First, consider this: Chicago is building on its red-light camera system.
Earlier this month, the state Senate swiftly approved a bill authorizing Chicago to add speeding cameras to existing red-light cameras near schools and parks. Violators will pay as much as $100.
Now consider this: Los Angeles, Houston, Albuquerque, New Mexico and Colorado Springs, Colo., put the brakes on their programs.
If other cities are killing their red-light programs, why is Chicago adding to it?
When the bill kicks in July 1, red-light cameras in safety zones—park and school properties plus a one-eighth mile radius—will also clock drivers’ speed.
Exceeding the limit by 5 to 10 mph earns a $50 ticket; 11 mph or more, $100. Drivers will be fined only between the hours of 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 9 p.m. on Fridays.
A Chicago traffic blog, the Expired Meter, obtained data that was used in justifying the bill from the Chicago Department of Transportation. The study, completed earlier this year. shows 25 percent of cars speed through school zones, in which the speed limit is 20 mph. But it doesn’t say where these school zones are.
The study monitored traffic for two months. However, data from a 2008 study looks at speeding over four weeks at 8100 S. Western Ave. There’s a red-light camera one block north on Western and 79th, next to St. Rita High School.
The study counted cars driving 40 mph or faster between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Leaving out Saturday violations, there were 9,881 speeding incidents. If the bill existed then, tickets would have generated almost a million dollars at that intersection alone – $988,100.
But Mayor Rahm Emanuel said it’s not about money, but kids’ safety.
A new CDOT report that surveyed crashes between 2005 and 2009 shows kids aged 5 to 14 made up about 16 percent of pedestrian injuries. Adults aged 30 to 59 were included in the most crashes during that time, almost twice as many as the kids.
Roy Lucke, division manager of the Center for Public Safety at Northwestern University, said studies show that speeding cameras do their jobs, but it’s treating a symptom instead of the problem.
“Kids at marked crossings are not overinvolved in crashes, but will the areas be safer?” Lucke said. “Literature tends to say yes.”
But the Federal Highway Administration maintains extensive guidelines about engineering speed limits for a reason. “There’s a true science in setting speed limits,” Lucke said, and sticking to it is the key.
Another issue with the bill is that, like the red-light cameras, there’s no consequence beyond a fine for these speeding tickets, Lucke said. Citations issued by police officers could affect insurance rates and driving records.
But a spokeswoman for one auto insurer said camera-issued tickets are just as detrimental as officer-issued ones: Leah Knapp, media contact at Progressive Auto Insurance, said regardless of where they come from, tickets do affect policy holders’ insurance.
Lucke said that a ticket by itself, with no repercussions such as traffic school, does not accomplish the stated goals of the cameras.
If Chicago wants to send a message, he said, there should be a greater cost than a fine.