Proposed Speed Camera Enforcement Could Generate Millions For Cash Strapped Chicago
Law Could Make Chicago Speed Camera Capital Of U.S.
That’s the message the city was trying to sell at a press conference on Thursday where Chicago Public School CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy got behind an effort to swing public support behind utilizing the city’s red light cameras to issue tickets for speeding. With very minor adjustments, Chicago’s current RLC’s could be used to enforce speeding violations in addition to issuing red light camera tickets.
“One-third of Chicago children walk to school each day, and we must do everything we can to ensure they get there safely,” said Brizard at UIC College Prep High School. “This new legislation will help us take additional steps to reduce reckless driving and enhance school environments so that they are safe for students and staff, which is vital for teaching and learning.”
Mayor Emanuel is pushing for changes to the state’s red light camera legislation that would allow Chicago to begin using red light cameras to now enforce speeding violations.
“We must do everything we can to ensure the safety of our children,” said McCarthy. “Using Automated Speed Enforcement near schools will not only help crack down on dangerous traffic violators who put our children in harm’s way as they travel to and from school, but it can also be a useful tool to utilize in violent crime investigations. This technology is about more than just cameras – it’s about saving lives and preventing injuries.”
According to a report from the Chicago Department of Transportation, based on data from 2005-2009, 84% of all pedestrian crashes occur within a quarter mile of a school or a park. During that same time, the city says there were 861 crashes involving children during school arrival and dismissal times within that same quarter mile radius from a school.
It’s the city’s hope that red light camera equipped intersections within a quarter mile of schools or parks can be utilized to issue speeding tickets to ostensibly begin reducing crashes involving pedestrians. Studies show that at 30 mph, 55% of pedestrian involved in a crash survive, but at 40 mph there’s only a 15% survival rate. The city’s stated goal is to make things safer for pedestrians.
Critics Skeptical Of Plan
“Chicago has yet to publish a valid peer reviewed study that proves red light cameras improve safety,” says Barnet Fagel a local spokesperson for the National Motorist Association and outspoken critic of Chicago’s RLC program. “And now they want to put in speed cameras?”
Fagel also questions the accuracy of this technology.
“Who’s going to certify the accuracy of these speed cameras?” Fagel asked. “You have to have certified for officer generated speeding tickets. LIDAR or radar guns used by police have to be certified once a year.”
While this proposed enforcement program is being pitched under the auspices of improving safety around schools, unlike a traditional school zone where the speed limit is dropped while school is in session and children are present, the city’s program would be enforcing 24 hours a day. Enforcement would continue even when school was out.
“It would still be enforced (after the school day was over),” says Mayor’s Office spokesperson Jennifer Martinez. “Remember there are extended school hours, summer programs, after school programs.”
In addition, the current proposed legislation will also allow for the city to utilize mobile speed enforcement units adjacent to schools or around schools which are not close to intersections which currently have red light cameras. Despite this possibility, Martinez contends Chicago is more interested in utilizing the speed enforcement functionality of the city’s current red light cameras.
Vast Majority Of City’s Red Light Cameras Will Be Utilized
While the city is downplaying the size and scope of this enforcement by saying speed enforcement will be restricted to school and park zones, according to Martinez a minimum of 135 intersections (270 cameras) or 71% of Chicago’s 191 intersections monitored by red light cameras, as that’s the number which are within a quarter mile of a school.
Martinez acknowledged this number will increase as another 107 RLC intersections (214 cameras) fall within a quarter mile of a park.
While there is some duplication between intersections which are within both these defined school or park zones, ultimately the percentage of Chicago’s red light cameras doing double duty as speed cameras will grow.
Speed Camera Capital Of The U.S.
While speed cameras are utilized widely all over Europe, this profliferation of this automated enforcement technology is not very robust in the U.S. There are a few exceptions. This includes Baltimore, MD with 75 fixed speed cameras and four portable units which change location regularly. Washington, DC has 19 fixed cameras and a few mobile units which patrol a myriad of locations and also has 52 separate red light camera intersections. The other large automated speed camera program of note is Montgomery County, Maryland which has 115 speed camera locations county wide.
But if Chicago is allowed to utilize the speed enforcement functionality of their red light cameras, it will immediately have the largest automated speed camera enforcement program in the entire nation.
Millions and Millions
Currently, there is no proposed threshold for how many miles per hour over a road’s speed limit that would trigger a violation.
“CDOT is still looking into it,” explains Martinez. “It’s really preliminary at this point. Taking it to Springfield is the first step. The next step is taking it to our city council.”
Shawn Dow, from Arizona Campaign for Liberty, who has helped defeat camera enforcement programs all over his state says the that threshold could be a wide range of speeds.
“It goes from one mile per hour to 11 miles per hour,” explains Dow. “It’s whatever the city council decides. Generally, in school zones it’s 1-6 miles per hour over the limit.”
But depending on how low the speed threshold is defined in the state law and/or the Chicago City Council, the city stands to generate tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
A study of seven red light camera intersections tracked 1.5 million vehicles and captured over 360,000 drivers (25%) violating the 30 mph speed limit. If just those speeding drivers were mailed the traditional $100 fine, it would rake in $36 million into Chicago’s nearly depleted coffers. If 75% or more of Chicago’s 190 intersections were mailing speeders $100 violation notices, the revenue could be staggering–revenue that could help Mayor Emanuel fill the city’s massive budget deficit.
Cook County Campaign for Liberty Coordinator Scott Davis, who had spearheaded anti-red light camera protests in Chicago and around Cook County last year seemed stunned by Chicago’s move to expand into automated speed camera enforcement.
“They’re broke and this is about profits,” Davis angrily said. “Profits for Redflex (the company that operates Chicago’s RLC system) and revenue for a city that’s broke because it can’t live within it’s means.”
This proposed legislation, HB385 was introduced by Speaker of the House Michael Madigan at the behest of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is slated to be introduced in the Illinois General Assembly’s fall veto session which begins next week.