Monday, March 27, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Red-light cameras

Seattle Times staff reporter

Dear Reader

Got a traffic-related question or comment? E-mail or call Charles E. Brown at 206-464-2206. Please include your name and city if you agree to publication.

Q: When Seattle gets around to installing the first "red-light cameras" this spring to nab motorists running red lights at high-risk intersections, will all drivers be subject to citations, including Metro bus drivers?

"If you spend any time on downtown street corners," says Seattle resident Les Anderson, "it becomes very apparent that Metro buses are a large percentage of the red-light-runners.

"Will they be subject to the same punishment as other drivers, or will it be another case of government double-standard?"

A: Time will tell. But Seattle Police Department public-information officer Debra Brown says no person or entity has an exemption when it comes to red lights. "All drivers will be subject to enforcement action, with the exception of emergency vehicles."

Metro Transit spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok thinks Anderson may have spotted buses, particularly articulated ones, that perhaps had not cleared an intersection before the light turned red.

"Metro drivers are trained to obey all traffic laws, and that includes safely clearing intersections before the light changes. Our operators are also held accountable for following safety and traffic rules," she said.

The cameras are a pilot project. Using sensors at an intersection, digital cameras will be able to photograph the license plates of cars that run a red light, says the city. More than 100 communities already have installed red-light cameras, many in California, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia. The first city in Washington to use the cameras was Lakewood in Pierce County.

Q: Seattle resident Ed Matuskey has been trying to figure out why some southbound express buses from the Northgate Transit Center, south of Northgate Mall on First Avenue Northeast, travel south on city streets before jumping onto Interstate 5 at the Lake City Way onramp rather than hopping on at the Northgate onramp. Is it because it saves time?

A: Saving time is the idea, says Metro Transit spokeswoman Linda Thielke, who notes that Route 41 buses from the transit center to downtown Seattle do use the southbound express lanes at Northgate when they're open. But drivers also are allowed to use city streets to the Lake City Way onramp when the express lanes are closed or when drivers spot significant backups in freeway traffic.

Backups do occur at different times of the day and vary in duration, she noted. The onramp just west of the Northgate Transit Center is closed during the afternoon, and going south on city streets to the Lake City Way entrance is more direct than going north to get on the freeway at Northgate Way.

Q: Arthur Alper, who lives in the rural outskirts of Woodinville, travels Highway 9 north and south several times a day. He's been able to live with a flurry of construction in the area and an outdated and time-consuming traffic signal at the intersection of Highway 9 and Maltby Road (Highway 524) in Snohomish County that could soon be replaced in a road-widening project. But a signal at 228th Street Southeast, to the south, is killing him, he says.

"The road is already wider here, being a newer intersection, so the light can't be that outdated."

Alper says the signal seems to be on a timer, rather than controlled by a sensor that controls traffic. "The speed limit on Highway 9 is 45 [mph] and every night I can almost be certain to have to stop going north or south at this signal for no reason, just to have to speed up to 45 again."

He wonders why that signal is timed, and not metered.

A: There is a sensor at that signal, which was temporarily set up to serve westbound 228th Street traffic. But the sensor had been malfunctioning, says state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Myly Posse. "We sent signal technicians to the site [last] Monday to repair the sensor." She says the signal should be working properly now.

Bumper notes

• And speaking of Maltby Road, work started a few days ago to widen two miles of Highway 9 north of Woodinville, from a two-lane rural road to a four-lane divided highway between Highway 522 and Highway 524, also known as Maltby Road. Traffic has been shifted to the west between 228th Street Southeast and Highway 524 to give crews more room to construct new lanes. The $33.5 million state Department of Transportation widening project, which will include additional turn lanes at major intersections, is expected to take two years.

• In a month or so, the department plans to start a project to lengthen the northbound car-pool lane on Highway 167 from 15th Street Southwest to 15th Street Northwest in Auburn to hook up with an existing car-pool lane.

In addition, most onramps and offramps between 15th Street Northwest and South 180th Street in Renton will be widened to add car-pool bypass lanes, and ramp meters will be added or upgraded.

When it's completed, there will be one continuous northbound car-pool lane between Auburn and Renton. The work is scheduled to be finished late next year.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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