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American Dream Betrayed

Rahm Caught Lying About Speed Cameras

"Mayor Rahm Emanuel was frustrated that doubters of his controversial speed-camera plan were ignoring a city study he said offered compelling proof of the life-saving impact of camera technology," the Tribune reports.

"That study, the mayor said in an interview last month, found that traffic deaths in Chicago had plummeted 60 percent near red-light cameras, cousins of the speed-detecting devices.

"'You guys have continued to repeat wrong information because it doesn't fit your storyline,' Emanuel argued, thrusting it at a Tribune reporter with this challenge:

"'If the report is wrong, you should go analyze that report.'

"As Emanuel prepares to introduce his speed-camera ordinance to the City Council on Wednesday, the Tribune has, indeed, analyzed that report. The findings raise further questions about how the Emanuel administration has brandished statistics to justify the push."

Let's take a look.

*

"The mayor's report amounted to little more than a claim that traffic deaths declined significantly in areas where red-light cameras were installed over a three-year period. But the administration refused to provide any of the underlying research to verify their numbers, claiming it was confidential."

Confidential! Wouldn't want data about how red-light cameras are saving lives to fall into the wrong hands.

*

"When the administration's numbers expert finally sat down with the Tribune after weeks of requests, he acknowledged the claimed reduction in fatalities was based only on an informal analysis of traffic statistics."

Emphasis mine to illustrate that - despite Rahm's bluster about media malfeasance - his administration has only dodged and weaved when asked to support their contention about saving lives through traffic cameras.

*

"'Study is a bit of a term of art,' Scott Kubly, managing deputy commissioner in the Chicago Department of Transportation, said earlier this month."

A term of the political arts, you mean.

"'We had many meetings to discuss the best and most fair way to gauge the effectiveness,' Kubly said, including a 'judgment call' to count fatalities as far away as a quarter-mile from red-light cameras."

Gee, you'd think traffic experts would have a handy guide ready. Weren't they in the meetings?

"He declined to say who was involved in the meetings."

Oh. I guess that's confidential. Like Dick Cheney's energy meetings.

("Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., sponsor of the de-funding amendment, noted that five years ago Cheney claimed executive privilege in refusing to release details about his meetings with oil industry executives to discuss energy policy," CBS News reported in February 2009. But Rahm won't tell us who was in city speed camera meetings?!)

"Denied the city's research, the Tribune performed its own analysis using city traffic data provided to the federal government and came to a very different and less dramatic conclusion.

"Instead of the 60 percent reduction the mayor touted, the Tribune's analysis of accidents for the same locations revealed a nearly 26 percent reduction - one that mirrored a broader accident trend in the city and across the nation."

In other words, the reduction in accidents near red-light camera locations wasn't any greater than accident-reduction rates across America.

*

"Presented with that conclusion, the Emanuel administration this week reversed course and said its initial statistical summary was error-ridden and shouldn't have been provided in the first place."

The one that Rahm angrily thrust in a reporter's face.

The mayor 'inadvertently handed out a working document showing a set of incorrect numbers,' Kubly said Monday. 'I think it was an honest mistake.'"

Really?

I now direct the court to this exchange last month between Rahm Emanuel and Tribune reporter David Kidwell:

DK: The city's campaign to push and get this speed camera thing going and passed that were inaccurate and wrong. You brought it up, the idea that this city has some sort of unique problem with pedestrian deaths. I want to know where the evidence is, because I can't find it.

RE: You were also wrong. OK. Where speed cameras were put up, we've had 60 percent drop in fatalities and you have never noted that. That's why you said in yesterday's story, or two days ago, speed cameras are not successful.

DK: Do you have a report?

RE: Yeah. It says 60 percent. Your paper said. There's actually a report here in the city with speed cameras up, 60 percent reduction in fatalities.

So Rahm's been pimping that arty report for a while.

RE: You guys have continued to repeat wrong information because it doesn't fit your story line. You keep saying that the cameras, there's no evidence. I'll get you the facts. It's actually a 60 percent reduction in fatalities. It's one of the questions I asked beforehand. Your paper as recently as Monday ...

DK: You mean throughout the country?

RE: No, in the city. Your story, I know you do this, your story says that there's no evidence, when in fact right here under your nose is the evidence. And I've repeated it to you guys and you refuse. I've had people call you with it and you refuse to publish it.

I think Rahm owes Kidwell - and us - an apology, don't you?

*

Back to today's report:

"The confusion fits into a pattern of inaccurate claims that Emanuel and surrogates have relied on to sell the mayor's plan to make Chicago the nation's capital of speed cameras. At the mayor's urging, Springfield lawmakers hustled approval for city cameras with little deliberation last fall.

"Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, echoing 'talking points' prepared for mayoral surrogates, declared to state lawmakers that the rate of pedestrian fatalities in the city was far higher than in New York, where he had once worked.

"In fact, the opposite is true, according to a study released by the city in August, which concluded that 'relatively speaking, Chicago has a safe pedestrian environment given the volume of traffic.'"

Emphasis mine.

*

So how and why did Rahm come to the speed-camera issue if it isn't supported by the facts? He won't tell us.

Here's Rahm last month to Kidwell:

There is nothing more transparent than standing up in front of the City Council calling for an increase in water rates to go to pay for a critical crisis that is in our city. That's fully transparent.

Now you have narrowed your definition of transparency to fit your story line. Now what can be more transparent and public than standing in front of the City Council and then a monthlong debate and then it passes - that is, in all due respect, not only transparent, democracy.

And so, you have narrowed your definition. I am trying to get you to widen it. You've decided to have a definition of transparency to work for a story line you've decided before the story started. I have actually stood in front of the City Council and announced what I was doing. I have stood and worked the legislative body to pass a piece of legislation and I understand the politics of it and what went into it and went public with it.

You've narrowed your definition to work for you. Nothing is more up front and transparent than standing in front of the City Council and advocating for something that has been long debated, even advocated by your own paper, that we have to make an investment. And I have done that. And that is fully public and transparent and if I had a definition I would pull the word transparent and we would see who is closer to the definition, me or you, and I guarantee you one thing: I know I am right.

I can't even dignify that with a joke.

*

"Emanuel also sought to connect the tragic October death of a 6-year-old girl to the need for cameras, even though the youngster died while crossing a street at a time when cameras would not be allowed to operate under the mayor's program."

From last month's interview:

DK: There are number of things from when you were pushing for this before the Legislature and having press conferences. For instance, you invoked the name of Diamond Robinson, the 6-year-old who died in an automobile accident on the weekend after hours and suggested these are the consequences of not having speed cameras, but what didn't get said was that her death wouldn't have been prevented by a speed camera. There are number of things. The city has said Chicago was the worst in the nation in terms of pedestrian deaths, when according to your own pedestrian studies is not the case. It's one of the best of the major cities.

RE: No, wait a second, the assumption there is there is nothing else to do.

DK: No the assumption is that there was a campaign of misinformation along the line to getting this thing pushed.

RE: No, I pushed this because . . .

DK: I am not saying it is a bad idea, I am saying what we were told is inaccurate.

RE: I have done stuff very upfront and public on behalf of the city, and it's not like I considered that they were going to be popular, but they are the right things to do on behalf of protecting our kids, and I have also been very clear that I am going to use the resources to continue to protect our kids if there are resources. I would be happy if there were none, but I am not out there searching for tough issues. This is about saving lives, and I have done what I needed to do to do that. This is about improving our physical infrastructure because we as a city - it's crumbling. When you write stories about its crumbling it requires somebody to take action and that is what I am accountable for doing and I could not have been more transparent.

*

Today:

"The mayor's effort also has support from the Traffic Safety Coalition, a pro-camera group run by close Emanuel political ally Greg Goldner and funded by Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., the Australian-owned red-light camera vendor for the city, the Tribune disclosed Tuesday."

"Emanuel didn't answer questions about his ties to Goldner at a news conference Tuesday, asserting that his goal was saving children and that the process of selecting a speed-camera company would be 'very open, transparent, very competitive.'"

Transparent except when it comes to questions from reporters.

*

"At the same time, Emanuel aides were pitching his plan to wary aldermen with a radically overhauled version of their safety statistics that now focuses on only on pedestrian deaths and excludes those involving drivers and passengers.

"The revised version counted only pedestrian deaths near the same 107 red-light cameras cited in the mayor's flawed original claim. It came to a remarkably similar conclusion: Pedestrian deaths dropped roughly 58 percent.

"In 2004 and 2005, the two years before the camera installations began, 26 pedestrians died within those same quarter-mile zones, the city says. By 2009 and 2010, the total of pedestrian deaths declined to 11.

"What the revamped data don't show is that pedestrian deaths are down significantly across the city in recent years, whether or not cameras are near.

"Citywide, pedestrian deaths declined 46 percent over the same time frame studied by the administration, according to a Tribune analysis of federal traffic data. Statistically, the difference between the two numbers is small.

"Traffic deaths have been steadily dropping across the nation for years, with the rate of deaths per miles driven at levels not seen since 1949. Experts say there are many reasons, including better built vehicles, better built roads and high gas prices that deter driving."

It's not just the Tribune saying that.

From The Expired Meter:

"[A] study conducted by the Chicago Department of Transportation on the effectiveness of the city's red light camera program seems to undermine the city's own position on the safety benefits of the RLC enforcement.

"CDOT did a study of 96 intersections utilizing RLC enforcement and compared crash data for each intersection for two years before the cameras were installed with crash data for the two years after installation . . .

"Surprisingly, in the aggregate, total crashes were virtually unchanged dropping only a fraction of one percent from 2,072 crashes before the cameras were installed to 2,066 crashes after installation."

Even more surprisingly - or less - is how city spokesperson Tom Alexander chose to interpret the data:

"What the study shows is that red light cameras reduce the total number of crashes, particularly right angle crashes which are the most dangerous."

Didn't I just read that crashes were virtually unchanged?

"[Professor Rajiv Shah, an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago] conducted a study of Chicago's RLC system in 2010 analyzing crash data and which came up with similar results.

"I thought the results (of CDOT's study) were pretty consistent with what I had found and pretty consistent with the idea that red light cameras are not effective in improving safety," Shah told The Expired Meter. "The report does not show a significant decrease in crashes."

Or you could believe Tom Alexander.

*

Back to today's Trib:

"Aldermen briefed by the mayor's aides expressed their own doubts after presentations they said focused heavily on where the cameras would go and how they may operate.

"The aides said speed cameras are the solution to reducing pedestrian fatalities, but they 'haven't shown me the equation you use to get to that answer,' said Ald. John Arena, 45th.

"'There are quite a bit of unknowns in this, which leaves me a bit unsettled,' Arena said. 'We have a lot of homework to do, and the data hasn't been shared.'

"Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, complained the city provided only a 'pat statement' about the reduction in fatalities.

"'I'm confused as to why they are taking this policy approach,' he said. 'Without data supporting it, it falls flat. It makes it harder for us to look at it and say there's a good reason for doing it.'"

As we say in Chicago, Scott, follow the money. At least that's what Rahm always used to say.

-

With gratitude for great work (that I'm merely piggybacking on) to Tribune reporters Bob Secter, David Kidwell, Alex Bordens, Kristen Mack, Hal Dardick and John Byrne.

-

Comments welcome.



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Posted on March 14, 2012


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