Alderman Wants Countdown Timers At Red Light Camera Intersections
During Wednesday’s Chicago City Council meeting, 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale introduced an ordinance for the city to install countdown timers at each red light camera intersection.
Beale believes these timers would give drivers a much better idea visually, when the green light changes to yellow and the yellow to red.
The argument is that drivers utilizing this real time information will be less prone to getting in rear end collisions by slamming on the breaks so they don’t blow through the red light intersection.
Ultimately, this will improve safety on Chicago streets.
Sun-Times city hall reporter Fran Spielman has the details.
EXPERTS OPPOSED | Alderman calls for countdown signals at all red-light camera corners to cut crashes
By Fran Spielman
Chicago motorists routinely slam on the brakes to avoid getting nailed by red-light cameras. Some have caused rear-end collisions while avoiding the dreaded $100 ticket.
That panicky behavior could come to a halt, if South Side Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) has his way.
Beale has introduced an ordinance that would mandate countdown signals at every one of the 132 accident-prone Chicago intersections where red-light cameras have already been installed and at the 330 intersections expected to get cameras by 2012.
Chicago has 2,900 intersections with traffic signals, but only 230 countdown signals. They’re normally installed to protect pedestrians — by providing anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds of visual warning to get across a busy intersection before the light changes.
But, Beale maintained that motorists also need protection — from each other.
“I’m trying to cure the high accident rate at these intersections during rain, sleet and snow. I’ve seen people slamming on the brakes when the light turns yellow to avoid getting a red-light ticket and getting rear-ended or close to rear-ended,” Beale said.
“If you had a countdown, that would give people a better gauge. You’d have enough time to decide whether you can make it through the intersection or whether it’s better to just slow down.”
Traffic safety experts warned that countdown signals at red-light camera intersections could make the accident problem worse.
“At least some drivers will speed up so they can catch the end of the green. That’s not what we want,” said Robert Seyfried, director of transportation engineering programs for Northwestern University Center for Public Safety.
“Countdown signals are oriented toward pedestrians — not toward drivers. In fact, we don’t really want drivers to notice or pay attention to countdown signals. If they are, at least some of them are gonna speed up.”
Joe Schwieterman, a transportation professor and director of DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute of Metropolitan Development, added, “When you see that thing at three seconds, you floor it. Your eyes focus on the countdown clock. There’s a consequence to that, too. While people would see maybe less slamming on the brakes, it also encourages risky behavior.”
Schwieterman said there are “bigger fish to fry” to improve pedestrian and driver safety than installing countdown signals at a cost of $15,000 per corner and $45,000 at the oldest signals.
“We have serious problems with pedestrians using earplug equipment crossing streets without looking. We have serious pothole problems. We have a need for better traffic light synchronization to keep traffic moving. All of that seems like a higher priority,” he said.
Transportation Department spokesman Brian Steele said the city has been installing countdown signals at a rate of 20 intersections a year.
“The presence of a red-light camera is not the main criteria. … The primary criteria is pedestrian volume. Pedestrian signals are intended to inform pedestrians,” he said.
Red-light cameras have pumped out more than 1 million Chicago tickets and generated $100 million in sorely needed revenue since 2003 while reducing red-light running by 59 percent.