Revenue From Speed Cameras Could Dwarf Chicago’s Red Light Camera Program


$61 million a year in revenue is a lot of money.

That’s the revenue Chicago’s red light camera program program generated in 2010.

But, based on reports from the Chicago Department of Transportation, a proposed speed camera enforcement program being pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel would make the city’s RLC program look penny ante in comparison.

The Expired Meter obtained the results of three studies conducted by CDOT over the past few years which shed light on how lucrative the speed camera business could be for Chicago.

Data from these reports seem to indicate that revenue from speed cameras could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for a desperate, cash-strapped city.

Emanuel is pushing legislation through the Illinois General Assembly at breakneck speed, which if passed, would allow Chicago to utilize its red light cameras to also issue $100 speeding ticket to drivers who exceed the speed limit by more than 5 mph in designated “safety zones” within 1/8 of a mile of schools and parks. The bill has already passed in the state Senate and could be passed by the state House this week.

As the basis for the automated speed camera program, the mayor along with Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard all pointed to a study which showed over 25% of all vehicles were exceeding the speed limit at seven intersections.

Mayor Emanuel says ““I hope I get no revenue from this” and CDOT chief Gabe Klein claims the goal is just to get drivers to slow down.

Whether or not pedestrian safety is improved and the lives of children are saved may be unanswerable questions.

However, if the data from these speed enforcement studies are to be believed, one thing that can be determined is that speed cameras will generate significant revenue for the City of Chicago.

CDOT’s Spring Speed Enforcement Study

CDOT conducted a study of seven approaches at intersections with red light cameras to document the number of cars speeding through those locations over a two month period this past spring from April 1 through May 31st.

An approach by definition is just one leg of an intersection. Most intersections have four approaches, one for each direction. Although as Chicago drivers know, the city has a handful of six approach intersections. Typically, intersections with red light camera enforcement have at least two approaches with cameras and in rare occasions three.

The study monitored the speed of vehicles only during weekdays from 6 AM to 11 AM and then from noon until 4 PM. During the nine hours per day over the course of 43 days, cameras recorded 1,418,797 vehicles passing through the seven approaches.

While the city’s report said nearly 26% of all vehicles were exceeding the speed limit, under the proposed law tickets would only be issued if the driver exceeds 5 mph, which drops that percentage to 9% or 131,034 vehicles.

In other words, if  speed cameras were enforcing during this two month period, 131,034 drivers would have been issued tickets totaling $13.1 million in fines.

Revenue Could Reach Hundreds Of Millions

While a hefty amount of cash to be sure, the revenue picture gets even brighter for Chicago when you apply the currently proposed hours and days of enforcement to the city’s study.

The current version of the speed enforcement bill would allow Chicago to have speed camera enforcement five school days a week from 6 AM until 10 PM–16 hours a day–not the paltry nine hours during weekdays the study covered. Safety zones around park districts would operate seven days a week starting an hour before the park opens and an hour after it closes.

Extrapolating the numbers provided in CDOT’s study for a school safety zone, based on 48 violations per hour per approach, each camera would produce 768 violations a day or 16,512 citations and potential fines of $1.65 million for the first month. All seven cameras would produce an estimated 115,584 speeding citations or $11.5 million in potential fines for that month

Projecting future revenues is slightly more challenging, as estimates must take into consideration the effect of camera enforcement on driver behavior.  The assumption is motorists would alter behavior with the knowledge that enforcement is occurring. Of course, after a few $100 tickets in the mail, people will learn to slow down and violations will decrease over time, but never completely disappear.

But using CDOT’s red light camera violations in 2010 as a model, monthly totals for red light running can be seen to be dropping by an average of 5.3% per month for the last seven months of that year after CDOT stopped adding more cameras to the program.

Applying a regression to the mean to the projected initial numbers, the first twelve months of enforcement where fines would be issued, from just these seven locations would still produce 990,822 speed violations or nearly $100 million in fines–a dollar amount that far exceeds the total revenue generated by the all 382 red light cameras every year.

In other words, projected violations were discounted by 5.3% every month, acknowledging driver behavior will change and violations will fall over time.

Using a seven day a week model that reflects the days and hours around a park district property, the total revenue for a year could be as high as $150 million.

As further context, the city issued 767,603 total red light camera citations in 2010 utilizing 382 cameras.

In even broader terms, CDOT confirms 79 intersections or 158 cameras would fall within a school or park safety zone to qualify for speed enforcement enhancement under the current bill.

Without more traffic data at the 79 intersections in question, it would be difficult to produce an accurate estimate of what kind of revenue speed cameras could produce. But based on Chicago’s own numbers, it is safe to say hundreds of millions of dollars could be generated per year by a speed enforcement program of this magnitude.

“It’s blatantly about revenue,” says anti-camera proponent Brian Costin. “They’re using kids to generate revenue.”

Costin, who works for the Illinois Policy Institute, helped bring down suburban Schaumburg’s red light camera program a few years ago, believes Chicago has a questionable record when it comes to traffic safety and is worried how far the program would expand.

“I am gravely concerned when the City of Chicago says their doing something to improve traffic safety,” says Costin. “Their track record it horrible. You can tell it’s not really about safety when you look at the hours of operation (proposed hours of enforcement) are not during just school hours but when most people drive to maximize revenue.”

2006  Study Shows Speeding Violations Would Far Outpace RLC Tickets

CDOT did two previous studies back in 2006 and 2008 where they found that speeding violations documented by red light cameras far exceeded red light violations.

In 2006, one red light camera at the intersection of Kedzie & 79th documented speeding seven days a week, 24 hours a day for a three month period from January 10th through April 9th.

Over that three month period, the camera issued 398 red light camera violations, but caught 13,995 drivers exceeding the speed limit according to the report from CDOT.

That breaks down to 35 speeding violations for every one RLC violation–a shocking ratio which supports the potential revenue windfall the 2011 study portends.

This report did not break down speeding incidents by how fast the vehicle exceeded the speed limit, so it is impossible to tell how many vehicles exceeded the 5 mph threshold to warrant a $100 fine.

Another study done in 2008 monitored two Southside intersections on Western Ave. with speed cameras between September 30th and October 25, documenting speeding from 6 AM to 6 PM.

This study paints an even uglier picture as a surprising 23% of the 85,231 vehicles detected over the course of the study, or 19,660 of the motorists, were driving in excess of 5 mph over the speed limit and could be eligible for a $100 fine under the current version of the bill.

Overall, CDOT’s studies do show a tremendous level of speed violations occurring on Chicago streets. But also demonstrates a potential massive revenue stream from drivers wallets into city coffers.

While the debate on whether a speed enforcement program will improve pedestrian safety will continue, it’s safe to say Mayor Emanuel could tap a revenue stream that could speed the city out of debt.

Multiple calls and emails to CDOT for comment over the past week by The Expired Meter were not returned.


CDOT 2011 Speed Enforcement Study

2008 CDOT Speed Enforcement Study

2006 CDOT Speed Enforcement Study

Updated 11/7/11 to reflect change in the hours and days of camera operation around schools–a more conservative estimate.

28 Responses to Revenue From Speed Cameras Could Dwarf Chicago’s Red Light Camera Program

  1. [...] Mike Brockway’s “The Expired Meter” website has the results of a trial run of seven red li… [...]

  2. Great Work Mike!!!
    The CDOT head misstated traffic engineering techniques on CBS today by stating education, enforcement and education are to be used equally in making intersections safer. He either doesn’t know what he’s talking about or he put the “city spin” on the traffic safety process to make it believable except that he lied. The ITE traffic process is the three Es of traffic engineering which are use Engineering, Education and then Enforcement only if the first two Es don’t work. Chicago routinely shorts their traffic signal yellows so clipping the speed limits electronically is a snap!

  3. Andrew says:

    If they’d just dump the horse shit part about “child safety” a good percentage of the responsible drivers in this city would probably not complain too much.

    One problem though… many of the South side speeders have a License or Insurance or even a legal right to be in this country?

  4. Pete says:

    Red light and/or speed cameras are NEVER about safety and ALWAYS about the money. All evidence confirms this. If dangerous drivers were the only ones to be ticketed, the cameras would operate at a huge loss as opposed to being a profit center. The red light camera profits come from the large amount of right turn “violations”, which hardly ever pose a real threat to public safety.

  5. richard says:

    We need to be clear when discussing red light and speed cameras. The ticket doesn’t go to the driver, the ticket goes to the registered owner of the license plate. Woe be unto single-car, multi-driver households.

  6. Linda says:

    Great piece of research! Actually, I’m less upset at the prospect of speeding enforcement through cameras than I am at red light violation enforcement.

    With all the big vehicles on the roads these days the reduced visibility around/through them makes it difficult to know whether you’ll clear an intersection in time during peak traffic hours. I’m sure every driver has gotten stuck partially in an intersection at some point due to unexpected stopped traffic ahead; or perhaps we all just need to be super cautious and then get horns blaring at us as we sit and refuse to move unless we’re 100% sure we won’t get stuck with a wisp of our car exposed to the RLC.

    My elderly next door neighbor received a RLC ticket when she got stuck in the intersection due to someone parallel parking just on the other side of the intersection. She couldn’t know that she would have to stop and stand partially in the intersection as she entered it. So this little old lady on a fixed income gets slammed with a $100 ticket she cannot really afford or contest. I say that’s bad policy.

    But speeding…who really has an excuse to speed through an intersection unless you’re rushing someone to a hospital?

  7. KevinG says:

    How is the ticket going to the registered owner any different than a parking ticket? Especially within a household there’s typically no reason for the city to charge one person over another.

  8. Pete says:

    Everybody who has ever driven a car has exceeded a speed limit. No exceptions. People who claim they “don’t speed” generally go about 5 over the limit. In other words, fast enough to get a ticket from these revenue generation cameras.

  9. [...] The Expired Meter puts together this amazing report using data from CDOT that demonstrates how much cash the City of Chicago will make from speed cameras. [...]

  10. J.D. says:

    There are several ways to get around a speeding ticket. Did you know that a police officer must be certified annually to shoot radar, and if the certification lapses well… Learn these tips, tricks, and secrets and how to use them yourself. Some even may or may not be known to expensive lawyers. Check out this guide written by attorneys to protect your rights and save you money. Traffic Ticket Secrets

  11. David says:

    Just a word of warning. Interest groups are already ratcheting up the pressure. I am a member of Active Transportation Alliance. I think that they do a number of good things. However, in this case, they are making the misguided effort to try to mobilize their members to contact their legislators and “demand” that the speed cameras be put in as a safety measure. Their message says:

    Within hours, the Illinois House will be voting on a bill that would enhance safety on the streets of Chicago. The legislation would allow the city of Chicago to use cameras to enforce speed limits in safety zones around schools and parks.

    Right now, we need support from XXX District Representative XXXXXXX. If she is your representative, we urge you to contact her right away to ask for her support of SB 965. When, you call her office, let her know that you’re a constituent.

    TAKE ACTION: Call Rep. XXXXX’ office in Springfield immediately at (217) XXX-XXXX to tell her to vote “yes” on SB 965.

    This initiative will make our streets safer, particularly for vulnerable road users like pedestrians and bicyclists who do not have the protection of an air bag, seat belt or steel frame.

    Speeding drivers make roadways unsafe for vehicle passengers, cyclists, and everyone who uses our sidewalks and parks. Automated speed enforcement that will be allowed under SB 965 will help keep cars within the legal speed limit, save lives and make our neighborhoods more walkable and bike-friendly.

    To learn more about this issue, you can read a recent Active Trans letter to the editor published in the Chicago Tribune.

    Look up your Illinois legislative district here.

    Active Transportation Alliance

  12. [...] Mike Brockway’s “The Expired Meter” website has the results of a trial run of seven red li… [...]

  13. The Parking Ticket Geek says:

    Not a surprise David.

    I too like Active Trans for some of the things they do (as a pedestrian and biker myself), but personally at odds with them over RLC and speed cameras.

    I guess we have a love/hate relationship.

    Thanks for the info David.

  14. [...] so let’s assume it would be somewhat less than that; and the speeding cameras could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in [...]

  15. Eric says:

    Was there an epidemic of kids getting ran over that I missed???

    Do we get ticketed after school hours? After curfew?

    Do high schools areas count!? We have to slow for them, meanwhile they drive like crazies.

    Mass revenue that city will make disappear into their pockets.

  16. avalenzuela says:

    Dont , you you guys understand, we are feed up whith this crap

  17. avalenzuela says:

    Please , lets vote this clowns out of office,.people wake up

  18. downtown doodoo brown says:

    I’ve got one question about these speed cameras. Under IL law, school zone speed limits of 20 mph are applicable “on school days when children are present” and, in fact, this is what it says on all of the school speed limit signs I have seen in the city. How on earth is the camera going to decide of children are present and the 20 mph limit applies?

  19. [...] second would allow the city of Chicago to install speed cameras near schools. According to The Expired Meter, this could generate over $100 million in [...]

  20. Bob does not believe says:

    These comments that the Mayor does not care about the revenue can be proved. The revenue should not be allowed to be used for any purpose except auto enforcement and education. The extra revenue can be used for the school projects instead of going to the tax payers. When people make certain comments, they may be demanded to prove their comments.

    PUT IT IN THE LAW. Do not allow the politicians to play with your money. Do not allow for changes except for total elimination of the law.

  21. Bob says:

    Another way to get money away from the people and into the pockets of government to pay the outrageous pensions of the ex-politicians and their friends. State income tax up to 5%, corporate tax up, one of the highest sales tax rates, most red light cameras in the country, etc. We need to get out of the Obama (from Illinois) frame of mind of taxing everyone more and more. Emanuel is just a copy of Obama. The people cannot afford this.

    Why not just give a $1000 or more fine to the one vehicle that breaks the speeding or red light law of which actually results in an accident or hits a child. Why give a $100 fine to every single car that is 5 mph over the speed limit…what a joke. What if a car has to speed up to avoid an accident, do they automatically get a $100 fine? Use them for safey, not money makers. We should only be fining the ones that violate the law at of which results in an accident only….and fine them at a high rate.

    The people need to elect out the lawmakers that voted for this ridiculous “new tax” on the people. The people need to stand up to this abuse that they are getting from Illinois government and Chicago!! We will all be a bunch of Illinois government robots soon.

  22. A. Castro says:

    I don’t mean to sound like a smartass here, but I bet if more people would start using the CTA/Metra, the thing they would notice first would be that they won’t have to worry about the possibility of getting a ticket, RLC, parking or for speeding. Ever since the ONE parking ticket I got in Downtown, I have refused to park there. But, since the main point is speed cameras, I’m glad that (until further notice) there are no cameras along the route I take to the CTA train station. If there are new cameras in my area, I will kindly let you all be aware of them…

  23. [...] Emanuel said the cameras would deter people from speeding in school zones, but has been accused of downplaying the revenue-generating power of the speed cameras, which a joint investigation in November by CBS2 and The Expired Meter blog suggests could far exceed red-light camera yields. [...]

  24. [...] debunk this falsity, however, it by looking at the revenue these babies generate. In Chicago alone, red light cameras generated $60M last year.  I’ll leave it to you to connect the dots on that [...]

  25. frustrated says:

    Will the new speed cameras ticket the crooked, overpaid, pensionsucking, speeding cops around here? Do they get tickets for running redlights currently? Just askin

  26. DoR Employee says:

    Yes…they get them as well because the tickets are not processed by City or County Employees, but are processed by private Contractors.

  27. Greg says:

    Frustrated -

    Saw something interesting the other day. I was on Lake shore Drive and traffic was a little heavy, but not that bad. A cop suddenly puts on his lights, so everyone pulls over. He flies by everyone, exits, and the second he hits the exit ramp – the lights go off.

    He clearly just used his lights to get around traffic.

  28. [...] Emanuel said the cameras would deter people from speeding in school zones, but has been accused of downplaying the revenue-generating power of the speed cameras, which a joint investigation in November by CBS2 and The Expired Meter blog suggests could far exceed red-light camera yields. [...]

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