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Mystery Speed Camera Plan Passes Out Of Committee

"A city council committee today passed a controversial proposal to install speed enforcement cameras near schools and parks - despite incomplete information on changes to the proposal, especially how the city might use speeding ticket revenue," Progress Illinois reports.

Truly, this is an embarrassment.

"The city, though, has not specifically laid out to the public - or City Council members - how installing cameras help children. For example, aldermen were provided statistics from the city that showed 800 children pedestrians were seriously injured or killed between 2005 and 2010 due to a motorist.

"But [city transportation commissioner Gabe] Klein could not say - in the face of repeated questions from aldermen - how many of these motorists were speeding or how many of these accidents happened near schools and parks."

In video I saw on Chicago Tonight, Klein also cited the difference in mortality rates between pedestrians hit by cars going 20 mph and those hit by cars going 40 mph - but reportedly could not say how often Chicago motorists are caught driving 20 mph over the speed limit or how often they were caught doing so in school zones.

In fact, the administration still can't say just how speed cameras will make children safer.

"Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th, questioned why the cameras will be ticketing drivers at all during school hours if children's safety is the focus," the Tribune reports.

"At 10 a.m., you don't see too many kids outside," he said.

In other words, investing in crossing guards in morning and afternoon shifts makes more sense if generating revenue isn't your goal - and Mayor Rahm Emanuel insists it isn't.

But even the revenue front is hazy.

"[N]o one was at the hearing from the city budget department to explain what might become of the revenue," the Progress Illinois account says. "'I was expecting somebody from budget to be here - they're not here,' said Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th), the committee chairman.

"Klein testified that while he could not say for sure how revenue might be spent, he was hopeful it would go toward public safety initiatives."

You'd think that sort of thing would be worked out before aldermen were asked to cast a vote, but that's not the way it works in Chicago.

This is the way:

"Aldermen complained that the [new version of the] ordinance was presented at the last minute. 'I didn't get a copy of the new ordinance until 1:25 p.m.,' said Ald. James Cappleman (46th)."

The hearing started at 1 p.m. The hearing was scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Instead, I'm told, it started at 1:26 p.m. - a minute after Cappleman received the revised ordinance.

"Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) complained that she has been trying for more than a month to get information from the city that is relevant to the ordinance. Ald. Will Burns (4th) wondered how often the city ever tickets drivers going 6 MPH to 11 MPH over the speed limit - but Klein said he did not have the information currently available."

That's because they don't have any.

Cappleman, too, said he's been trying for months to get information out of CDOT to no avail.

"What I have not received yet is numbers of injuries to children which occurred during school hours," Cappleman said, according to The Expired Meter. "I've been asking numerous times for this for over a month."

Cappleman thinks his constituents would likely be approving of targeted cameras in limited areas, but without the data and details to back up the plan, they remain skeptical.

Likewise, The Expired Meter reports that "city council member offices receiving a majority of phone calls and e-mails asking their alderman to vote no on the ordinance include Joe Moreno (1st), Pat Dowell (3rd), John Arena (45th), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Nicholas Sposato (36th), Richard Mell (33rd) James Cappleman (46th) Mary O'Connor (41st) and Tom Tunney (44th).

"While we have not been flooded with response like some other wards, I have received approximately 35 e-mails, five calls, and two-drop-ins," said 44th Ward spokesperson Max Bever. "Only one was in favor."

The 1st ward was seeing overwhelming negative response according to spokesperson Matt Bailey.

"Of the e-mail correspondence we've received, 95% is against," related Bailey.

The other five wards who shared info with this site said they were seeing mixed feelings from the constituents who were calling or e-mailing.

This included Margaret Laurino (39th), Sandi Jackson (7th), Tim Cullerton (38th), Howard Brookins (21st), Michael Zalewski (23rd) and Marty Quinn (13th).

No wards reported a scenario where the majority of constituents supported the speed camera.

The committee vote also came on the heels of a report on Wednesday by the Sun-Times that "Chicago has installed 10,000 speed humps in streets and alleys and created 450 cul-de-sacs, 400 traffic circles and 250 'bump-out' curbs since 2005 alone - many of them near schools and parks - raising questions about why the city also needs speed cameras."

Maybe because speed bumps don't come with fines.

"After learning that Chicago installed 6,000 speed humps in streets and 4,000 in alleys since 2005 alone, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) questioned the need for speed cameras."

Maybe because Redflex doesn't have the speed bump contract.

"The prevalence of speed humps around schools was evident on Wednesday, when Emanuel traveled to Disney II Magnet Elementary, 3815 N. Kedvale, to announce his revised plan for a longer school day. The school was surrounded by speed bumps that make it difficult to speed without damaging your vehicle."

In other words, speed bumps prevent speeding. Speed cameras just ticket you afterwards.

That hasn't deterred the mayor's allies from a data-free full-court press.

The Active Transportation Alliance was at it again yesterday, applauding committee approval of the ordinance - and stating that "An analysis of more than 90 studies assessing speed enforcement cameras found an average injury crash reduction of 20 to 25 percent, with more effective programs reducing injuries from crashes by more than 50 percent."

That echoed this statement from the alliance last month:

Chicago Tribune's coverage of speed cameras omits compelling data, Active Transportation Alliance says

The Chicago Tribune reporters appear to be more interested in blocking speed camera enforcement than reporting on it. In their latest story published today, even the headline is inaccurate: "Mayor's speed camera stats sketchy." However, the Tribune analyzed red light camera enforcement in Chicago. To date there has been no speed camera enforcement, and to equate the two is inaccurate.

So what would be a good way to assess the effects of speed cameras, aside from the commonsense notion that camera enforcement will reduce speeding, and that speeding causes more crashes, as well as crashes that are more dangerous? How about the following data we have given the Tribune and it continues to selectively omit from its reporting:

- An analysis of more than 90 studies assessing speed enforcement cameras in the Journal of the Transportation Research Board found an average injury crash reduction of 20 to 25 percent, with more effective programs reducing crashes by more than 50 percent.

- According to research done by the United Kingdom Department of Transportation, at 40 mph, pedestrians survive a crash only about 15 percent of time. At 20 mph, the survival rate for pedestrians is 95 percent.

Back to red light cameras: the Tribune's analysis of red light camera enforcement may have revealed that the city bungled its assessment of crash reductions near red light cameras. We've cited the city's crash reduction stats near red light cameras, and the city needs to set the record straight if that data is not accurate.

We haven't reviewed the Tribune's analysis, but it doesn't appear to prove or disprove that red light cameras work. One thing seems pretty clear: Drivers don't blow lights nearly as much where these cameras are located.

Chicago needs to do all it can to reduce speeding and improve safety on our streets. This will require enforcement tools and a change of attitude about how we drive in our neighborhoods. It's worth emphasizing that if drivers aren't exceeding the speed limit, they will not be ticketed by speed cameras.

Totally specious.

First, it's the city that's using red-light camera data in its argument. The Tribune merely analyzed that data - which it found on its own after the city refused to provide it - and found the city was lying.

If the city wants to put forth speed-camera data like the (only two) studies the ATA cites, they are welcome to do it. Oddly, they aren't doing so.

Maybe it's because the only germane study cited by the ATA doesn't say what they says it does.

From the abstract:

"Automated speed enforcement programs were evaluated worldwide to ascertain the effectiveness of such programs at achieving safety benefits. Unlike previous reviews on this topic, a critical review process was used to determine the most likely range of probable safety effects of fixed and mobile automated speed enforcement programs. Among the 90 studies from 16 countries that were initially identified as potential safety evaluation studies, 13 met the criteria for detailed methodological review."

So it's a bit disingenuous to cite data from a review of 90 studies when only 13 were found to meet the standards for review. In other words, 77 of the 90 studies ATA boasts of were found insufficient or inapplicable. And what exactly did those remaining studies show? Wouldn't we like to know! Unfortunately, ATA doesn't provide them. And they admit they didn't analyze the Tribune study they criticize.

It's not the first time the ATA has been found playing politics.

Like mom, apple pie and a longer school day, nobody is against protecting children from speeders. It's simply not clear whether this is the best way to do it and - given the mayor's refusal to show his work in the face of data that conflicts with his thesis - whether that and not revenue is really the reason for this measure.

And it's not as if anyone is pro-speeding. But Chicagoans rightly feel fined and fee'd to death from the ticky-tacky to the absurd. There are vagaries to life. Sometimes drivers speed; sometimes they go through an intersection with a yellow light turning red; sometimes they don't come to a complete stop at a sign. When caught, if done dangerously, issue a ticket. But don't piss on our legs and tell us it's rain, and don't start picking our pockets for every little thing in the name of the children when large stretches of neighborhoods where the most vulnerable of them live have been foreclosed upon and no one but the victims are being asked to pay for that, even while corporate subsidies roll out of City Hall like beer barrels clanging down the stairs. Put your speed cameras on that.


Comments welcome.


1. From Maureen Cullnan:

Will speed cameras be the first project to be dismantled once Emanuel is voted out of office?

We see the mayor presenting false data to support unpopular policies that defy common sense, then loading up on expensive PR efforts, by his own administration and by his stand-in front groups. It makes the billionaires who will gain from this happy. He has so little credibility. He is out to privatize the city ASAP.

2. From Stan Palder:

The speed camera ordinance is a typical money-grabbing taxpayer-soaking ordinance that could have been pushed through the city council by former Mayor Richard M. Daley or Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The yes men and yes women in the city council are a disgrace. They almost never read in detail the proposals put forth to them by any mayor, then they approve the rotten ordinances because they believe that the voters will forget about the issue in six months. (The parking meter deal is an exception.) However, the aldermen know that the mayor will not forget where they voted on an issue, and might withhold a few thousand dollars for some pet project in an alderman's ward.

As much as I detest the speed camera proposal, it can be modified three ways to make it more palatable. One, the fines should be reduced to $25 for 6 to 10 miles per hour over the speed limit and to $50 for over 11 miles per hour over the limit. Two, the politically connected private company making boatloads of cash should be cut back from 50% to 20% of the gross revenue. And three, the city's share of the revenue should go to the schools and parks, not the general fund of Chicago. This would make for a better, but far from perfect ordinance. I do realize that the current mayor likes to get at least 95% of what he proposes.


Posted on April 12, 2012

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