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IG: Red-Light Cameras An Epic Double-Fail

"The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (IGO) has completed an audit of the City's Red-Light Camera (RLC) program," the IGO announced Tuesday.

"The audit found that Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) was unable to substantiate its claims that the City chose to install and maintain red-light cameras at intersections with the highest angle crash rates in order to increase safety."

Perhaps even worse, the audit found that if City Hall instead is really using the red-light program to generate revenue instead of increase safety - something Rahm Emanuel has vigorously denied - it is doing a poor job of that, too. Revenue, it turns out, isn't being maximized.

So we have the worst of all worlds. Let's take a look.

*

"Additionally, the audit found that:

  • CDOT was unable to produce evidence that it continually evaluates cameras for relocation, as stated in its "Intersection Prioritization Steps for Relocations." Further, since the program started in 2003, the City has relocated only ten cameras from five intersections out of the present total of 384 cameras at 190 locations.
  • For one set of cameras, the City is spending nearly 56% of the purchase price on maintenance expenditures each year.
  • CDOT was unable to verify the accuracy of the information it uses to determine RLC installation locations.

"'The City cannot effectively manage its programs unless it measures its programs," said Inspector General Joe Ferguson. 'In addition to finding that the City cannot prove RLC installation locations are based on safety considerations, we discovered a striking lack of basic record-keeping and analysis for this $70 million program.'

"The audit, which was designed to answer nine questions posed by six members of the City Council, sought to determine if red-light camera installations were made based on CDOT's stated primary criterion of reducing angle crashes to increase safety.

"The IGO made two recommendations for the City going forward. First, the City should establish and follow clear criteria for its decisions on where to locate automated traffic law enforcement systems. Second, the City should retain records and verifiable documentation of the process for each location decision.

"CDOT's response is included in the audit. CDOT stated that it intends to review the RLC installation and removal criteria and determine what, if any modifications should be made going forward. Additionally, it has pledged to work with the winning RLC vendor to review current camera locations and ensure that the criteria have been met and appropriately documented at intersections where cameras are now located."

CDOT was hardly cooperative with the audit, however. Let's dig in.

*

"The limited information provided by CDOT to the IGO did not provide a sufficient basis to show or substantiate that RLC installation decisions were based on the primary criterion of reducing vehicle angle crash rates. Therefore, the IGO could not verify that the City followed its own stated criteria for selecting RLC locations."

*

"We were unable to determine the reliability of the data due to limitations such as lack of access to underlying source data, age of requested data, and discrepancies among datasets provided by CDOT. However, CDOT claims that this data was used by management to assist in identifying potential intersections for RLCs. While the conclusion of this report is not solely based on this data, the use of this data could lead to inaccurate conclusions."

*

"The specific questions asked by members of the City Council overlapped significantly with the IGO's objective of determining whether red-light camera installations were based on the primary criterion of reducing angle crashes to improve safety. Therefore, we present our findings below as answers to the City Council's questions."

1. Has the City installed, and is the City installing, red-light cameras in locations with the highest number of angle crashes?

"CDOT data and documentation provided an insufficient basis to determine whether CDOT selected RLC locations based on the highest angle crash rate."

CDOT referred further questions to Plow Tracker.

*

"CDOT was unable to provide the purported underlying list of 3,000 signalized intersections with the highest number of angle crashes."

Maybe it's in the hidden drawer.

*

2. Has the City used, and is the City using accurate data in determining the location for red-light cameras?

"CDOT data and documentation was insufficient to verify the accuracy of information CDOT states was used to determine RLC installation locations."

That's because city officials swallow their paperwork after memorizing it.

*

3. CDOT has established the Red Light Prioritization Model to calculate annual Total Crash Rate and Angle Crash Rate at each intersection. How often is the Model reviewed, and who is responsible for verifying its accuracy?

"CDOT data and documentation was insufficient to determine or substantiate that camera locations were selected based on the Red Light Prioritization Model."

CDOT: Chicago Department of Telepathy.

*

"CDOT provided the IGO with a memo from the current Deputy Director or CDOT's Division of Project Development dated April 29, 2008 and addressed to the RLC Project Manager. The memo established the angle crash rate as the primary criterion for RLC installations. Current CDOT personnel speculated to the IGO that RLC installations prior to that memo were based on highest angle crash rates. However, no current CDOT employee had any first-hand knowledge to substantiate this nor did they provide any documentation supporting that speculation."

*

"In addition to the Top 205 Angle Crash Rate list dated October 10, 2007, CDOT provided the IGO with Top Angle Crash Rate lists for the years 2003, 2004, and 2005 which were the only years they could locate. These additional reports, however, were undated therefore we could not determine their creation date. CDOT could not show, nor were we otherwise able to determine if or how these lists were actually used in determining installations. Even if one assumes that these lists were used to select the 67 intersections where RLCs were installed prior to January 1, 2008, 22 of those intersections, or 33 percent, are not on the lists.

"CDOT stated that it is responsible for verifying the accuracy of the data used to compute the angle crash rates for signalized intersections which may become candidates for RLC installation. CDOT reported that it obtains crash data from the Chicago Crash Database, maintained by the Chicago Police Department, and traffic volumes from the Chicago Average Daily Traffic database, maintained by CDOT, to create intersection annual Total Crash Rates and Angle Crash Rates.

"CDOT stated that the Chicago Average Daily Traffic database was last updated in 2006."

So even when CDOT did provide data, it was older than Suri Cruise.

*

"CDOT was unable to provide the Crash Database data that it represented as having been used to determine the various Top Angle Crash Rate reports dating back to 2003."

Maybe it was destroyed in a crash.

*

4. How often does the City reassess if RLCs should be relocated?

"CDOT stated that it used the 'Intersection Prioritization Steps for Relocations,' created in May 2010, to evaluate RLCs for possible relocation, but was unable to produce data that might substantiate this claim."

Chicago Department of Making Shit Up As We Go (CDOMSUAWG).

*

5. Is CDOT following its own prioritization steps for RLC relocations?

"CDOT was unable to produce evidence that it continually evaluates cameras for relocation, as stated in its 'Intersection Prioritization Steps for Relocations.'"

*

6. Are field evaluations for potential red-light camera installations being done in accordance with the appropriate traffic engineering standards?

"The IGO could not determine if field evaluations for potential RLC installations were done in accordance with appropriate traffic engineering standards to ensure that signal timing is set properly."

CDOT could not provide data proving there is a field.

*

"The IGO requested the traffic engineering standards used by CDOT and any documentation to show that RLC installations and signal timing were completed in accordance with the standards.

"CDOT did provide the IGO with the standards but did not provide any documentation supporting that signal timing is set to the required minimum standards or regularly monitored for adherence to those standards."

CDOT also could not provide its address, phone number or code for the copy machine.

*

7. Which City departments, consultants, and/or employees of Redflex are involved in the decision to install or relocate RLCs, and how?

"CDOT management reported that Redflex provided the City's RLC program Project Manager with a site survey report indicating whether cameras could or could not be installed in locations proposed by the City based on limitations such as physical barriers at the site.

"The IGO requested the documentation provided by Redflex to the City's Project Manager. CDOT responded that it could locate only some engineering drawings that would not be of much help in evaluating the selection."

The Beachwood agrees that these drawings are not useful.

*

"The IGO asked CDOT about the decision-making process for RLC installation specifically at the intersection of Kingsbury and Ontario in 2007. The Chicago Tribune reported on November 22, 2009 that then-Alderman Burt Natarus claimed responsibility for having RLCs installed there despite a lack of crashes at the intersection.

"The article quoted City officials as stating that 'Natarus had no influence on the decision to install the cameras there.'

"CDOT has not responded to the IGO's inquiry about the decision to place RLCs at this intersection."

A non-denial non-denial.

*

8. What data does the City collect regarding the amount of revenue generated by each red-light camera, and what influence does that revenue data have on the decision to maintain or relocate cameras?

"CDOT has relocated cameras from only five intersections since the inception of the RLC program and the IGO did not find evidence that the amount of ticket revenue influenced those camera relocation decisions."

Those were Burt's calls.

*

9. What is the total cost of the cameras, including installation and annual maintenance?

"The City paid Redflex a total of $106,271,823 through March 8, 2013, but CDOT did not have documentation breaking out purchase, maintenance, repair, and other costs by RLC location.

"CDOT maintains no records of the purchase, maintenance, operation, repair, and additional costs for each individual camera.

"Therefore, the IGO was not able to determine (nor could CDOT otherwise explain) how much of the $106,271,823 paid to Redflex was associated with each of these cost categories.

"Without this information, CDOT could not answer basic cost questions such as:

  • What did the equipment cost?
  • How much was spent on repairs at each installation?
  • Should CDOT have replaced the equipment or repaired it?
  • Is the RLC program cost effective?

"CDOT did provide documentation obtained from Redflex showing the contract from which each camera was purchased. However, the data was incomplete and could not be used to calculate the exact amount of equipment purchased."

I can see why.

*

"We were able to determine, from the information provided and our own independent review of invoices, that purchase of the 384 cameras cost approximately $19.1 million.

"CDOT also provided documentation that the City is currently paying the vendor $1,564,920 monthly for maintenance and operational support.

"This includes $967,200 for 248 cameras ($1,150 for maintenance and $2,750 for operational support per camera), and $597,720 for 136 cameras ($1,645 for maintenance and $2,750 for operational support per camera).

"For the cameras purchased at $24,500 each under the most recent Redflex contract, the annual maintenance cost is $13,800, or 56 percent of the purchase price."

Can't they just use iPhones?

*

"A fundamental management function is the ability to identify various program costs. Without knowing how much is being spent in various categories, management does not have the necessary information to make informed operational decisions such as:

  • Should we repair or replace equipment?
  • How much should we budget for repairs or new equipment?
  • Should maintenance agreements on equipment continue at 56 percent of the original
    purchase price?"

Good questions.

"CDOT requested an extension from the IGO in order to provide further information, but was denied," CDOT says in its response.

I think we can all be reasonably sure it wouldn't have been worth the wait.

*

Also from CDOT's response, included in the audit:

"From CDOT's perspective, the most important aspect of the RLC program is that it is designed to increase safety on City streets."

And yet, it cannot supply documentation to prove that.

"Recent analyses of Chicago's red-light enforcement program found that dangerous angle crashes were reduced by an average of nearly 30% when a high angle crash rate intersection was equipped with red-light cameras."

That may be - and it's a shaky proposition - but the IGO found that the most dangerous intersections were not the ones always equipped with the cameras. And CDOT doesn't cite the analyses.

*

"CDOT reviews the RLC effectiveness every year to year and a half. To date red-light cameras at five intersections have been relocated based on the reduction in angle crashes at the intersection to zero angle crashes."

So cameras are only relocated if crashes are reduced to zero at a particular intersection? What if crashes went from 100 to five? Aren't crashes being reduced significantly enough at other intersections to warrant relocation?

*

"CDOT thanks the IGO for their work on the Red Light Camera Installation Audit."

No you don't.

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See also: Rahm Caught Lying About Speed Cameras.

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Comments welcome.



Permalink

Posted on May 15, 2013


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