Wondering about those temporary cameras in Arbor Heights?

9:46 AM: Lots of questions about temporary installations along/near 35th SW in Arbor Heights, including the one in our photo – a tall, skinny pole fastened to city poles and signs, topped by small cameras. We at first thought this might be related to more city improvements for safety along the route to Arbor Heights Elementary School, and asked SDOT if the cameras were theirs; they said no, not theirs (but they have been getting questions too!). We found a phone number on one of the boxes and tried it; received a call back from a rep at IDAX, which owns the equipment. The cameras are “counting cars,” he explained, as part of a traffic analysis related to AH Elementary. We’re checking with the school district right now to see if it’s part of the preparation for building the new AHES (this is the last year the existing building will be in use) or for something sooner (the school has just implemented a new pickup/dropoff traffic plan, as noted in its newsletter), and we’ll add whatever we find out. The IDAX rep, meantime, said that they are keeping the cameras up through today so they can compare traffic today (with no classes at the school) to measurements from a school-in-session day like yesterday.

11:24 AM UPDATE: SPS spokesperson Tom Redman tells us it’s “for the traffic study we are performing as part of our SEPA checklist requirements” for construction of the new AHES. (SEPA is short for the State Environmental Policy Act, as explained here; traffic is one of the factors considered in SEPA reviews of projects.)

28 Replies to "Wondering about those temporary cameras in Arbor Heights?"

  • nop October 11, 2013 (10:19 am)

    They need speed cameras on 35th and 104th during school zone. I saw 3 cars going 35+ blow through yesterday 5 mins after school got out! Idiots.

  • Jim P. October 11, 2013 (10:25 am)

    Sure be nice if our caring and loving government would notify people when it intends to monitor their activities like this.

    The goal is irrelevant. Notice should be given that your driving will be recorded and what sort of retention and use will be made of the video.

    At the least, explanatory signage should be required so people don’t have to go searching this hard to find an answer.

  • Chang October 11, 2013 (10:56 am)

    JimP, don’t be a narrow-minded, paranoid delusional fool. Our children’s safety is much more important than any small-minded idiotic gov’t conspiracy theory-themed opinion you have.

  • Lindsey October 11, 2013 (11:48 am)

    Jim, please don’t be purposefully ignorant. You have no expectation of privacy IN PUBLIC.

  • Joel October 11, 2013 (12:18 pm)

    Why the quick attacks on Jim P? He’s got a reasonable point. Generally, there is no expectation of privacy in public areas, but it IS slightly alarming that no notice was given and there is no sign explaining what these cameras purpose is. Chang and Lindsey, you are the ones who are narrow minded and purposefully ignorant! “All hail our government and policy leaders, for whatever they do is for sure without recourse and for the betterment of our community” Right?

    • WSB October 11, 2013 (12:28 pm)

      (Lorraine’s comment posted while I was writing this; well said) … Hi – Hope everyone can chill out; it’s a tense-enough day out there (and in here). I do want to say that to Joel’s point, I have found a lot less notice about things in general lately … I have asked public agencies if there is any better way to tap into permits that are granted for small but visible projects like this, like utility digs in the middle of the road, signage changes … we have media contacts at various key government agencies but I can’t hit them with every question about every project (they would need to assign someone fulltime to all the questions I *could* lob at them), yet the policies tend to be outdated – for some projects (bigger than a few temp cameras on poles) they might send postcards to residents within a certain number of yards of the site, yet there are many more people who would be affected by said projects because they pass through the affected neighborhoods. We noticed a camera installation just like this in The Junction a couple weeks ago while waiting to cross at California/Alaska, and I assumed it was related to development, just like many of the survey crews you see turning up with equipment on streetcorners, sometimes in the middle of the street. I’ll keep lobbying for more access to info – there is a “street use permit” map on the SDOT site but this wouldn’t have turned up there – and if you ever get the chance, talking to an elected official or government employee, do the same! – TR

  • AH Neighbor October 11, 2013 (12:27 pm)

    I am grateful to WSB for providing this forum. When we step back just a bit and tone down our rhetoric, we can appreciate passion for the right to privacy AND for the safety of our precious young ones.

  • a October 11, 2013 (12:32 pm)

    Joel I think you missed the point of Chang and Lindsey. As long as it is for the safety of our children then it is ok for government to do what they want and put up cameras wherever they feel without telling us. It’s all in the name of protecting the children! Just like those speed cameras on fauntleroy by gatewood elementary are for protecting the children. Those cameras have saved many kids lives and are not there for the city to make a quick buck off of us in the name of children’s safety.

  • payrollgirl October 11, 2013 (12:52 pm)

    WOW how long you think until this camera/equipment gets stolen?

  • anonyme October 11, 2013 (1:01 pm)

    I would love to see PERMANENT speed cameras installed in this corridor, instead of just very occasional enforcement in the school zones only. Lately I’ve seen more and more vehicles traveling well above the regular posted speed limit fly right past the flashing school zone lights. These speeders need to be hit and hit HARD.

  • fauntleroy fairy October 11, 2013 (1:22 pm)

    Counting cars is nothing new, but using camera’s to do this is so I’m with Jim. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but no notification on what “they” are doing opens them up to healthy dose of skepticism.

    I might also add that by saying that anything is for the welfare or safety of children (whether it is or not) makes far too many people just fall in line.

  • Lindsey October 11, 2013 (1:41 pm)

    Yes, you have no expectation of privacy in a public place. I could stand on 35th with a video camera all day long and no one could stop me. Joel, I said nothing about the children. I just think there’s some room to be reasonable in between the histronic “THINK OF THE CHILDREN” and “1984 IS REAL.” There’d be folks who’d complain that the government was wasting money paying someone to sit out there all day and physically count cars. You just can’t win.

    I apologize for calling Jim “purposefully ignorant.” Perhaps he didn’t know that. Sorry Jim.

  • hj October 11, 2013 (1:42 pm)

    WSB, have you verified that those are actual video cameras at the top of the devices?

    Most traffic counting devices work via either magnetic detection or by an interrupted radio beam (radar, basically). Some such devices have a thing that looks like a horn with a glass sensor that looks like a video lens but isn’t.

    Verifying that could go a long way to ease concerns.

    • WSB October 11, 2013 (1:59 pm)

      Neither the IDAX rep nor Tom @ SPS corrected my inquiry about “cameras.” Tom’s exact reply (he is a communications manager and checked with the project team on the new AH school) in full, excerpted by me in the story, was “the cameras are for the traffic study we are performing as part of our SEPA checklist requirements for the BEX IV capital levy project to replace Arbor Hts. Elementary.” Apologies for not asking for more details about exactly how they work – I was just trying to trace whose they were and what they were for. http://idaxdata.com – finally found their website. Would have to go back over to AH, which unfortunately I can’t do until finishing writing a long-ish story, and look at them with binoculars. … oops, breaking news interrupts …

  • sam-c October 11, 2013 (1:56 pm)

    ‘for the safety of our children’ and ‘government invading your privacy’
    really it is probably not that exciting. did you read the article that WSB posted? it’s for a SEPA report. they probably have to include a traffic study. there are firms out there that do that, not the government. however, the gov’t IS paying for it if it’s an public project, so wouldn’t you rather have it this way, with electronics, than several people standing on various corners, counting cars??
    (as Lindsey points out- a waste of our tax money)

  • Jde October 11, 2013 (2:03 pm)

    It is important that anyone conducting a traffic survey of this area needs to take into consideration that Westside School should be opening their new school in what is now the Hillcrest Presbyterian Church on the corner of 34th and SW 104th close to the same time frame as the new larger Arbor Heights School will open. The traffic in the area of 35th and 104th will be greatly impacted by BOTH schools.

  • wetone October 11, 2013 (3:24 pm)

    First time I have heard of this type of counting system in this area (cameras). Reminds me of all the cameras SPD put up at Alki and elsewhere in the city for port security ? without saying anything last year. I wonder what happened to that 5 mil. project and if their using those yet as I see technicians working on them occasionally. Interesting how tight lipped the city is getting on these type of projects. Great if it is what they say.

  • Jason October 11, 2013 (3:40 pm)

    Can’t believe how JimP got torn apart here. Whether it’s relevant or not in this story, it’s really odd to me that people would defend loss of privacy.

  • miws October 11, 2013 (3:55 pm)

    I only object because it takes all the fun of jumping up and down on the little rubber hose of the device that has been historically use in the counting of traffic.



  • Jim P. October 11, 2013 (4:05 pm)

    “As long as it is for the safety of our children then it is ok for government to do what they want”

    That’s a frighteningly broad statement.

    As for an expectation of privacy: Well, I think most folks would agree it is up to us to tell the government where and when we expect privacy, not the other way around.

    Giving public notice of their intent would be considered a minimal courtesy would it not? Got any guarantee those are not hooked up via the Internet and thus vulnerable to being intercepted?

    It is not what they claim they are doing with the data, it is what they might do with the data. if you’ve been following the news of late, you’ll note there’s been rather a *lot* of lying on various officials’ parts as to what data they collect and what they do with it and who has access to it.

    I’m not a “conspiracy theorist”, I just read the news and prefer my government keep me in the loop as to what it is doing rather than treat me and the rest of the citizenry as barely tolerated nuisances who should do only what it is told and not question decisions made those who know best.

    I worked in Intelligence at the Federal level for twenty five years. You’re not *nearly* paranoid enough about misuses of data and tech by people and governments, even those with the very best of intentions.

  • Jim P. October 11, 2013 (4:22 pm)

    “Yes, you have no expectation of privacy in a public place. I could stand on 35th with a video camera all day long and no one could stop me. ”

    What you as a private citizen can do and what the government can or should do are distinctly different things. The government has an obligation to use the least intrusive methods possible to reach necessary goals.

    I see nothing that would indicate this method (video recording all vehicular traffic) would meet that test when there are other systems that simply collect data by counting wheels passing over a sensor in the road, etc.

    The method being used collects far more data than is reasonably needed to achieve their goal and is thus suspect, or should be.

    What happens to the videos collected? Who has access to the raw images? How long will they be retained? What security is being taken to prevent this data from being intercepted or abused? Why was no public notice given or even notices posted on the devices?

    Trusting any government blindly is never a good idea and our current one is not exactly being the most honest with us or doing things in our favor or even in a rational manner, if you’ve been paying attention to the disaster in our highest government levels now in it’s second week.

    Being in government does not suddenly imbue one with saintly character or iron-bound moral principles and god-like intellect so please don’t blithely assume “government” always knows and does what is best for the citizens.

    We fought a war back in the late 1700’s over that set of ideas you may recall from school. “The King rules by Divine Right and is guided by God in all things.”

  • enough October 11, 2013 (4:47 pm)

    Chang maybe you are being sarcastic considering the onion link but you are not allowed to call Jim “a narrow-minded, paranoid delusional fool” .. Name calling is against policy. Thanks.

  • Wes C. Addle October 11, 2013 (5:20 pm)

    I tend to agree with Jim P.

    Just because something says “Government” doesn’t make it automatically trustworthy. Government employees are no different than private sector employees. There are lots of good ones and lots of bad ones. During my youth I learned how to be safe during school and at home with my parents. Schools today unfortunately worry about test scores the most.

  • AH Resident October 11, 2013 (10:49 pm)

    Oh you all grip now but when your house value goes up due to the new school you’ll forget all about the privacy violating cameras.

  • R0b0 October 11, 2013 (10:57 pm)

    While this example seems rather innocuous, everyone should be aware of the extent of recording going on. Advances in technology are vastly outpacing public understanding and governance. Check out this article on the widespread use and abuse of automatic license plate readers across the country from the venerable Wired magazine.


    The Seattle Times had a story on this in our state as well.

  • neigh October 12, 2013 (12:07 pm)

    i thought Chang was tongue-in-cheek because his comments seemed so over the top. If “he” really meant it, “he” probably won’t apologize to Jim P. who I agree with whole heartedly.

    As for your “freedom” to stand on a corner near me to film me or watch me or my house or family unlimitedly, well I would be right in your face, call the police and say there’s a perv on the street. I’m amazed at that answer! Who would find that allowable behavior?

  • Tom R October 13, 2013 (2:12 pm)

    Lots of comments here but no one mentioned that Friday was a teacher in service day, so not representitive of a school day at all. Do they know this? Did they measure Thursday too? These seem to be more important questions to me

    • WSB October 13, 2013 (2:15 pm)

      Yes, they measured Thursday. I didn’t ask when they started but people started asking us about it earlier in the week so I don’t believe that was the first day. And he mentioned Friday just as a “since school’s out we’re going to leave them up and see how it goes” – he was very aware it was a no-classes day.

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