WENATCHEE — Traffic cameras will not be coming to school zones in Wenatchee this fall.
The City Council on Thursday decided to focus on other safety measures, including better signs and more visible flashing lights to get drivers to slow down, before considering whether to add cameras that photograph speeding vehicles.
“This is one that we might want to go a little slower on,” Mayor Frank Kuntz said of the traffic cameras, which work similarly to red-light cameras that result in drivers getting $124 tickets in the mail.
Police Chief Tom Robbins and Capt. Doug Jones made a presentation to the Council in support of adding the cameras partway through the upcoming school year.
The city would not have to pay anything for the cameras, but the company that would install them, send out the tickets and collect the fines would keep $4,750 per month per camera (each school zone would have two cameras) and give any money above that to the city.
Robbins said that while there has never been a serious injury or death of a student in any of the zones where he proposed the cameras be installed, “Even one serious injury or death is too many. I think from a safety point of view, it’s very important.”
He and Jones made a case for installing the cameras at Lewis and Clark, Columbia and Newbery elementary schools.
The company that would operate the cameras — Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions — tallied speeding drivers at the city’s six elementary and three middle schools earlier this year to determine where to place the cameras.
Lincoln Elementary, by far, had the greatest number of speeders. But the cameras must be installed at schools that have beacons that light up when children are going to and from school. Lincoln does not have beacons, so would not be a candidate for the cameras.
Just shy of 2,000 drivers were recorded going 26 mph or faster in the 20 mph zone on the test day at Lincoln.
The same day, testing equipment recorded 606 speeders at Newbery, 297 speeders at Lewis and Clark, and 173 speeders at Columbia.
Robbins said the idea of the traffic cameras is to force people to voluntarily slow down to avoid getting a ticket.
“We don’t have enough patrol units to put out there in the school zones consistently,” he said. “It’s a tool that can be used to make these school zones safer.”
City Councilwoman Linda Herald said she supported putting in the cameras. Kuntz said Councilman Tony Veeder, who was not at Thursday’s meeting, also liked the idea of the school-zone cameras.
But other council members were hesitant.
Councilmen Jim Bailey, Keith Huffaker and Bryan Campbell said they believe the electronic signs that show drivers how fast they are going and the crossing-guard program are effective in slowing drivers when children are on the streets.
“I’m not a big fan of camera enforcement,” Bailey said.
The city has also received a $43,000 grant to overhaul the beacon system in the school zones, making sure they don’t activate on days when kids are not in school, and for new warning signs for drivers to slow down.
Public Works Director Dan Frazier said the city may also be able to get money to add more signs that let drivers know how fast they are driving and to add fast-flashing, brighter beacons that better catch the attention of drivers when children are present.
Council members said they would like to wait and see whether those “less intrusive” improvements work to slow drivers. They would like another test of driver speeds at the schools to be done next year.
Robbins said he isn’t disappointed by the council’s decision to go slow on the school-zone camera idea.
“There’s really no hurry to get them in,” he said today. “I think they are a good tool, but it’s also good to look at doing these other safety things. I think the decision the council made last night was a good one.”