27, 2019

School-zone speeding tickets and fines collected from drivers running red lights are funding $3.2 million in new sidewalks and a series of other traffic features meant to keep pedestrians safe.

Most of the projects will be built in northeast Spokane.

More than $2 million of the the “traffic calming” funds will be used to build sidewalks, many of which will be around elementary schools or parks. The City Council unanimously approved the funds in their Monday meeting.

Some roads in northeast Spokane are high speed arterials that are dangerous for pedestrians, said Councilwoman Kate Burke, who represents that part of the city. She said even small improvements, like a few blocks of sidewalks or a speed feedback sign, will make her district more walkable for everyone.

“They are little fixes, but little fixes can go a long way,” she said.

Burke argued that in her council district, which includes the Hillyard, Logan and East Central neighborhoods, pedestrian safety infrastructure is lagging because it hasn’t received the sort of investments that other council districts, such as the South Hill, have historically received.

The largest improvements will be to the area surrounding Arlington Elementary School in Hillyard. The city will build two new sidewalks and replace a 20 mph speed zone marker with a flashing sign, which combined will cost more than $550,000.

Sidewalks also will be built near Rogers High School, Chief Garry Park, Whitman Elementary School, Madison Elementary and Loma Vista Park.

Strong Road will also have a sidewalk built, which neighborhood council members cheered.

Maribeth Watt, who co-chairs the Five Mile Neighborhood Council, said much of the northeastern edge of Spokane is prairie land that the city annexed and never built sidewalks. She said schoolchildren and bus riders often have to walk on the road to get to school or work.

She said the roads are especially dangerous for pedestrians during winter, when drivers are struggling against ice, potholes and fog.

“It’s not safe for anybody,” she said.

In south Spokane, sidewalks will be built near Hamblen and Lincoln elementary schools. The city also will move crosswalks near Lewis and Clark high School and install a speed bump near Hutton Elementary.

The city will build another sidewalk in the Grandview and Thorpe neighborhoods along Milton Street.

The funds to pay for the pedestrian safety improvements come from the city’s red-light camera and school-zone speeding tickets. More than half of the money of the money comes from the school zone radar enforcement program, which came online in 2016.

Responding to complaints that the city’s camera enforcement program would be more about raising revenue than boosting safety the City Council from the beginning of the program stipulated that revenues be used for traffic safety projects. Despite pressure over the years to divert the money to other parts of the city budget, the City Council has maintained the rule.

Funds for traffic calming are divided into schools and neighborhood council projects. The neighborhood council project funds are from tickets given to drivers who are caught on camera running red lights and can be used for any neighborhood council requests. The school funding, which is almost $2.2 million, comes from school speed-zone cameras and can only be used on traffic calming projects near schools.

Katie Myers, the city’s community programs coordinator, said the city received about $2 million in requests for projects from neighborhood councils, but was only able to fund about half of them. She said all of the requests from Spokane Public Schools, or for projects around schools, were approved.

She said the city hasn’t seen significant increases in funding for projects from the red light cameras, but has seen more revenue from school zones is up. The most likely explanation for the slowdown in red light funding is that people in Spokane are running fewer red lights, but still adjusting to the new school zone cameras, she said.

Craig Bulkley, the manager of the Spokane Police Department’s red light and speed system, said the red light camera program began in 2008, there were four cameras that led to almost 1,300 citations. In 2018 there were almost 17,000 citations from 15 cameras spread across the city.

While red-light tickets are always $136, speeders pay more. Depending on how fast a driver was going, they can pay between $230 and $450 for speeding in a school zone.

The school zone camera program led to about 9,600 citations in 2016 and almost 8,000 citations in 2017. Bulkley said the citations from 2018, which include two additional cameras, are not available yet.

He said only 5 percent of people who are ticketed in school zones are cited again.

Councilwoman Candace Mumm said one of the few citywide proposals included in the funding plan, $50,000 for mapping preferred routes to school, will be used to digitize a map that shows where there are gaps in sidewalks. That will help neighborhood councils when they are preparing grant requests.