Council hears another pitch for red light cameras, OKs parkland property purchase in southeast Edmonds

L-R: Assistant Police Chief Rodney Sniffen and Chief Michelle Bennett

This article has been updated with the addition of a chart showing intersection-related crashes in 2023 and the specific number of red-light related crashes.

Red-light cameras and whether they should be installed in Edmonds dominated the discussion at Tuesday’s Edmonds City Council meeting.

Council President Vivian Olson explained that the council invited the Edmonds Police Department to make a presentation about the cameras — as a follow-up to council consideration of the idea in November — but emphasized that there would be no decision Tuesday night on whether they would be implemented.

The council in November voted 5-2 against a proposal for a red-light camera pilot program at three to five Edmonds intersections. The measure had been included as a 2024 police department budget proposal for $180,000 but with revenue estimated at $3.5 million based on fines issued.

Tuesday night’s presentation from Edmonds Police Chief Michelle Bennett and Assistant Chief Rodney Sniffen included an analysis of collision data at nine high-accident Edmonds intersections, plus a litany of research supporting the idea that red-light cameras increase traffic safety.

Edmonds already has a consultant on board – VERRA Mobility — that has installed the speed cameras located at five school zones. VERRA assisted the police department with its local research on possible locations for red-light cameras, and if the council chose to proceed with the idea, VERRA could do the work. Sniffen noted that the city has issued about 800 citations since Feb. 5, when the school zone cameras were activated.

During her presentation, Bennett also addressed whether installation of the red-light cameras would cost the city additional money. In one example, she explained that issuing 1,680 tickets per month at a $130 average fine would bring in $262,000 in revenue, while costs — including the cameras and Edmonds Municipal Court time for those contesting tickets — would be $21,700. Police time wasn’t included because staff estimate they can include reviewing camera views of infractions — which must be done before tickets are issued — as part of their regular workload.

Based on that example, the estimated annual red-light camera revenue would be $2,751,600, Bennett said.

But the chief stressed the initiative isn’t about revenue. The reality, Bennett said, is that Washington state has seen an increase in traffic fatalities — up 38% last year compared with 2019 — reaching a 30-year high. Pedestrian fatalities also hit a 20-year high in 2021.

2023 collision data in Edmonds.
Intersection-related 2023 collision data

The most recent data, from 2023, indicated 561 total collisions in Edmonds, with the majority of crashes occurring along Highway 99. Responding to questions from Councilmember Michelle Dotsch, Bennett said Tuesday night it was unknown how many of these were caused by drivers running red lights. However, in a separate interview Wednesday, she said that further investigation by the department’s traffic sergeant determined there were 18 red light-related crashes in 2023.

Bennett pointed to another reason for implementing red-light cameras: It takes the judgment — and possible bias — of police officers out of the equation. “Camera violations do not distiguish gender, economic status or race,” she said. For those who can’t afford to pay, ticket costs “can be mitigated based on hardship.”

Councilmember Jenna Nand — who has in the past opposed the idea of red-light cameras — said Tuesday the cameras could be “one potential tool the council is considering” to address busy intersections, but added that more public engagement was needed before making a decision. She also asked her fellow councilmembers to be mindful that some residents — including those with minimum-wage jobs or who are not native English speakers — may not have the ability to contest a ticket.

“This is a policy discussion we have to have between the politicians that should not involve the police department and the courts,” Nand said.

Sniffen noted that the city has the ability to establish the red-light camera rules so that certain violations — such as those involving a right turn on a red light without stopping — aren’t included. “We’re not trying to catch people — you know, ‘I got you — you didn’t come to a complete stop before you made a right turn.’ We are looking for the egregious violations that are accident-causing behavior that cause serious collisions and injuries,” Sniffen said.

Bennett suggested three options for a possible pilot program that could include one of the following three red-light camera options:

1) At three high-accident intersections citywide:

220th Street Southwest and Highway 99

212th Street Southwest and 76th Avenue West

State Route 104 and 100th Avenue West

2) At six Highway 99 intersections and three additional high-accident intersections:

224th Street Southwest and Highway 99

220th Street Southwest and Highway 99

238th Street Southwest and Highway 99

216th Street Southwest and Highway 99

228th Street Southwest and Highway 99

212th Street Southwest and Highway 99

220th Street Southwest and 76th Avenue West

212th Street Southwest and 76th Avenue West

State Route 104 and 100th Avenue West

3) At three Highway 99 intersections and three non-Highway 99 intersections.

Councilmember Susan Paine then moved that the council bring the red-light camera issue back for further discussion and a decision in April. That motion failed on a 3-4 vote, with Councilmembers Chris Eck and Will Chen joining Paine in support. In opposing the measure, Nand said it was important to not rush the decision and to instead ensure appropriate public involvement.

While Olson didn’t support Paine’s call to bring back the matter by a specific date, she said that the data in Bennett’s presentation “really does support the value” of the cameras. In addition to addressing the increase in reckless driving, the city does “have some serious financial woes and there is probably a net positive from this implementation,” Olson said. “Some way, some how we are going to be unable to get out this just by cutting expenses. There are going to be ways that we’re going to have revenues generated.”

Chen said that it’s time for the council to make a decision about the cameras. “There is plenty of evidence that this will improve public safety,” he said.

The Mee property

In other business Tuesday, the council unanimously approved funding sources and authorized the agreement to purchase the Mee property located adjacent to Mathay Ballinger Park in the Lake Ballinger neighborhood.

Parks, Recreation and Human Services Director Angie Feser said the purchase of the .9-acre property includes a well-established tree canopy and expands the footprint of the only city-owned park in south and southeast Edmonds. It will also support a trailhead for the Interurban Trail.

Mee property funding

With its vote, the council authorized spending up to $1,137,500 for the property purchase and related costs. The city is receiving a Snohomish County Conservation Futures grant of $853,125 to cover 75% of related costs, plus $200,000 from the city’s tree fund and $84,375 from the parks capital fund, which is meant specifically for this type of purchase.

The council also received a 2024 work plan report from the Edmonds Planning and Development Department, with Director Susan McLaughlin noting the department has many important initiatives underway this year. These included ensuring the city’s codes are compliant with recent state housing legislation, city code updates and completing the 2024 Comprehensive Plan update.

Edmonds Planning and Development Department 2024 work plan

This work is even more challenging because the department is understaffed and 80% of the staff workload consists of permitting, said McLaughlin, who added she is confident the plan can be completed.

Finally, the council heard the 2023 report from the Public Defender’s Office.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. What was the purpose of the report from the Planning and Development Department last night? It was included as “business” so I would have expected some decision to have been made, which there was not. Hence, it was just informational.

    I would suggest that in the future the council president, before the business topic is introduced, articulate the purpose of the specific agenda topic and what decision needs to be made. Otherwise, it’s not really a business topic at all.

    It was obvious from last night by the questions that were asked (and more importantly those that were not asked) that the majority of the council members didn’t have a clue what they were to do with the information they just received. In this case it was another missed opportunity as there are many budgetary implications involved in this department which were not addressed.

    1. Jim,

      My guess is that the department was doing a Wizard of Oz “pay no attention to the man [expenditures} behind the curtain.” They likely want Council to focus on how hard the department is working and ignore the department’s expenditures of “$1.6m in professional services last year with $700k being over approved budget.”

      The above quote is from Diane Buckshnis’ comment to last week’s committee meeting report:

      As you said, “it was another missed opportunity as there are many budgetary implications involved in this department which were not addressed.”

  2. Regarding red light cameras: If the police install 9 cameras, how much time does it take to review the camera infractions per camera? “Police time wasn’t included because staff estimate they can include reviewing camera views of infractions — which must be done before tickets are issued — as part of their regular workload.”–so if the time to review is part of their regular workload–what things won’t get done? I find it hard to believe the time to review the camera infractions can just be absorbed. If so, then the police must be either doing unimportant work, or are not busy enough now?
    If a test is done for 3 intersections, then the police should also track the time it takes to review those review camera infractions.

  3. Vote YES for the red-light cameras … option #3 Vehicles are weapons – big, heavy tonnage weapons, Violators have been rampant for the past 3 years and citizens and police need technology solutions. Driver behavior is NOT changing and more pedestrians, bike riders /scooters are emerging – they are easy to kill with a vehicle weapon. The police will be scraping your loved one off the street with a spatula. Smart action is to vote YES and avoid big, stupid regrets next year.

  4. Does it seem a little strange that the COP bringing a “surprise” we need policy change to the City Council for quick action to add stop light cameras to three intersections couldn’t answer CM Dotsch’s question as to how many of the recent accidents referred to in the testimony were caused by running red lights? This would seem like kind of key information to have obtained before the request. I commend CM Nand for her desire for a much more cautious and deliberative approach to any future actions taken on this supposed need. I’m a little concerned about CM Chen’s “let’s just get it done” yesterday approach. I think the potential 2.5 million dollar revenue is the silent elephant in the room.

    1. Clinton I agree completely CM Nand showed some mature leadership on this red light camera issue. Further, her passionate comment that this would affect negatively lower income and English as a second language citizens I found to be quite compelling.For some other council members it’s all about the money.

      1. Thank you, Clint and Brian, I want to make sure that we have community buy-in, particularly from the specifically targeted neighborhoods, before proceeding with this major policy change in our city.

        I commend Chief Bennett and Commander Sniffen for their hard work on aggregating all of this information for council’s consideration. Our police department did their job, as directed by the mayor, in bringing this information forward. And now it’s the council job to consider how to proceed.

        1. I’m curious as to why the police cannot provide an answer to CM Dotsch’s question as to how many accidents have been caused at these chosen intersections from drivers running red lights; or, the very least, how many accidents have occurred at these specific intersections? Shouldn’t the police department have this information? If the sole purpose for these cameras is to stop accidents at these intersections, then this question should have been asked and answered from the very beginning. There were 561 crashes in 2023 but that includes all intersections and roads in Edmonds, not these specific intersections. Why would any CM move forward without knowing this? The only reason I can think of is that it is more about the revenue stream than the actual purpose of decreasing accidents.

        2. I just added a chart from last night’s presentation that includes specific intersections with collisions.

        3. And a further update: Chief Bennett just provided the total number of red light-related crashes in 2023 — there were 18. We added that to the story.

        4. As a city council member you should know that it’s Assistant Chief Sniffen. You demoted him to Commander.

    2. Yes, this is all about the revenue. We can expect them to come at us from all directions for our pocketbooks over the next few months. I would suggest that before they do they use the money we’ve already given them more efficiently. Plenty of wasted money on nonessential, special interest ideas and State unfunded “mandates”. CM Tibbot pointed this out too last night as a source of financial concern.

  5. The big question here should be how
    many accidents are caused by cars running red lights?
    If they cannot answer that, then this seems a money grab more than accident prevention.
    I see many fender benders from people not stopping further back in the line of traffic and colliding with the car in front of them vs running a red light.
    (Sure they have stats for collisions but if none of those were the result of people running red lights, then this solves nothing. )

    1. I see the concern that this is a money grab rather than safety issue. How many of us, however, quickly check speed or slow down when they see an officer sitting off the side of the road? That is where the safety benefits lie. People know that someone is watching and they refrain from speeding through an intersection rather even when it’s about to turn red.

  6. I am not against red light cameras, but I am pro not being lied to. And what I mean by that is that I do truly believe the EPD leadership is focusing this on safety improvements and seem to have a balanced approach on how to administer the program, but I believe the CMs who are supporting this are focused on the revenue generation. And, it is hard to support that effort if they are also unable to make difficult decisions elsewhere, like removing the Landmark project from any further consideration. That is where I feel that this is not lining up. Even IF it was completely about revenue generation, I would STILL support the effort for that reason if I saw those decisions being made that I reference above and not just coming back to citizens through punitive measures to fund non-essential projects. I am making assumptions here for sure, but that is my read on the situation. In addition to traffic safety, lets not forget all of the other safety issues up on HWY99 that could be addressed if we focused our valuable resources on actionable/reasonable ideas.

    1. Tom,

      I couldn’t agree with you more. I too hate being misled and lied to. And every time that happens it just further erodes my trust in our elected officials (I hold the mayor responsible for city staff behavior and statements). This comes in multiple forms as well. Half-truths, not full disclosure, waiting for the perfect question to be asked, biased reports, one-sided arguments, side stepping direct questions, etc.. All of this causes me to dig deeper to find the underlying truth.

      I’m hoping that our new administration and Council can clean this up quickly. They will need to in order to regain trust if they expect to come and ask us for the doubling of our city personal property tax rate later this year.

  7. Almost everything is about money. It makes the world go around. This problem of folks running a light is pretty small compared to the fentanyl coming over our intentionally open border and the millions coming legally who don’t have insurance or licenses and aren’t paying most taxes. In fact if they hit your car they are pretty much immune from consequences. If it’s worse they just leave the state or country. Gang violence is a big issue also. When it comes to Equity how about some equity for the actual tax paying citizens. Red Light Cameras won’t fix the high crime area our political class created in the last 20 years.

  8. I think it is fair to ask the Chief who is advocating for red light cameras as a safety issue how many of the 561 collisions were the result of someone disobeying a red light. As an advocate you might consider that as a question that would be asked? Maybe Edmonds PD does not know? If so, how can they propose that these cameras will decrease the number of collisions without data? Of course we would like to see no collisions but I thought Edmonds averaging 1.5 collisions per day would be not so bad, especially considering the amount a traffic on 99.
    I cannot remember the date but at a council meeting last year it seemed many of the council members were very enamored with a report of the amount of revenue that Lynnwood was generating from their red light cameras. Does Edmonds really want to be Lynnwood? Some municipalities have been accused (and some proven) that they are shortening the amount of time the traffic light goes from yellow to red to generate more income. Let’s put cameras at every stop sign in Edmonds and our financial worries are gone.

    1. The article was updated by the editor after you posted this comment/question. 18 of the 561 collisions were related to running a red light.

      1. So we can now honestly say that just about 4% of all our collisions in 2023 were caused by running a red light? So the next obvious question is, does this make the red light camera installations a real valuable tool to stop or prevent lots of collisions or just another way to make some much needed cash to run the city? This is why we want our city government to follow the stringent state guidelines for implementing these things and why we don’t want mayors and department heads tying to promote and manage policy. Edmonds city government needs to quit trying to manipulate public opinion, sometimes to the point of fear mongering, and just take care of the real needed to get done business. MUST haves first and NICE to haves last.

        1. Given the number of people I see running reds every day (at least one per intersection along 99) compared to the number of accidents I’ve witnessed in the past year (none), I think I’d still rather have basic traffic laws enforced by camera, and have our officers focus their efforts on other police work. That would increase how much safer I feel whether I’m in my car, on my bike, or walking. But maybe that’s just me?

  9. I very much like and respect COP Bennett and the fact that we need a sustained and reliable source of income to support the high costs of running a modern police department. I have little to no problem with that source of income being the people who pretty routinely disobey the traffic laws; if we implement it in the right way after a deliberate and lawful discussion of all the pros and cons and know exactly what we are getting into.

    I have a real problem with the way this was presented at the last minute possible to the Council apparently hoping for a quick and dirty implementation. This smacks of a technique that we had hoped we had gotten rid of by electing a new Mayor in the last election. Another aspect of what went down last night was a whole bunch of time wasting discussion by our Council and city staff people and we wonder why there never seems to be enough Council or staff time to get the real jobs done. Come on Chief Bennett and Mayor Rosen, we all know you are both bigger and better than this sad display.

  10. I don’t think it benefits our police department in any way except they seem to want to save lives and calm traffic. I do think that many accidents are not reported to the police. Many people just exchange insurance info. So, no insurance no info. Insurance rates are increasing a lot and that has an effect on everyone. Rich or poor. (Ins. premiums, loss of Driver’s License?) repeat offenders? I see red lights run often at the intersections mentioned. Particularly at 76th and 212th going East. With all of the sporting events at Woodway HS there are kids all around and adults long after the school day has ended, 5 evenings a week, spring summer and fall. I see it at 99 and 220th and I see it along HWY 99 too. I don’t know but I wonder if they take a pic do they check the license plate to see if the car is stolen or is there a warrant for that driver? With all of the exemptions I don’t think the city will make that much money and I don’t think that is the CC intent. Personally, I believe in deterrents. So, what is the best idea for all of our Edmonds Citizens city wide?

  11. Deborah, there is a very specific state law about the LEGISLATIVE body of the local government entity having to do a thorough study of every proposed place in a town or county where traffic cameras will be located as to specifically why they are needed in each spot and this must be done before there can be a vote on approving them and the same process must be done before any existing cameras can be moved to another location. These ideas are supposed to come from the Legislative part of government; not the Executive side of government. Our Council is supposed to set the policy and our Mayor and Police are supposed to enforce the policy. If our Council had approved this last night, it would have been highly questionable if it would have even been a legal act. Just doing things the right way would be a real good start to having much better government here.

  12. Please note that V Mobility is located in Mesa, Arizona.If these red-light cameras are installed, they will taking a big chunk of the money for themselves. It sounds like they are already involved. Keep tabs on the council members who vote for this and see if they end up receiving any “payout” for their votes.

  13. Driver behavior can use all the “pay attention to the road” reminders we can add. Could Edmonds be the last “small town with a ton of traffic” not to have a few red light cameras? Yes it’s a potential revenue generator but it seems the best deterrent for distracted and aggressive driving is pocketbooks. Nand’s concern over non English speaking recipients of tickets is commendable but far from a deal breaker. Interpreters for a court hearing and ticketing language available in multiple languages. Seattle manages multiple languages just fine. Let’s not over think safety and the rising insurance rates from the tons of fender benders in the greater Seattle area (Edmonds included) .

  14. Sadly, while on the way to Edmonds Food Bank this morning, I experienced a close call with an Edmonds School Bus driver who drove thru a red light while making a left turn. Seems like we need a general rules of the road compliance reset. Maybe some camera tickets will help get us there.

  15. I guess what bugged me so much about this red-light camera controversy is the stories just didn’t match up. I think most would agree that the two main reasons for auto accidents are excessive speed and distracted driving. The local police chief said that they were woefully understaffed and didn’t have time to be enforcing speed or distracted violations citywide but had enough time each month to review thousands a projected camera violations. Wouldn’t it be more effective if even if it was only eight to 10 hours a month that a law enforcement officer was enforcing against people using their cell phones or driving too fast citywide. I have high respect for law enforcement, with that comes a high expectation standard of veracity. Clearly, for some reasons the Chief’s story just did not match up.

  16. If indeed the focus of these red-light cameras is for public safety and not as a source of revenue generation, then the City Council should have no problem dedicating any revenue which comes from the fines to be allocated to restricted funds for sidewalk and street repairs and not just deposited in our General Fund. I’ll go a step further and suggest that the revenue from the school zone camera fines be put in a restricted fund as well. After all, don’t we need more or better sidewalks, particularly around schools? And these dedicated funds could be earmarked for additional traffic calming efforts around the city as well.

    This will flush out the true intent of these cameras. Is it to improve public safety around automobiles or just another way to bail out our mismanaged General Fund? Which council member will step up and make this motion? I’d like to see how the vote goes.

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