The Longview City Council is considering putting speed cameras in three more school zones where hundreds of vehicles a day are being driven more than 5 mph above the 20 mph speed limit: Broadway School, Northlake Elementary and Mark Morris High.
The city's year-long pilot study of speed-detection cameras in two school zones revealed that the cameras' presence "significantly" reduced speeding, Police Chief Jim Duscha told the City Council at a workshop Thursday.
Speeding violations fell by 57 percent at Columbia Valley Gardens Elementary and by 41 percent at Mint Valley Elementary between March 2011 and January 2012, he said.
The city's camera contract with American Traffic Solutions ends March 31, which means the council must decide before then whether to keep, expand or eliminate the school zone camera program, according to the city's attorneys.
After hearing Duscha's presentation of camera program statistics, along with a recent study revealing speeding problems in other Longview school zones, the majority of the council seemed inclined to expand the program.
"We as a group honored what the citizens said in the vote, and we should honor both sides of that vote. That was to keep school cameras," Councilman Chet Makinster said.
He was referring to the outcome of November's advisory ballot measure, in which 60 percent of voters wanted to get rid of Longview's red-light cameras, and 58 percent of voters favored continuing to monitor school zones with speed cameras.
The city turned off the red-light cameras at midnight Feb. 13.
The speed cameras are necessary because they demonstrably improve safety, Councilman Ken Botero argued. Also, he said, they're more cost effective than hiring additional police officers at $100,000 a cop (including salary, benefits and uniforms), which the city can't afford, he said. Currently, the city has one officer assigned to traffic enforcement.
The council will formally vote on the school zone cameras at its March 22 meeting.
Meanwhile, the city is negotiating a two-year contract with ATS.
Council members were concerned whether the contract would have an escape clause because, as the result of a citizens' initiative petition, the city is required to hold an advisory vote in November about whether to keep the cameras.
Councilman Mike Wallin, who led last year's initiative petition drive to ban all traffic cameras, asked police Thursday for more data about the number of collisions, pedestrian accidents and traffic counts in the school zones under consideration.
The council should talk about hiring more police officers, narrowing roads and installing traffic-calming devices (such as speed bumps) "if this is really about safety," Wallin said.
"That raises a budget issue," Councilwoman Mary Jane Melink replied.
Duscha urged the council not to delay.
"I don't want to wait for a kid to get hit in a school zone before we make a decision," he said. "I've seen kids run over by cars, and it's not pretty."
Based on discussions with the Longview School District, Police said parents and school staff seem to generally approve of the speed cameras. Ticket fines for speeding in 20-mph school zones range from $124 to $250. All camera revenue goes into the city's Traffic Safety Fund.
Duscha's report also included an evaluation of Longview's red-light camera program, which no one on the council wanted to revive.
Police say there is "little evidence" the cameras have decreased the frequency of vehicle collisions at the three red-light camera intersections, which was low to begin with, ranging from one to 11 collisions a year since 2008, according to city data. After the cameras were installed, 12 rear-end collisions occured at the three intersections.
"If we had five years' worth of data, we could probably come up with some good conclusions, but this is all we have to work with," Duscha said.
• In March 2011, Longview police issued 478 red-light camera tickets, compared to 275 tickets 11 months later, in January 2012.
• During the 11½-month pilot program, there were 2,596 violations at 38th Avenue and Ocean Beach Highway, 899 violations at 15th Avenue/ Ocean Beach Highway and 829 violations at N.W. Nichols Boulevard/ Ocean Beach Highway.
• Of the 4,324 red-light violations issued, 163 were for left turns, 1,917 were for rolling right turns, and 2,244 were for blowing straight through the light.
• The program has been cost-effective, city officials say. As of Jan. 31, the traffic camera program's revenue (including school-zone speeding tickets) was $562,190, and expenditures were $540,405. (Expenditures include the $86,730 the city has spent in legal fees on its court battle over the cameras.)
• Through January 2012, the city issued 7,030 traffic enforcement camera violations, with a pay rate of 64 percent. The city has 900 total unpaid red-light and school zone citations waiting in District Court to be sent to collections, amounting to $322,067 in potential ticket revenue. If all the fines were paid, the program's ending balance would be $284,701.