UPDATE: West Seattle low-bridge camera ticketing starts January 11th

(WSB photo)

3:01 PM: The date is set for the city to start using the new enforcement cameras on the West Seattle low bridge: Monday, January 11th – just under two weeks away.

Starting that day, SDOT says, unauthorized low-bridge use will put you at risk of a $75 ticket. No grace period needed because this isn’t a new enforcement activity, it’s supplementary to traffic police having staked out the low bridge off and on in the nine months since the high bridge’s closure led to low-bridge restrictions.

The cameras were installed earlier this month. The city’s ability to use them for this traces back to a state-law change passed last Legislative session and then City Council authorization in September.

The low-bridge rules are recapped in SDOT’s announcement of the camera-activation date:

The rules for which vehicles may use the Low Bridge are not changing:

• The only vehicles authorized to use the Low Bridge from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. are emergency vehicles, buses, employer shuttles, vanpools, freight, and certain pre-authorized vehicles. See the Low Bridge webpage for a complete list.

• People riding a bike, scooter, bus, or walking may continue using the Low Bridge any time.

• All other vehicles (including personal cars, motorcycles, taxis, and ride-hailing app vehicles like Uber and Lyft) may not use the Low Bridge from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. and will be sent a $75 citation.

• Everyone may drive on the Low Bridge overnight from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. No citations will be issued during these times.

The list of authorized “West Seattle business vehicles” has been made in collaboration with the West Seattle Junction Association and Chamber of Commerce. SDOT’s announcement also notes that low-bridge rules might keep evolving: “SDOT will be monitoring Low Bridge traffic volumes in early 2021 after the new enforcement system is turned on. If traffic data shows us that there is room to expand access, we will work with the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force to recommend a balanced approach for Low Bridge access.”

ADDED 5:44 PM: The SDOT Blog post about today’s announcement introduces a slogan for all this: “Don’t Go Low.”

75 Replies to "UPDATE: West Seattle low-bridge camera ticketing starts January 11th"

  • BBILL December 29, 2020 (3:25 pm)

    “No grace period needed because this isn’t a new enforcement activity, it’s supplementary to traffic police having staked out the low bridge off and on in the nine months since the high bridge’s closure led to low-bridge restrictions.” The because part is total NONSENSE! No grace period because there is no discretion in the law. “From June 11, 2020, through December 31, 2020, a warning notice with no penalty must be issued to the registered owner of the vehicle for a violation generated through the use of an automated traffic safety camera authorized in this subsection (6). Beginning January 1, 2021, a notice of infraction must be issued (RCW 46.63.170).”

    • WSB December 29, 2020 (3:41 pm)

      Thanks for the fine print; my citation is what was explained in previous discussions. Bottom line, there was previous talk – repeatedly – of a one-month grace period (here, for example), so the fact there’s not going to be one needs to be specifically pointed out, IMO. – TR

      • BBILL December 29, 2020 (3:45 pm)

        If the mandatory warning time is December 31, 2020 and before, with a infraction date starting January 1, 2021, then it should be total obvious that starting December 1, 2020 would result in a “one-month grace period,” a month of warnings being issued.

        • WSB December 29, 2020 (3:58 pm)

          Nothing is ever “totally obvious.” We spend a ton of time answering questions as well as asking them, so please trust us on that.

          • BBILL December 29, 2020 (4:02 pm)

            I follow the “trust but verify” motto. What I consider to be a bigger discussion is the financial incentive for SDOT just to wait until January 1 to turn the cameras on (to put it situation in a better frame is to suggest there is a financial disincentive to start before December 31). Since they didn’t get them up and running for months, they avoided the cost of sending warnings. Possibly an even better discussion is the wisdom of the state legislature and Inslee signing the legislation that prohibits a warning period if the city delays. There are (plenty of) other warning type of options, such as first offense would result in a warning, no matter when the first offense took place. Whatever the case, we have the wisdom of the state legislature to thank for the hard date.

          • Resident December 29, 2020 (10:54 pm)

            How about you have been warned over the last nine months not to take the bridge so don’t do it. I think nine months is plenty of time to of been in the know about not using that bridge I’m not sure what your argument is here.

          • Questioning December 29, 2020 (4:37 pm)

            FYI, I have a friend who just got a ticket for low bridge use, not a warning, and it was more than twice the $75 quote. (It was time this person learned going under the bridge was not allowed though, IMO)

          • BBILL December 29, 2020 (5:49 pm)

            Questioning- The January 1, 2021 date is for the automated camera enforcement, not personal enforcement.

          • BBILL December 30, 2020 (11:39 am)

            RESIDENT- I am suggesting that the City should follow the state law and issue citations without warning starting January 1, 2021. The “because you were warned for 9 months” is irrelevant since the law does not say anything about requiring months of warning. “law and order”

    • jayroam December 30, 2020 (10:37 am)

      You right about the RCW, but the City Council passed a more forgiving version, requiring a warning after Jan 1 if no prior warning was issued to a vehicle for any of the six violations newly authorized for camera enforcement. (Note that you don’t get a warning for each of the six violation types, which include blocking ) intersections and crosswalks.) Since no cameras were activated before Jan 1 for any of these violations, every first violation should be a warning. SMC 11.50.170: Beginning January 1, 2021, for an infraction generated through the use of an automated traffic safety camera authorized in this subsection 11.50.570.H, if the registered owner of the vehicle has:a.No prior infractions generated under this subsection 11.50.570.H, a warning notice with no penalty shall be issued to the registered owner of the vehicle for a violation.b.One or more prior infractions generated under this subsection 11.50.570.H, a notice of infraction shall be issued, in a manner consistent with Section 11.31.090, to the registered owner of the vehicle for a violation. The penalty for the violation may not exceed $75., 

  • Also John December 29, 2020 (3:39 pm)

    Good!!!            Nice to see those drivers get fined for not being as ‘entitled’ as they believe they are. 

  • HoldingDriversAccountable December 29, 2020 (3:42 pm)


  • WS Resident December 29, 2020 (3:45 pm)

    Is this a moving violation or like a parking ticket? Aka will this go against my insurance?

    • psps December 29, 2020 (10:40 pm)

      Camera tickets are not moving violations so no effect on insurance.

  • Joe Z December 29, 2020 (3:54 pm)

    Nice to see some law and order being enacted. Thank you to our city government for enforcing the laws. 

  • Carson December 29, 2020 (3:57 pm)

    Start with the tickets today, based on the number of cars I saw entering at 1pm you could have put a sizeable dent in the city budget deficit.

    • flimflam December 29, 2020 (4:54 pm)

      one would think – unfortunately a large chunk of each ticket goes to a company in another state, Arizona?

      • Jayroam December 30, 2020 (10:14 am)

        Not exactly…. Jurisdictions pay a flat fee for each camera and services provided:  RCW 46.63.170(1)(i): If a county or city has established an authorized automated traffic safety camera program under this section, the compensation paid to the manufacturer or vendor of the equipment used must be based only upon the value of the equipment and services provided or rendered in support of the system, and may not be based upon a portion of the fine or civil penalty imposed or the revenue generated by the equipment.

        • BBILL December 30, 2020 (3:30 pm)

          I’m not sure what you consider to be a “large chunk” in percentage terms, but the “flat fee” could be a “large chunk” if the total amount collected is ‘small’ relative to the direct cost of the cameras. If the amount collected is ‘large’ relative to the direct cost of operating the cameras, then it will be a “small chunk.” After the “chunk” is removed, 50% of what’s remaining goes to the state, and the use of the other 50% is restricted. It may be, however, that some other funds are freed up, but in terms of the overall size of the city budget, I expect that the bridge cameras will be ‘small.’

    • BBILL December 29, 2020 (4:59 pm)

      Maybe consider the accounting of the funds. Aside from the fact that the city part of the funds is restricted, and I suspect that there won’t be much existing funds freed for other use, there is the issue that after direct costs are deducted, the state gets 50%.

    • Rafael December 29, 2020 (5:08 pm)

      I live on Harbor Ave. I work on Harbor Island.

      • John December 29, 2020 (6:30 pm)

        Walk, paddle or ride a bike  to work Rafael!   Avoid the hassles.

      • MARIANNE December 29, 2020 (7:05 pm)


      • Moots December 29, 2020 (8:27 pm)

        Living on Harbor Ave and working on Harbor Island, you sound like the idea candidate for a bike commute.

  • Hannah December 29, 2020 (4:14 pm)

    Will they be also taking pictures of the driver or just the back license plate?worry about the picture taking of the driver but also understand that it would validate who is driving not just the car going across the bridge

    • WSB December 29, 2020 (5:42 pm)

      Just the plate. From the SDOT Blog post (I’ll add the link above): “To protect privacy, the cameras will only record vehicle license plates and not the people inside the car.”

      • Jordan December 30, 2020 (8:38 am)

        Isn’t it still against the law in Washington to take a picture of the drivers face from the front?

  • Mj December 29, 2020 (4:22 pm)

    And I fully expect that when things open up next Fall that the City will be providing midday bus service to all areas of West Seattle that have historically had such service such as the Admiral District.  

  • Al King December 29, 2020 (4:28 pm)

    WSB. Has SDOT/SPD said if this will end SPD’s on scene enforcement?  WS Res. I believe that it is NOT  a moving violation as a “live” officer did not witness/site. 

    • BBILL December 29, 2020 (6:19 pm)

      ” will [camera enforcement] end SPD’s on scene enforcement?” Simply put, law enforcement will never say “yes” or “no” to that question, and furthermore, law enforcement rarely gives away its techniques, but sometimes they do warn that there will be added enforcement out. For example, West Seattle Blog published about added enforcement right after the restrictions went into effect.

  • william December 29, 2020 (5:12 pm)

    It would be nice if they would start the  camera enforcement after they are finished with the  upcoming two lane bridge closure on the 1st South bridge. 

    • Resident December 29, 2020 (10:57 pm)

      Why would that be nice so you can break the law and take the lower bridge?! I don’t understand why that matters? You’re not supposed to take the bridge so don’t.

    • rpo December 29, 2020 (11:30 pm)

      Why? It’s not legal to be using the low bridge already. 

  • Jort December 29, 2020 (5:18 pm)

    This is just so delightful. This is really heartwarming and positive news amidst a world of tough circumstances right now. It’s great to see entitled drivers get tickets because they think “It’s OK if I do it.” This really just brings such a huge, giant smile to my face. It’s truly one of the feel-good moments of the year.

    • Calires December 30, 2020 (3:20 am)

      I absolutely think everyone who drives a private vehicle across the low bridge during the hours when it’s not allowed deserves a ticket, and I’d make them start at $300.  That said, you seem to take joy in other people’s misery if they don’t have the exact same urbanist thoughts as you, and that’s creepy.  One of the feel good moments of the year is the vaccine trials going well and people starting to be vaccinated against a deadly virus.  People getting ticketed for crossing the bridge is pretty low level in the joy department, unless you are somewhat deranged.

  • skeeter December 29, 2020 (5:26 pm)

    Not that I recommend this but…What is the penalty for driving with no license plate?  $125?  And you’ll only get caught maybe once or twice a year?  I have seen enough (thousands) of cars drive over the low bridge illegally to know that a certain portion of the population will be removing license plates (or stealing plates from another car) to continue driving across the low bridge.  I’ve crossed the low bridge over 250 times since mid-March, always on bike or foot.  The car cheating is rampant.  Hundreds of cars per hour.

    • smittytheclown December 30, 2020 (8:46 am)

      They also sell a contraption on Amazon that is a “James Bond” type plate frame that covers it and opens it at the touch of a button.  Wonder how they will get people like that. You could use waze to alert you if there were police in the area waiting and avoid any kind of trap.

    • MMT January 3, 2021 (6:55 pm)

      I think there has been so much unauthorized use of the low bridge as you point out and this should effectively stop it. One of the consequences is going to be even worse traffic en route to the first Ave Bridge. Feels like so many are so excited for justice on the cheaters but its actually going to make traffic and pollution worse for everyone. I’m a bike commuter but when I see a stream of cars on the lower bridge I don’t constantly wish for them all to get fined but rather think about it in terms of at least it alleviating some stress on the system.

  • EZR December 29, 2020 (5:29 pm)

    Cool, just in time for me to make a plate flipper for my motorcycle and practice some civil disobedience. SDOT continues its asinine behavior in disallowing motorcycle access even though there’s plenty of space to let any emergency or whatever vehicles through unlike a car or a larger gross tonnage vehicle. I’d be happy to get a petition going against SDOT with other motorcycle riders in WS if anyone’s interested.

    • BBILL December 29, 2020 (5:53 pm)

      I suspect that enforcement techniques might be a bit more sophisticated than what you’re suggesting. For example, if a certain vehicle crosses at a given time with a bad plate, I’d expect that one day there might be an officer waiting.

      • EZR December 29, 2020 (7:28 pm)

        Easy enough to see far ahead, and also easy enough to make a discrete plate flipper if you have access to a machine shop and experience working with animatronics/electromechanics as I do. Besides, there is still a loophole with contesting the citation (burden of proof relies on them to identify exactly the driver/rider with a camera), you just need to make a case against the city in which it would cost more money for them to extract out of you (fine dropped) than the cost of the fine itself.

        • Resident December 29, 2020 (10:59 pm)

          My man you have issues that go deeper than taking the lower bridge. Making a plate flipper so you can break the law because you don’t like it? Dude get over it.

          • EZR December 30, 2020 (12:03 am)

            Yep, it’s incredibly rewarding, especially when challenging holier-than-thou attitudes and unfounded anecdotal evidence of stuck ambulances.I, on the other hand, will continue to enjoy my commute from WS to Sodo which takes me a good 10 minutes vs long way round through 1 St Ave br (double if not triple the time) or South Park (3x or 4x). I’ll also say that a “just ride a bicycle” argument is simply not an option for people that have to carry equipment or small cargo (whatever can fit in a motorcycle) and still make it on time to perform their work.

    • Jon Wright December 29, 2020 (6:06 pm)

      Way to stick it to The Man!

    • Motorcyclist December 29, 2020 (9:48 pm)

      Just a guess, but I’m pretty sure it would be more than a $75 fine if you get caught with a “plate flipper”.   Likely impound and court!

  • Al King December 29, 2020 (6:08 pm)

    WSB. DIdn’t you say that only the rear plate would be photographed? And that the front(and driver)would not?

    • WSB December 30, 2020 (12:55 am)

      A previous SDOT post specified the rear plates.

  • rdubs December 29, 2020 (7:42 pm)

    I’m curious about scooters being allowed but not motorcycles. Are they talking scooter shares from Lime or Link?

    • WSB December 29, 2020 (7:43 pm)


    • Question Authority December 29, 2020 (8:11 pm)

      But only on the path with bicycles and pedestrians, not the roadway of course.

  • TJ December 29, 2020 (9:35 pm)

    Jort, if this is truly one of the feel good moments of the year for you then you need some hobbies. Trolling isn’t stimulating enough, and neither is waiving the pom poms for social engineering that tries to get people out of cars when people aren’t on their own 

    • jortfan December 30, 2020 (9:31 am)

      When are you moving to Arizona? Or has that changed since it turned blue? Alabama perhaps?

  • Roms December 29, 2020 (9:58 pm)

    From the SDOT blog post (and also the email they send to those who subscribe): “Select […] government […] vehicles performing nearby urgent work functions have been pre-approved to use the bridge. We’ve worked with these organizations to input their license plates into the system.” That’s not mentioned on the SDOT website where they line out the rules though. I’m wondering if our elected officials will take advantage of this.

    • flimflam December 30, 2020 (8:35 am)

      of course they will take advantage of this!

  • Mj December 29, 2020 (10:32 pm)

    Camera enforcement is the proverbial stick. 

    Where are the carrots?  The primary carrots are:

    1.  Expediting the repair, there is no technical reason why the repair cannot be completed by Fall 2021!

    2.  Providing all day bus service throughout WS at a minimum after things open up until the repair is complete.

    • BBILL December 30, 2020 (1:27 am)

      “there is no technical reason why the repair cannot be completed by Fall 2021” Negatives are often difficult to prove, especially when dealing with so many unknowns, so please support your claim.

  • Giddie Up December 30, 2020 (9:08 am)

    I’m going to ride my horse.

  • Mj December 30, 2020 (10:02 am)

    BBILL – the original bridge designers provided for the addition of reinforcement steel in the future.  This reinforcement steel could be being installed as we speak. 

    If this was SR – 520, a corridor with similar traffic volumes, do you think WSDOT would take this long to repair?  WSDOT would expend all resources necessary to get it back open as quickly as possible. 

    The underlying issue is $, the City is moving slowly to try to obtain 3rd party funding that is not a technical issue.  I believe the City needs to prioritize the repair. 

    Getting the bridge open by next Fall is doable and fits with the high likelihood that the Corona Virus will be in the rear view mirror by then.

    • BBILL December 30, 2020 (10:46 am)

      If the 520 floating bridge had a catastrophic failure, it likely would take months to repair. There are plenty of examples of WSDOT bridges that took years to replace, the most historic being the second Narrows bridge, which took a decade. Then there is WSDOT’s Hood Canal Bridge, which sank in 1979. It wasn’t reopened until 1982. In 1990 the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge sank, but that one was under reconstruction, so it only delayed the project about a year, but the bridge took years to reopen. The Alaskan Way Viaduct was generally carrying traffic during the changeover to the tunnel, but the it took a little under 2 decades to fully recover from the Nisqually earthquake damage.  The Skagit River Bridge is a much different situation, but that was repaired right away, mainly because of the options for repair–a relatively inexpensive repair was possible, and after the case went to the Washington Supreme Court, the repair was paid for by the two trucking companies, their insurance carriers. If the West Seattle Bridge were of similar design to the Skagit River Bridge, then it would have been fixed right away. The failure of Spiketon Creek Bridge was unexpected and it’s similar to the West Seattle Bridge in that there was no natural disaster or accident, but the traffic counts are much lower. The detour is somewhat like the West Seattle Bridge detour in that it’s long, but not like 2008 when I-5 flooded in Chehalis and the detour was hundreds of miles. Opening I-5 took days, and took the governor’s intervention to get the county to cooperate with WSDOT. Much more recently, this month, SR112 experienced some settling. While WSDOT will be sending a geotechnical crew out next month, there is no schedule for repair. So while you seem to want to believe that there is some quick and easy fix, there are plenty of counter-examples to show that your claim about WSDOT needs much more support.

  • Mj December 30, 2020 (2:36 pm)

    BBILL – SDoT had a very capable contractor conducting the stablelization work.  This contractor could have already started on the repair work such as the obvious addition of reinforcement steel that the original bridge designers had planned for!  Getting the bridge open by Fall 2021 is technically doable. 

    It’s about $ and the City’s hope to get 3rd party funding that is slowing the project schedule!   The City keeps finding general fund funding for other items, I believe that the WSB should receive this funding first!  

    • BBILL December 30, 2020 (8:55 pm)

      “The City keeps finding general fund funding for other items, I believe that the WSB should receive this funding first!” I suggest running for city council.

  • David December 31, 2020 (4:23 am)

    This has been a nightmare for bus drivers. Adding 15 to 45 minutes to a one way trip, eliminating a much needed break to try to catch back up, only to face another backup going the other way. It also has discouraged riders who wonder why sit on a bus, going no where fast, sitting in traffic, because hundreds of people choose to break the law and slow the bus system down enough to make it not worth it.

    • BBILL December 31, 2020 (2:24 pm)

      “Adding 15 to 45 minutes to a one way trip” The bridge openings cause some delay, yes, but most openings are 10-12 minutes. Sure the opening time is not the full extent of the delay, but the bridge is closed most of the time. If you have some data to support your claim of 15 to 45 minutes, I’d love to see it.

      • Auntie January 9, 2021 (5:06 pm)

        I don’t have data, but my own experience. If I am at the top of Highland Park Way in the backed up traffic, it takes at least 15-20 minutes just to get down the hill, with only a few cars getting through each light, due to backup from cars coming off W Marg Way. It has taken me as long as 40 minutes to get to the bridge after an opening.

  • WS resident January 3, 2021 (10:27 am)

    Sorry to ask a potentially silly question, but does this mean that the low bridge is not open to all on weekends? I thought the rule was that the bridge is open to all on Saturday and Sunday regardless of the hour. Is that not true? The signs posted make no reference like ‘Monday through Friday only’ or ‘except Saturday and Sunday.’ If someone could clarify, I would appreciate it. 

    • WSB January 3, 2021 (11:05 am)

      The low bridge remains open to all 9 pm-5 am seven days (nights) a week. (Full list of rules here.)

    • Scott Collins January 6, 2021 (11:43 am)

      It doesn’t reference “Monday through Friday only” because the rule isn’t Monday through Friday only.  Just like if you see a parking sign that says “2 hour parking”, unless that sign specifically excludes a day or days (Sundays and Holidays, for instance) you always operate under the rule/law being universal.  

  • Dan January 5, 2021 (11:33 am)

    Weird question but I work an overnight shift and tend to reach the low bridge just a few minutes before 5am. Sometimes due to the trucks blocking the road, I make it to the bridge 5-10mins later. Is there a grace period of a few minutes or will I automatically get a ticket 2mins after 5am?

    • max34 January 8, 2021 (7:23 am)

      Dan i cant say for certain, but i imagine the cameras “turn on” at 5am automatically.   you may be able to talk your way out of the ticket, given the circumstances, after you get it.   or maybe get a permit.  seems silly to have that hard cut at 5am in or out of WS, given the lack of traffic in general

  • H January 8, 2021 (12:27 pm)

    FINALLY,  tired of people who aren’t supposed to be there driving and causing buses and trucks to almost getting into wrecks

  • CJ January 11, 2021 (8:11 pm)

    Coming from a city planner, if the city was smart they should have tolled the lower bridge! It would have provided revenue for repairs for the upper bridge and lower bridge.    

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