Traffic cameras could help bus commuters from over 20 legislative districts
Credit: Zack Heistand / twitter

Update 1: Y’all wanted to know why Sen. Saldaña proposed her amendment exempting transit from citations. The answer is at the bottom of the post. I promise you won’t have to click 10 times to get to it.

Update 2: Sen. Saldaña has submitted a striker amendment, with the effects listed below.

Update 3: Sen. Saldaña has submitted a second striker amendment, with the effects listed below. The first four amdendments have all been pulled, leaving just the last two eligible for floor discussion and action.

Update 4: Sen. Hasegawa has submitted two amendments to Saldaña’s second striker to push Seattle to operate camera enforcement in-house. Those two make four that could come up on the Senate floor.

Final Update: The bill did not get brought up on the Senate floor by adjournment for the year, midnight Sunday. It goes back to the start line in 2020.

Both chambers of the State Legislature took the morning off while various conference committees (some formal and some informal) and party caucuses try to iron out disagreements on various bills, including biennial transportation appropriations (Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1160). Both chambers are scheduled to reconvene in voting session at 2 pm. The session ends at midnight Sunday.

The bill to add additional allowed uses of automated camera enforcement for traffic violations, including bus lanes, crosswalks, and blocking the box (ESHB 1793), is 53rd – and last – on the Senate’s regular floor calendar, after having gotten voted out of the Senate Rules Committee at first asking yesterday.

Eight floor amendments to ESHB 1793 have been proposed:

  • (PULLED) Sen. Mike Padden (R – Spokane Valley) has proposed that before a city (i.e. Seattle) can deploy camera enforcement of these new categories, it must pass a vote of the people in that city.
  • (PULLED) Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D – Seattle) has proposed that buses and streetcars be exempted from the new categories, which is to say that buses could still be cited for blocking the intersection or crosswalk by street patrols, but not by automated cameras.
  • (PULLED) Sen. Saldaña has submitted a striker amendment that would have the following “Effect”s compared to the original bill:

    (1) Reduces the violations that may be detected by a camera in the pilot program to: Stopping at intersection or crosswalk violations; public transportation only lane violations; and stopping or traveling in restricted lane violations.

    (2) Further limits the pilot program enforcement of intersection or crosswalk blocking violations to the 20 intersections at which the city would most like to address safety concerns.

    (3) Exempts portions of roadways that serve as an on-ramp to an interstate from the pilot program.

    (4) Requires that only a warning may be issued for violations until December 31, 2019.

    (5) Authorizes the issuance of an infraction from January 1, 2020, to January 1, 2022.

    (6) Limits the amount of the fine for the infraction to no more than $60.

    (7) Public transportation vehicles may not be issued an infraction under the pilot program.

    (8) Redirects the portion of the infraction penalties that are distributed to the state to the Multimodal Transportation Account instead of the Highway Safety Account.

    The striker amendment would notably remove emergency vehicle access enforcement and lengthen the pilot program to three years from the two years in the bill as it passed the House.

  • (PULLED) Sen. Padden has proposed an amendment to the striker amendment, textually identical to his amendment to the original bill.
  • Sen. Saldaña has submitted a second striker amendment that makes the same changes as the first striker, but would also remove the first warning in 2020 and go straight to issuing infractions, and would direct all the profit to the state’s Multimodal Transportation Account.
  • Sen. Padden has submitted an amendment to the second striker, textually identical to his other two amendments.
  • Sen . Bob Hasegawa (D – Renton) has submitted an amendment to the second striker to bar contracting out operation of the camera enforcement system. The contracting out of camera enforcement by other jurisdictions is something Tim Eyman complained about during Wednesday’s committee hearing. Seattle, and many other cities that do or have done automated camera enforcement, contracted out to American Traffic Solutions to operate the program.
  • Sen. Hasegawa then submitted a second amendment to the second striker to require Seattle to examine the resources necessary to wholly operate and administer the traffic safety camera program. This appears to be Plan B in case the City can’t get out of its existing contract with ATS.

Passage of any amendments to the bill would mean the bill then has to go back to the House for concurrence on those amendments. The bill could then die because the clock runs out. Or, the House could refuse to concur, and the clock would run out before the Senate could back down from its amendment(s).

The clock could very well run out before the bill even gets its first vote in the Senate. Moreover, every amendment that gets debated runs the clock out on other bills.

During testimony Wednesday in the Senate Transportation Committee, Tim Eyman gloated that he had helped referendum traffic cameras under the current uses (red lights and school zones), and defeat allowing such traffic cameras in several cities. He suggested automatic referendum language for ESHB 1793, but also hinted he might try to put the issue on the ballot, either in Seattle or statewide.

I asked Saldaña who had requested her amendment to exempt transit vehicles from being cited for blocking the sidewalk or box. She responded, “My proposed amendment that exempts public transit from the intersections is an agreement between the City of Seattle, ATU 587, and King County.”

29 Replies to “Floor Amendments May Block the Box for Final Approval of Bus Lane Cameras”

  1. Now why shouldn’t busses be cited by the cameras when cars can? What a racket. Obsurd at best. Busses are often the worst at following traffic laws as it is, so why give them yet Another pass? They are supposed to be professional drivers, so why don’t we treat them like it?

    1. Because it’s one government agency fining another government agency. It’s a huge waste of resources.

      1. Actually, traffic cops stop buses that fail to stop at railroad tracks, pretty frequently. In most cases, the driver’s license is then suspended, and the transit agency then has to fork over lots of overtime to cover the route. The service is also disrupted for the rest of the day. This is far more expensive than Metro merely paying a fine to the City/State.

      2. Also, don’t expect the City to voluntarily fine itself when one of the streetcars gets stuck in the intersection or on a crosswalk, especially now that the end result would simply be writing a small check to the State. I don’t think any amendment is actually necessary for that to happen, or for the City to simply not follow up on violations by Metro, Sound Transit, and Community Transit.

      3. So fine the bus drivers themselves, not the transit company. A picture will give you time and route number or bus number. It isn’t at all difficult. Problem solved.

        If you get your license suspended while working for transit, you should simply be fired for unprofessional conduct.

      4. Fining citizens to alter illegal behavior – good use of resources.

        Fining government agency to alter illegal behavior – bad use of resources.

        Huh?

    2. Because a bus carries 50 people in the space taken by two cars. So a car blocking the box is 25 times worse than a bus blocking the box, and should be treated as such. If you fine the buses to death then there’s still the transportation problem to solve.

      1. I’ll beg to disagree with that math. The number of passengers on board the blocking vehicle isn’t the point. It’s the size that matters.

        A car blocking the box can block two lanes. A bus blocking the box can stall all traffic in all directions. If a car can block 300 bus riders at an intersection, a bus could block 600 or more bus riders at the same intersection.

        Let’s also look at safety. Have you ever tried to maneuver a wheelchair into traffic, around a bus blocking a crosswalk? That would be a lot scarier than maneuvering around a standard car, whose driver is more likely to see you, and pull back a little if there is room.

    3. Bus drivers must follow traffic laws too. I have known of bus drivers getting speeding tickets!

    4. Buses sometimes can’t get through an intersection because parallel-traveling through cars (that change lanes mid intersection) or right-turn-on-red cars fill up a 30-foot space on the far side of the intersection while the bus is waiting for a 60-foot gap. Sometimes bus drivers really miscalculate, and that’s an issue, but at some intersections on some days occasional partial blocking is the only way for a bus or truck to get through.

    5. In my experience as a pedestrian and cyclist, bus drivers in Seattle are among the best drivers. They actually stop at crosswalks (marked and otherwise) when pedestrians want to cross, and they drive the speed limit. Can you give some examples you’ve experienced of bus drivers not driving well?

    6. One good reason to not fine bus drivers: Often, we’re forced to block when drivers of vehicles “dive bomb” into our lane when we’re entering the intersection. I rarely block crosswalks or intersections these days, but when I do, this is the most common scenario. (For the record, I do my best in such situations to block the box but NOT the crosswalks. Preventing vehicles from moving seems far safer, in my experience.)

      You also don’t want to give bus drivers a reason to slam on the brakes with a load of passengers – An obvious safety issue.

      Box and crosswalk blocking can be policed by supervisors issuing PR’s as well as pedestrians calling in complaints with the coach number (If you do this, please be aware of the possibility of “dive bombing” or other possible mitigating circumstances, though I suspect we could write an “incident report” to explain the situation in advance.

      I received a red light violation while driving the D Line and can confirm drivers pay fines issued to Metro by photo enforcement. I received a PR for the violation which would be subject to progressive discipline, retraining, or termination if it were a pattern. (Conditions that led to the violation, ironically, were created by signal priority. The D Line coaches usually receive a green light at the location I was cited so I became habituated to making the green light. The ticket was an expensive reminder that signal priority is not absolute. Not a good excuse. Lesson learned. More photo enforcement cameras, please.)

      1. Excellent response. I’ve seen this all the time. I’ve never heard it called “dive bomb”, but it is a good term. It is also worth noting that buses are really big. A bus won’t move until it sees a big gap in front. The gap is very attractive, and a car in a lane over will take it. For the same reason, I’ve often seen people take a right turn on red as well, even thought that is illegal. You can’t take a right turn on red if there is a car (or bus) heading that direction. But people do this every day, knowing they can get away with it. The driver going straight is doing the right thing, waiting for a space, but someone takes a right turn (on red) before they can get there. If the bus driver was already slowly accelerating to that spot, they are going to block the box.

        It reminds of a story I heard. Apparently Metro decided, for safety reasons, to implement a two second rule for the freeway. On the surface, this is a great policy. Lead by example, and all that. So bus drivers slowed down a bit, to allow more space in front of them. The problem is, other cars cut in front. Pretty soon, buses were going over the freeway at 25 miles per hour in the middle of the day. The rule was rescinded.

        Often times it isn’t the driver of the bus that is at fault, but other drivers.

      2. Thanks much. I’ve seen this sort of auto/pickup driver irresponsible behavior while riiding a bus. A very lucid description and thoughtful explanation of reasoning and consequences,

    7. Complaining about buses blocking the box seems like not seeing the forest for the trees or being deliberately anti-transit. It’s like people who are so insistent that bicycles be licensed even though bikes are like 5% of the vehicles on the road, have negligible impacts compared to cars, and if half the people rode bikes we’d need way fewer and narrower road lanes. Not exempting buses ignores the huge benefits buses provide, and at worst can lead to less bus service due to higher expenses. It’s not like buses are blocking the box every day. It just happens that sometimes you think a car in front will move for you to fit in the next block but then it doesn’t,.

  2. Sad how Eyman can threaten to put this to referendum but we can’t make this an initiative… think about it. We need to change this. Enough already.

    I am sick and damn tired of bullies from Mukilteo – note the plural and stay tuned – dictating terms as to transit access & needs. Where the bloody hellfire is our side?

  3. A few years ago, I was on the 44, and we got stuck at the left turn from 15th to 45th for 30 minutes because the bus driver refused to block the box, while westbound traffic on 45th blocked the box every chance they could. Eventually the driver put the matter to a vote, and it was unanimous – it’s illegal, it’s mean, it’s unfair to pedestrians, but the 44 was SRO and we wanted to get home too.

    I really hope that intersection is the first one to get these automated enforcement cameras, though I really wonder at our police’s priorities that they can’t just put a traffic cop at that spot every afternoon during peak periods.

    1. The police work for the Mayor. For better or worse, they follow the mayor’s (not specific to the current one) orders, sometimes with unfortunate consequences. It is also the mayor who will choose the 20 intersections to camera, should the striker version of the bill pass.

      I’m not absolutely sure, but I think everything north of the Ship Canal will be too far from downtown to qualify for participation in the pilot program.

    2. Also, it sounds like a better solution there would be a bus lane on 45th, so the bus always has space.

      1. I really wish 45th had a bus lane or, even better, make it like 3rd Ave was before it became all-day transit: ban cars from traveling more than one block on it during peak times, and reduce the scofflaw incentive by closing the I-5 on-ramps to anything but transit (the 50th St ramps work fine, and has very little in-service transit). I’m no expert (the biggest vehicle I’ve ever operated is my bike), but the problem with the 15th-45th left turn is that the block-face between 15th and the Ave is very short, and articulated buses need to make a wide turn to get straightened out. It doesn’t take much of a backup even in the inner lane to make the outer lane inaccessible to buses.

      2. Some of you live in a fantasy world and your wish that 45th not allow through traffic is a fantasy as you don’t realize or don’t want to understand that 45th one of two east-west streets in North Seattle and the other one is 85th. Traffic has go east-west and not just cars but also delivery trucks and first responders.

        Get of your bike and come to the real world.

      3. Ignoring the hate for bike lanes that nobody suggested on this thread…

        45th St is due to become a much busier bus corridor once Northgate Link opens. That will reduce a big chunk of bus turns.

        If the bottlenecks are toward I-5 in the morning, it really only takes one bus lane to get buses out of that mess.

        I do expect some modeshift to buses partially because transit will become a faster trip, and partially because driving on 45th will become less convenient, with or without any bus lanes.

        You could provide an option to escape gridlock, with a bus lane, or you could make everyone sit in gridlock, simply out of spite.

        Think of this like the ORCA haters. If Metro proposed to raise cash fares to $3, some would cry social injustice because they like the self-convenience of fumbling $2.75 in cash and change, so they’ll insist the ORCA fares go up, too. And then, everyone has to pay more instead of giving lots of riders an option to save a quarter. That’s essentially what the bus-lane haters are doing to travel times for everyone

    3. I really wonder at our police’s priorities that they can’t just put a traffic cop at that spot every afternoon during peak periods.

      That is a big problem in general, and it isn’t limited to traffic issues. We simply have too few cops for a city our size.

      The story reminds me of the one I mentioned up above: https://seattletransitblog.com/2019/04/27/floor-amendments-may-block-the-box-for-final-approval-of-bus-lane-cameras/#comment-821965. If a bus driver is too passive, they simply won’t get anywhere.

      1. They can field 40+ bike cops and several vans for 20 person protests downtown on a few hours’ notice…they have more than enough bodies, they just refuse to use them for anything that isn’t harassing people.

      2. No, they’re too busy making sure the SOVs can get out of their parking garages without having to wait for filthy pedestrians with the temerity to walk down the sidewalk like they belong there.

    1. It was referred back to the House Rules Committee for a third reading, which I guess means its dead.
      Surprised this got as far as it did to be honest, I hope that it gives impetus to get something passed.

      1. That’s so frustrating!! Box blockers and bus lane cheats make my blood boil. I’ve been consoling myself over the past couple months with the thought that their comeuppance was on its way.

        Now I guess it’s back to silently seething (and occasionally shouting at people when I’m feeling a little extra grumpy).

  4. Could the city start requiring all parking garages that get traffic directors to also provide funding for another box blocking enforcer?

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