Seattle already has four cameras enforcing speed limits in school zones, and more are on the way. The revenue from those first cameras, expected to be around $800,000 in fines this year, is now on track to be $5 million. And now, they get to start spending all that hard-earned money on traffic-safety improvements aimed at making it safer to walk to school.
This week, Mayor McGinn announced that the city expects to pull in $14.8 million in the next two years from the cameras, and in a giddy press release—just a recounting of the piles and piles of money being diverted from the pockets of speed-limit scofflaws straight to projects that help kids not die—he announced new projects funded with that spending, including new sidewalks near eight schools in 2014.
There's little for people to whine about, except how much everyone hates getting speeding tickets from robots. And because everyone hates getting speeding tickets from robots, the city council decided this summer that all the money raised by those speed cameras would go into a separate fund that could only be spent on traffic-safety improvements near schools, as a way of making the accounting unimpeachably neat. Council Member Nick Licata, who has long pushed for dedicated funds like this for automated enforcement, crowed in a blog post that the council's move to create a special fund—which the mayor opposed—is the sole reason all this money is going straight to the kids instead of being shuffled around in the budget. McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus protests that spending all school traffic-camera money near schools "was always the intention" and that all the council did was change the bookkeeping.
But what kinds of improvements will your $189 ticket go to, other than sunshine and rainbows and laughing children on bikes, eating tofu and judging each other by the content of their character? Well, hopefully it'll look something like this new half-mile-long sidewalk project near Dearborn Elementary, which turned this:
City of Seattle
City of Seattle
And while one main problem with speed cameras as a revenue source is that, over time, they generate less money because drivers learn to slow down, (1) that's exactly what you want and (2) the safety of those areas will be further improved by long-term traffic calming infrastructure. As road-safety nerds know, and Pickus points out, "The design of a street is the number one thing you can do" to make it safer: "If people feel safe driving fast on a street, they will." That decline in revenue is factored into their estimates, he says, noting that speed cameras are a particularly great revenue source. "Because the revenue is coming from road-safety efforts on its own"—i.e., enforcing speed limits near schools—and "it's a continuous loop, because that money is then spent on traffic calming and making it easier to walk to school."