Don't block the box
Don't block the box photo art, created by the City of Baltimore

The Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate has approved a bill that would allow the City of Seat­tle to enforce pro­hi­bi­tions against “block­ing the box” by motorists at high­ly con­gest­ed inter­sec­tions using auto­mat­ed traf­fic safe­ty cameras.

Sen­ate Bill 5789, prime spon­sored by Sen­a­tor Marko Liias and strong­ly cham­pi­oned by cospon­sor Sen­a­tor Joe Nguyen, received the sup­port of a con­sti­tu­tion­al major­i­ty of the Sen­ate a few min­utes ago.

The roll call was as follows:

SSB 5789
Auto­mo­bile traf­fic safe­ty cameras
Sen­ate vote on 3rd Read­ing & Final Passage

Yeas: 25; Nays: 21; Excused: 3

Vot­ing Yea: Sen­a­tor Bil­lig, Car­lyle, Cleve­land, Con­way, Darneille, Das, Dhin­gra, Frockt, Hasegawa, Hobbs, Hunt, Keis­er, Kud­er­er, Liias, Lovelett, Mul­let, Nguyen, Ped­er­sen, Ran­dall, Rolfes, Sal­daña, Salomon, Stan­ford, Takko, Wil­son (Claire)

Vot­ing Nay: Sen­a­tor Beck­er, Braun, Brown, Erick­sen, Hawkins, Holy, Hon­ey­ford, King, Muz­za­ll, O’Ban, Pad­den, Rivers, Schoesler, Short, Van De Wege, Wag­oner, Walsh, War­nick, Well­man, Wil­son (Lyn­da), Zeiger

Excused: Sen­a­tor For­tu­na­to, McCoy, Sheldon

The bill passed with a bare major­i­ty of twen­ty-five in favor, as two Democ­rats vot­ed nay: Kevin Van De Wege and Lisa Well­man. Repub­li­cans Phil For­tu­na­to and Tim Shel­don missed the vote, as did Sen­a­tor John McCoy. The remain­ing Democ­rats vot­ed aye, while the Repub­li­cans col­lec­tive­ly vot­ed nay.

Sen­ate com­mit­tee staff have ably sum­ma­rized the pro­vi­sions of the bill as follows:

  • Allows cities with a pop­u­la­tion over 500,000 [in oth­er words, Seat­tle… no oth­er city has half a mil­lion inhab­i­tants] to cre­ate a pilot pro­gram in a defined area with­in the city, expand­ing the use of auto­mat­ed traf­fic safe­ty cam­eras to detect and issue infrac­tion notices for vio­la­tions relat­ed to: stop­ping at an inter­sec­tion or cross­walk or when traf­fic is obstruct­ed, using pub­lic trans­porta­tion only lanes, and stop­ping or trav­el­ing in a restrict­ed lane.
  • Requires fifty per­cent of the penal­ty monies be deposit­ed into the new state Coop­er Jones Active Trans­porta­tion Safe­ty Account and fifty per­cent to be spent by the city on trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture mobil­i­ty improve­ments for per­sons with disabilities.
  • Lim­its the infrac­tion fine to $75.
  • Requires that a city [again, effec­tive­ly just Seat­tle] report back to the Leg­is­la­ture on the pro­gram, includ­ing, but not lim­it­ed to, the loca­tions of the cam­eras, total warn­ings and infrac­tions issued, and rec­om­men­da­tions on use of auto­mat­ed cam­eras to detect the list­ed violations.

SSB 5789 failed to receive a vote in the cham­ber last year, so today’s action is an impor­tant devel­op­ment for the bill. The House com­pan­ion, HB 1793, has received two floor votes: one last year and one again this year on Jan­u­ary 30th, so the bil­l’s prospects in the House would seem to be very good.

The prob­lem these bills are attempt­ing to solve can best be under­stood by watch­ing this video from our friends at Root­ed In Rights.


VANESSA: Hi, I’m Vanessa.

CLARK: I’m Clark.

VANESSA: We both live in Seattle.

CLARK: We both use wheelchairs.

VANESSA: And we’re both tired of these [BLEEP]
cars block­ing the [BLEEP] intersections!

[upbeat music]

(Clark and Vanes­sa attempt to cross the street but a van blocks the cross­walk. Then, they nav­i­gate around a huge char­ter bus block­ing the cross­walk. Next, they attempt to weave through sev­er­al cars block­ing an intersection.)

VANESSA: Seri­ous­ly?

CLARK: I don’t know.

VANESSA: Try not to die, please.


CLARK: For pedes­tri­ans who can’t step up
onto the side­walk, a blocked curb ramp means

we have to ride in the street through traffic
just to get out of an intersection.

[music con­tin­ues]

The real­i­ty is, when you block the box,
you block us out.

VANESSA: It’s our access, and it’s our safety.

CLARK: Bet­ter enforce­ment at intersections
will make our streets safer for everyone.

As not­ed above, the bill would also allow cam­eras to be used to enforce rules pro­hibit­ing motorists from dri­ving in tran­sit-only lanes, which is a relat­ed prob­lem that the City of Seat­tle has been try­ing to address.

Traf­fic safe­ty cam­eras are cur­rent­ly used in Seat­tle to catch peo­ple who blow through red lights at inter­sec­tions and speed in school zones.

Traf­fic safe­ty cam­eras could become more preva­lent in the city if this bill becomes law, although not nec­es­sar­i­ly ubiq­ui­tous, because the bill only autho­rizes a pilot pro­gram. Bet­ter enforce­ment is clear­ly need­ed, because dri­vers are not respect­ing users of oth­er modes as they should and as the law requires them to.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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