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Monday, October 27, 2008

A Good Point

posted by on October 27 at 13:08 PM

Joel Connelly takes on one of the lesser-known evils of Tim Eyman’s I-985:

Vote in favor of the initiative and your kid may get smashed in the legs by fenders of a car running a red light, or your grandmother killed as she uses a crosswalk after getting off a bus.

Why? Initiative 985 erects a financial barrier that will prevent cities from installing or maintaining cameras at busy and dangerous intersections.

“Traffic cameras are an attempt to begin to level the playing field between powerful cars and human bodies out there. Eyman could give a rat’s rear about that,” said Andrea Okomski, whose son, Joe, suffered permanent injuries when hit by a car on North 85th Street. […]

Drivers running red lights cause more than 100,000 crashes a year, killing nearly 1,000 people and injuring 90,000 others. According to the Federal Highway Administration, this has become a leading cause of fatal collisions in metropolitan areas.

“This should be viewed as an outrageous epidemic,” Richard Retting, chief traffic engineer with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told the Ladies Home Journal.

(Side note: Did Andrea really say “rat’s rear”? And why was Connelly reading the Ladies Home Journal?)

I-985 would take all the revenue from tickets and penalties raised by red-light cameras and put it into a road-building and traffic-light-synchronization fund. Currently, those revenues pay for installing and maintaining red-light cameras. Forced to pay for cameras out of their general funds, cash-strapped cities like Seattle will almost certainly take the cameras down.

Connelly’s right that I-985 will result in more pedestrian accidents—not just because it will eliminate red-light cameras, but because it mandates that cities synchronize all traffic lights on “heavily-traveled arterials.”

Traffic light synchronization seems like a good idea, and in many cases, it is—for example, on busy, congested downtown streets in big cities like Seattle. But in other cases, it makes no sense whatsoever. Many small towns, for example, deliberately de-synchronize their lights (a strategy also known as “traffic calming”) to discourage drivers from using their main drag as a highway. Synchronizing lights ensures that traffic moves as quickly as possible—no matter what the impact is on pedestrians, cyclists, or anyone else who doesn’t happen to be in a car. It’s a typical Eyman one-size-fits-all “solution” that will make things easier for speeding drivers, at the expense of the rest of us.

RSS icon Comments


More important than your stupid kids: do you really want to pay for that speeding ticket?

Posted by someone | October 27, 2008 1:13 PM

Yet another reason why Tim Eyman sucks. Vote No on I-985!

Posted by J.R. | October 27, 2008 1:16 PM

I'm so sick of these initiatives. Why do we even bother with representative government if we are going to have silly direct democracy anyway? We should never trust the mob vote. Ever. Look at the disaster that is proposition 8 in California. When you let the mob decide, the minority loses every time. I vote no on every proposition and initiative regardless of my personal feelings on the matter. I absolutely abhor the notion of direct democracy.

Posted by Ryan | October 27, 2008 1:18 PM

Yeah, the last couple of pedestrians I hit, I so would have been paying more attention to them if I'd realized there were zomg traffic cameras!!1 monitoring the intersection.


Posted by Eric Arrr | October 27, 2008 1:23 PM

I don't like the idea of taking money away from city budgets.

On the other hand, I don't like encouraging the placement of cameras in public places. Red light cameras, like speed traps, are more about money than about safety. So this is a non starter for me. Little kids don't tend to cross the busy commercial intersections that red light cameras are placed at anyway. Joel, I call hyperbole.

As for I-985, well, it has Eyman's name on it, and that's usually enough for me. But setting fixed times for all HOV lanes to become open-access, irrespective of each route's traffic patterns, is ridiculous blind authoritarianism (surprising, coming from a conservative petitioner), and besides... in theory, if you follow the logic, there's no demand for those lanes outside of peak traffic hours anyway, so what's the point of opening them up at times they're not even necessary?

The funds lock-in is no good, either. When Eyman says "traffic reduction" he specifically does NOT mean mass transit, no matter what everyone else besides Eyman and Kemper Freeman realizes is the whole point of mass transit. So, by bolstering the pro-road agenda, it makes another side-swipe at mass transit. No thanks.

Posted by K | October 27, 2008 1:26 PM

Connolly is best when overwrought. "your kid may get smashed in the legs by fenders of a car"... or your uncle kerblammed in the hips by hoods of an SUV... or your bagboy flattened in the nads by bumpers of a Benz.

Posted by tomasyalba | October 27, 2008 1:28 PM

I'm so tired of Tim Eyman.

I'm tired of his "me first!" short-sighted, dumbass initiatives, the misleading signature collectors, all the time, energy and money devoted almost every election season to countering his pro-milquetoast-suburban-white-guy-traffic-welfare initiatives.

Can we pass an initiative banning him from being associated in any way initiative process? Or we get to take away his car? Is that legally possible? I'd be out collecting signatures to get that in the ballot in a heartbeat. I need some legal advice, here.

Posted by Seriously | October 27, 2008 1:32 PM

Um, synchronizing the lights means that the peds get a red light on which to cross.
And more: because it makes the cars go in pods, usually synchronized lights clear out traffic, and create gaps in traffic allowing brave jaywalkers to cross more safely, too.

So, um, why do they need to have desynchronized lights?

And what cities actually desynchorinze lights on purpose ?

Posted by PC | October 27, 2008 1:34 PM

Can we write an initiative to expel Tim Eyman from the state of Washington? I bet we could get enough signatures for that one without even lying about it.

Posted by Greg | October 27, 2008 1:41 PM

Eyman is a master of the "you know that thing you hate to do or have done to you, even though you probably understand that it's done for a reason, but you need affirmation to reject that reason" initiative.

Or perhaps a lot of people are just dumbasses that think their highways, police, and other transportation stuff is paid for with magic pixie dust, and that the state has billions of dollars that are being used to pay for illegal immigrant prostitution abortion marriage.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman | October 27, 2008 1:41 PM

The Red Light Cameras are functioning; at least for those that can read. It's no different then having a cop car sitting on the street. You have a better chance of being caught, therefore you will behave appropriately.
Take the one at John and Broadway. Left turners wait, back up traffic, and refuse to turn on a yellow-red, then the next yellow- red, finally at the third- they do. Now all traffic is blocked up to eleventh. (westbound).
It isn't the cameras fault. It's working as it should- even though it isn't activated. It is a poorly designed intersection. Period.

Eyman is trying to PAY for his initiative. It is a no-brainer to figure out: "Anything that doesn't have a way to pay for itself in this cash-strapped economy will fail". He is trying to strap funds from the municipalities that PAY for those cameras.

Eymans initiatives are pure BS. They are aimed at those that can AFFORD to run a red light. Eyman doesn't have his head shoved up his ass, he just preys on those that do.

Posted by Kat | October 27, 2008 1:43 PM

L.A. has their lights timed out the wazoo. They actually link them to a control center that adjusts them both with sophisticated algorithms and manually, in real time. It's a wonder of modern engineering to behold.

That's why there's no congestion in Los Angeles.

On the red light cameras, do you know Eyman and his fans consider red light cameras a "tax?" These people habitually run red lights, and they intent to keep running them. With drivers like that out there, Connelly's right to be overwrought.

Posted by elenchos | October 27, 2008 1:45 PM


Cameras in parks = Bad

Cameras at intersections = Good

Thanks for being consistent!

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | October 27, 2008 2:04 PM

Now check this out if you want to see some inconsistency...

Slog comments by non-morons = Good

Slog comments by YGBKM = I want my time back!

I miss killfiles.

Posted by elenchos | October 27, 2008 2:14 PM


Running a red light could cost someone their life.

Blowing your boy for meth, while my kids ARE TRYING TO SWING!

What is the comparison?

FYI, driving is a PRIVELEDGE, thats why you need permits. Parks are free to everyone... but, please refrain of you are a pedophile.

Posted by Kat | October 27, 2008 2:21 PM

I'm not a fan of Eymann; in fact, I think he specifically cares absolutely nothing about public policy or good governance.

All of that, however, is a straw-man to his initiatives. He represents and skillfully exploits the weakest seems of democratic rule.

Rather than spending our energy bemoaning him, we should spend our best intellectual capital on how best to defeat his arguments. Remove Eyman and you'll merely find him replaced with another in his stead.

Posted by Timothy | October 27, 2008 2:32 PM


Las Vegas, to make sure that cab fares are sufficiently exorbitant.

As Eyman initiatives go, this one is worse than usual, which is really saying something.

Notwithstanding ECB's usual auto-phobic nonsense, synchronizing traffic lights on major through streets certainly makes sense, but it is more than ironic to see a self-styled small government douchebag like Eyman propose to make it a State mandate.

And on red light cameras, I'm generally not a fan of government getting into the surveillance business, but as long as they're targeted at people who run red lights outright there is a clear public safety/accident prevention rationale that justifies their use, in my view.

Posted by Mr. X | October 27, 2008 2:38 PM

So I sent in my ballot last week, voting no on this POS initiative. The only part of this initiative that made me want to vote for it was the Red Light cam section. I feel obligated to point out that, as far as I've seen, there are no studies showing that red light cameras make intersections any more safe. In fact, most studies find that they actually increase accidents at intersections. (

In fact, from what I've read, the best way to prevent red-light runners, is to increase the time on the yellow light.

I don't think this is about straightforward revenue, as some people claim, but rather a deeper problem that cites are having difficulty addressing: Cities need more uniformed police, and no one wants the job.

Posted by Collin | October 27, 2008 3:07 PM


Not quite true - red light cameras reduce fatalities significantly by dramatically reducing the number of t-bone collisions, but the number of rear end collisions (which cause far fewer injuries) does go up a bit after they are installed and people begin stopping to try to avoid being ticketed.

While some unscrupulous local governments have actually shortened yellow lights when red light cameras are installed (in a transparent ploy to enhance their revenue potential), do you have any empirical evidence that lengthening yellow light cycles absent red light cameras will do anything but encourage a would-be red light runner to push the envelope by another few seconds? That sounds a lot more like the real-world behavior of drivers to me.

Posted by Mr. X | October 27, 2008 3:19 PM

As a former LA resident I assume that you are being sarcastic when you say "That is why there is no congestion in Los Angeles." Otherwise you have no clue about what you are talking about.

Posted by Sad Comment | October 27, 2008 3:55 PM

even as a never-LA resident i can recognize the sarcasm in that statement.

Posted by infrequent | October 27, 2008 3:59 PM

In my town (Auburn), the installation of red light cameras has markedly decreased the incidence of T-bone collisions, which cause a huge number of injuries and fatalities (very few older cars have protection against side impact). It really does reduce the number of red-light runners; just seeing that camera flash is a deterrent (always scares hell out of me when the person in front of me triggers the damned thing).

Synchronizing traffic lights is an idea that sounds good, but is really expensive to implement. It takes quite a bit of study of traffic patterns over time to determine the optimal synchronization for all directions. That takes engineers, and that costs a lot of money. Small towns can't afford it.

My principal objection to Eyman is that I think he very cynically writes initiatives that he knows perfectly well are unconstitutional. Initiatives can only do one thing, by state law. If they attempt to do multiple things, they are unconstitutional and can be overturned. That increases voter apathy and discontent ("we voted that initiative in, and then the Supreme Court went and overturned it! Damn activist judges!"). But it achieves its principal objective - it keeps Eyman drawing a regular paycheck so he doesn't have to go back to peddling watches.

Posted by Geni | October 27, 2008 5:26 PM

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