Speed Camera Ordinance Passes Out Of Committee
Some Alderman Voice Fears At Speed Camera Hearings
Despite many questions and aldermanic reservations, the Chicago speed camera ordinance passed out of the Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Wednesday evening.
On a voice vote, despite a smattering of nays, the ordinance moves for debate and a vote before the full city council next week.
At the start of the hearings, committee chair Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) announced some more changes to the ordinance just before introducing Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein.
The major alteration would be lowering the fine from the originally proposed $50 to $35 for exceeding the posted speed by 6-10 mph. The fine of $100 for exceeding the limit by 11 mph or more would remain intact.
Another change to the proposed ordinance would be for the purposes of improving traffic safety, the city would be divided into six safety regions in order to insure the maximum 300 (20% of the total possible safety zones and less than originally estimated) speed camera locations which would be allowed under the law, to be distributed equitably citywide.
In addition, an advisory committee of citizens, CDOT staffers and aldermen would have input on where cameras would be installed.
“All we’re asking people to do at the end of the day is obey the law,” said Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein during the hearings.
A simple request on its face.
But some Chicago City Council members expressed a smorgasboard of concerns over the now renamed “Children’s Safety Zone Ordinance.”
Ald. James Cappleman (46th), frustrated with the fact he and other committee members had just received a copy of the revised, substitute ordinance just as the hearing began, said many of his constituents feel the speed cams is just the city looking for more revenue and that his multiple requests for more data from CDOT was not forthcoming.
“What I have not received yet is numbers of injuries to children which occurred during school hours,” said Cappleman. “I’ve been asking numerous times for this for over a month.”
Ald. Rey Colon asked a very obvious, and up to now, unasked question.
“How will the camera determine when children are present?,” asked Colon about enforcing current school zone speed law that reduces the speed limit in these zones to 20 mph during school hours and when children are present.
According to Klein, an additional layer of review will be added to see if a violation has occurred. With the current red light camera process, there are two stages of review. The first look at the alleged violation is done by Redflex Traffic Systems, followed by a contractor for the Department of Revenue.
The speed camera process will add a third review stage where a city employee will also review the potential speed violation. According to Klein, a child would have to be documented in the citation photos and video for a violation at the 20 mph speed limit to be issued.
Freshman Alderman John Arena (45th) questioned the entire idea behind speed cameras when interacting with Commissioner Klein.
“We have enforcement now–we have the police,” said Arena. “We have an enforcement mechanism. Why do we need this (speed camera) enforcement mechanism? I guess my concern is that we have red light cameras that produce revenue. Why don’t we commit that revenue to more enforcement. If a guy has a pound of cocaine in their trunk, the camera is not going to stop them.”
Klein argued that the speed cameras are a “force multiplier,” allowing the police to concentrate on serious crime.
Arena went on to wonder aloud how the city can justify using speed cameras when many basic components of driving safety are not maintained on Chicago streets. Arena claimed many crosswalk lines have been worn away and have not been repainted in 15 years in some cases on streets in his ward.
We’re not giving drivers the right signals anyway,” said Arena. “But you want to hit them in the pocketbook right away.”
Arena was also uncomfortable with the big brother aspects of the speed cameras.
“I’m concerned about the 24/7 surveillance aspect,” Arena said to Klein. “As a society we say no to government surveillance. As we move forward I think you need to address that.”
Perhaps the most contentious of the city council members was Ald. Leslie Hairston (3rd) who also had problems with the potential impacts to personal privacy.
“I don’t want your cameras in my bedroom,” said Hairston who’s residence falls within a safety zone. “I wish we could give alderman more input on where these cameras go. We are the ones who have to run for office. I am not going to give away that power to run.”
Hairston has been perhaps the loudest critic of speed camera enforcement saying the administration should just admit the cameras are primarily about revenue, not safety.
“You keep saying it’s about safety for kids,” Hairston said to Klein. “But it’s not about the kids.”
Another rookie council member, Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th) asked about using dynamic speed display signs, which tell drivers how fast they are going so they can adjust their speed before they approach speed camera locations.
“If you want true safety for children, they (drivers) need to know they’re going over the limit,” said Sposato.
But CDOT’s Managing Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly brushed aside utilizing dynamic speed displays in this manner.
“The longer they’re (dyanmic speed displays) there, the less effective they become,” said Kubly. “We’re not training people to slow down at just those locations but everywhere.”
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) asked Klein about the impact that speed cameras will have on traffic flow and traffic times, with Klein contending driving faster will actually slow a motorist in getting to their destination.
“The faster you’re going the more chance you’re going to have a crash,” explained Klein. “When people go at the speed limit, which signals are timed for, people get to their destination faster.”
In an attempt to understand how much input aldermen would have on camera placement Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), asked Commissioner Klein point blank, “Will aldermen be able to veto camera installation (locations), yes or no?”
“The answer is no,” responded Klein who went on to explain that there is a multitude of factors that go into enforcement camera selection.
Some aldermen were notably supportive of the ordinance including Ald. James Balcer who retold the story of being hit by a car when he was a child.
Ald. Richard Mell also seemed to like the idea saying this type of technology should be used to get drivers to slow down.
Long time council member Ald. Ed Burke was perhaps the strongest voice for the cameras.
“I don’t have a lot of sympathy for law breakers,” said the often chauffeured Burke. “If you can’t pay the fine, don’t do the crime.”
Klein and Kubly outlined a possible timeline for the speed camera program rollout for the committee during the hearing.
After bids were received from camera companies, CDOT would conduct pilot tests of potential equipment vendor equipment to see how each performs by late summer or early fall.
The winning vendor’s equpment would begin to be calibrated in early fall, and by late November Klein hopes to have a few systems up and running during the 30 day public warning period.
The speed camera ordinance will come before the full Chicago City Council on Wednesday, April 18th at 10 AM.