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The [Friday] Papers

"Chicago's red light cameras fail to deliver the dramatic safety benefits long claimed by City Hall, according to a first-ever scientific study that found the nation's largest camera program is responsible for increasing some types of injury crashes while decreasing others," the Tribune reports.

The state-of-the-art study commissioned by the Tribune concluded the cameras do not reduce injury-related crashes overall - undercutting Mayor Rahm Emanuel's primary defense of a program beset by mismanagement, malfunction and a $2 million bribery scandal.

Emanuel has credited the cameras for a 47 percent reduction in dangerous right-angle, or "T-bone," crashes. But the Tribune study, which accounted for declining accident rates in recent years as well as other confounding factors, found cameras reduced right-angle crashes that caused injuries by just 15 percent.

At the same time, the study calculated a corresponding 22 percent increase in rear-end crashes that caused injuries, illustrating a trade-off between the cameras' costs and benefits.

That looks like a trade-off of -7 percent, though I'm admittedly not taking into account raw numbers.

Let's read on.

The researchers also determined there is no safety benefit from cameras installed at intersections where there have been few crashes with injuries. Such accidents actually increased at those intersections after cameras went in, the study found, though the small number of crashes makes it difficult to determine whether the cameras were to blame.

Let's repeat that first sentence, with italics: The researchers also determined there is no safety benefit from cameras installed at intersections where there have been few crashes with injuries.

Previous reporting has shown that cameras aren't placed at intersections that "need" them for safety's sake, but at intersections most likely to produce revenue.

The finding raises questions about why the city installed cameras in so many places where injury-causing crashes were rare - nearly 40 percent of the 190 intersections that had cameras through 2012, the Tribune found.

We know why.

"The biggest takeaway is that overall (the program) seems to have had little effect," said Dominique Lord, an associate professor at Texas A&M University's Zachry Department of Civil Engineering who led the Tribune's study.

"So the question now is: If we eliminate a certain type of collision and increase the other and overall it stays the same, is there an argument that it is fair to go with the program?" Lord said. "That is a question that I cannot answer.

"Just the elected officials can answer for that."

Ha.

Emanuel declined interview requests.

Let me fix that for you: "Emanuel, in the midst of a re-election campaign, once again refused to answer questions about one of his signature programs."

His top transportation experts acknowledged flaws in the city's statistics but said the Tribune study reinforces their own conclusion that cameras are helping.

No! The Tribune study does nothing of the sort!

Chicago Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said the city has never attempted a deep examination of the effectiveness of the largest automated enforcement program in the country, which has grown to more than 350 red light cameras and raised more than $500 million in $100 tickets since 2002. She said the Emanuel administration, now in its fourth year, is attempting to fix a long-standing lack of oversight.

If the city hasn't examined the program's effectiveness, how can Scheinfeld claim the Trib's study reinforces their own conclusion? The city doesn't have a conclusion!

"[T]he fact is, the important thing I want to make sure that we get across here is that there are less deaths out there, there are less injuries out there and we are very encouraged by that."

Not attributable to the red-light program there aren't.

Several national traffic experts consulted by the Tribune called the study a valid examination that largely mirrors the results of similar scientific efforts conducted around the country that found moderate decreases in T-bone crashes coupled with increases in rear-enders as drivers hit the brakes to avoid camera-generated tickets.

The study findings also dovetail with the Tribune's examination of how short yellow light times at Chicago's traffic signals raise the stakes for drivers.

In other words, the city is making intersections more dangerous.

As recently as October, transportation chief Scheinfeld appeared before a City Council hearing to defend the red light camera program armed with poster boards boasting a 47 percent reduction in right-angle crashes at camera-equipped intersections and a 22 percent drop in all types of injury crashes.

Those numbers are from a report on the city's website with a list of crash statistics at each of the red light camera intersections from 2005 and from 2012.

"Since being launched more than a decade ago, the red light camera program has been a critical part of our efforts to improve the safety of our streets," Scheinfeld told the assembled aldermen. "The most recent crash statistics available from the state show that at intersections with red light cameras, the number of dangerous T-bone, angle crashes decreased by 47 percent between 2005 and 2012."

Given those numbers, the effectiveness of red light cameras would be difficult to dispute. But a half-dozen traffic engineering experts interviewed by the Tribune all agree that simple before-and-after comparison is not an effective measure. It doesn't account for changes in traffic flow because of the economic recession, or the improved safety of automobiles or any number of factors that have brought down crash numbers throughout the nation.

And most important, experts say, it doesn't account for any significant changes in the way accidents are reported to state transportation officials.

For instance, in 2009 the Illinois Department of Transportation changed the threshold for reporting property damage accidents to $1,500 in damage from $500, a rule change that prompted accident reports statewide to plummet by nearly 30 percent. That change alone renders the city's safety claims invalid, experts say.

Is it perjurious to lie to the city council? Contempt of council?

"The city's study is worthless, making no adjustments for any potential bias," said Joseph Hummer, professor and chairman of civil and environmental engineering at Wayne State in Detroit. He also noted that, for some sites, the city used 2005 data in the "before" section of its analysis even though the cameras had been installed there in 2003 and 2004.

Scheinfeld said in an interview last week that the city's safety claims are based on "more basic," nonscientific comparisons of crash statistics. She said the state transportation department statistics are "still the best information that we have, and we acknowledge they have made that change in their reporting methodology, and it would have some impact on those numbers, but we don't know exactly what impact."

Scheinfeld said she was aware of the flaw in the data when she presented the city's safety claims to aldermen.

I suggest the jury be dismissed, and we move to an article a session. The witness has rights.

"We weren't saying that those reductions are all attributable directly to, or only to, the installation of red light cameras," Scheinfeld said. "What we are saying is that we are seeing these trends which are very encouraging at those locations where we have red light cameras."

Oh, Rebekah. You suck so bad.

Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, chairman of the council Transportation Committee, said the city's numbers come as no surprise: "Those numbers the city uses have never made any sense. Of course they are skewing the numbers."

"That program needs to be stopped. It needs to be frozen to give us time to re-evaluate everything," Beale said. "This is just more proof that this entire program is strictly to generate revenue and always has been."

Oh good, the city council is on it.

Anthony? Ald. Beale?

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Beachwood Photo Booth: Mailbox Message
Good question.

The Picture Of Women's Health
Not Britney.

Cheap Trick, Gold Toes & Loaded Potatoes
In The College Football Report Bowl Preview Part 1.

Obama Issues Rare Pardon To A Chicago Merc Trader
Total coincidence.

The Miracle Of Congressukah
World's most expensive Christmas tree.

The Week In Chicago Rock
Featuring: Michelle Chamuel, Centro-matic, and Brice Woodall.

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BeachBook
* Oak Lawn Toyota Attempts 'Dick In A Box' Parody, Fails Spectacularly.

* Label Rediscovers Secret Stash Of Chicago R&B.

* The Year In False Confessions.

* Handy Device Keeps Your Mustache Dry While Drinking Beer.

* Making Babies Starts With Fireworks, Sort Of.

* Oh Good, More Stuff For Rich People.

* Torture: What Bush Knew And When He Knew It.

* Running Scared (Blu-ray).

* Dan Hampton Thinks Torture Is Funny.

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Not buckling.



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Posted on December 19, 2014


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock Including Riot Fest Highlights.
TV - The Digital Divide.
POLITICS - Rhymefest vs. Obama.
SPORTS - Tales Of The Turtles.

BOOKS - How Comics Captured Vietnam.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - 100-Year-Old Petrified Uniformities Of The Modern Art World vs. The Moral Grandeur Of Majestic Impressionism.


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