Bill to Protect Bus-Only Lanes with Camera Enforcement Dies

The bill's sponsor wanted to ramp up enforcement of a hard-to-enforce piece of urban traffic: cars blocking lanes meant only for public transit. But civil rights advocates are skeptical of putting more cameras in cities.

by Heidi Groover, The Seattle Times / March 14, 2019

(TNS) — Washington state lawmakers failed to vote Wednesday on a bill that would allow Seattle to use traffic cameras to enforce bus-only lanes and crosswalks, missing a key deadline and killing the bill.

The proposal, HB 1793, would have authorized cities with populations of more than 500,000 people to use automated cameras like those used in some school zones to ticket drivers who violate rules against driving in a bus-only lane or blocking a crosswalk.

The bill was a priority of transportation and disability-rights advocates, and both King County Metro and the city of Seattle testified in support. Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, sponsored the bill.

“I’m disappointed that not enough House members recognize the need to keep transit moving downtown,” said Fitzgibbon, whose district also includes West Seattle, in a text message Wednesday. “Seattle is an economic engine for the whole state, and gridlock downtown hurts my constituents the most but harms the whole state too.”

Under the bill, the cameras could also have been used to issue tickets for blocking locations restricted for entry and exit of emergency-response vehicles and the boarding of public-transportation vehicles, including ferries. Drivers would have received a warning on the first violation within a five-year period.

Supporters said using cameras would improve the flow of transit and discourage the dangerous practice of blocking crosswalks that can be crucial for pedestrians and people with disabilities to cross the road safely. Without cameras, ticketing people violating bus-only lane restrictions can further clog those lanes by requiring officers to pull people over on already congested streets.

But the bill met opposition in the Legislature, including from the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington.

The ACLU of Washington is broadly skeptical of increased surveillance and was worried about how the bill would pair with another bill dealing with traffic cameras. The second bill would have allowed law-enforcement agencies to, with a warrant, use photos from traffic cameras and toll systems for criminal investigations. (Use of photos from traffic cameras is currently limited to the applicable traffic rules and tolls.)

“If we want cameras on every corner to try to catch people committing crimes, let’s have that conversation,” said Shankar Narayan, director of the Technology and Liberty Project at the ACLU of Washington. Lawmakers should not be working to remove restrictions on the cameras “while trying to have a lot more of them at the same time,” Narayan said.

That bill passed a House committee but also did not receive a full House vote by the Wednesday deadline.

Fitzgibbon said he also faced opposition from some fellow Democrats, whom he declined to name, either because they generally opposed traffic cameras or they worried about racial or income disproportionalities in enforcement. Fitzgibbon argued cameras were less likely to result in disproportionate enforcement than human officers.

Members of the disability-rights group Rooted in Rights, which lobbied for the bill, were disappointed, said program director Anna Zivarts.

“Our streets need to be accessible for all users and we can’t allow inconsiderate and illegal behavior by some drivers to put our communities at risk,” Zivarts said in an email.

A video by Rooted in Rights shows two people using wheelchairs attempt to navigate a mess of cars blocking intersections in Seattle, sometimes having to travel through traffic to get around vehicles and onto sidewalks. The video has been seen more than 1 million times on social media, Zivarts said.

©2019 The Seattle Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.