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Don't block the box: Seattle pilot program will automatically ticket drivers for certain violations

The program will begin at eight intersections in downtown Seattle, Queen Anne and South Lake Union.

SEATTLE — The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is piloting a program beginning next year that will automatically ticket drivers illegally using transit lanes or blocking crosswalks and intersections.

The new program uses traffic cameras and will launch at eight different intersections throughout the downtown core, South Lake Union and Queen Anne.

In a release announcing the new program, the SDOT said the new cameras “are intended to help improve public safety, reduce congestion, keep transit moving and increase mobility for people with disabilities.”

The new cameras will work by recording the rear license plates of vehicles violating laws against blocking intersections, crosswalks and transit lanes. Drivers in violation will be mailed a warning letter on their initial infraction. Every following infraction will result in a $75 ticket.

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Initially, cameras at Aurora Avenue N and Galer Street, 3rd Avenue and Stewart Street, 1st Avenue and Columbia Street and 3rd Avenue and James Street will focus on transit lane violations.

Cameras at Westlake Avenue N and Roy Street, 4th Avenue and Batter Street, and 4th Avenue and Jackson Street will look for anyone blocking crosswalks and intersections.

Cameras at 5th Avenue and Olive Way will look for both transit lane violations and any vehicles blocking the intersection and crosswalks.

Credit: SDOT
Map of locations in and around downtown Seattle where traffic cameras are being installed to help reduce blocking of key intersections and transit lanes.

The SDOT said all of the camera locations were chosen based on problematic histories and ongoing violations.

Drivers who block intersections and especially crosswalks are engaging in dangerous and illegal behavior, the SDOT said. Blocking intersections increases the chance of crashes while blocking crosswalks prevents pedestrians from being able to safely cross the roadway, according to the SDOT.

For pedestrians who are blind, use a wheelchair or have other mobility needs, a blocked crosswalk could mean they get stuck in the middle of the street in harm’s way.

Half of the funds made through these cameras will go to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission fund for projects geared toward bicycle and pedestrian safety projects, according to state law.

The other half must be used on building safety and mobility improvements for people with disabilities. The SDOT said it wants to focus on building accessible walk signals that vibrate and make noise when it is safe to cross the street.

The SDOT also hopes the cameras will eliminate certain traffic stops and free up more police officers.

Signs will be going up at all eight locations in November, but warnings and tickets will not be issued until 2022. The department said this gives drivers adequate notice to avoid receiving tickets.

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