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City’s speed-camera plan to start slowly, aldermen still wary

n this March 8 2011 phosign warns motorists Interstate 95 RidgelS.C. about speed camersystem use expressway town limits. The Illinois

n this March 8, 2011 photo, a sign warns motorists on Interstate 95 in Ridgeland, S.C., about a speed camera system in use on the expressway in the town limits. The Illinois House passed its own speed-camera bill for Chicago, and the City Council is expec

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Updated: April 14, 2012 8:07AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to use surveillance cameras to catch motorists who speed near schools and parks will start slowly with only a handful of accident-prone intersections, no more than 360 camera locations when the program is running at full tilt and two tiers of warnings to speeders, a top mayoral aide said Monday.

Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said motorists caught speeding during the first 30 days after cameras are installed will get warning notices, even if they are stopped repeatedly.

And once the 30-day break-in period is over, the first violation against individual motorists would also be a warning-only freebie, the commissioner said.

Signs warning of camera surveillance would be clearly posted alerting motorists to the threat of an automatic ticket. The city also plans a 90-day education campaign.

“We have an extra warning built in. We’re doing that because this is about changing behavior around schools and parks for children’s safety,” Klein said.

In between aldermanic briefings on the speed camera ordinance that Emanuel plans to introduce at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Klein said it’s too soon to say how many cameras would be installed or when they would be turned on.

Legislation authorized by the Illinois General Assembly could potentially pave the way for speed cameras to be installed within one-eighth of a mile of 1,800 schools, parks and playlots. The Emanuel administration is offering to cap the number of camera installations at 20 percent of that eligible number or 360 locations.

“It’ll be gradual. We’re hoping to have at least some cameras up and tested with warnings sometime this fall. I don’t think you’ll see any tickets being generated until late 2012” at the earliest, Klein said.

He added, “This will be a very data-driven approach for the placement and monitoring of any automated enforcement devices for the safety of our kids. How many locations will there ultimately be? We don’t know. We have to do our due diligence.”

The mayor’s go-slow approach was not enough to satisfy Chicago aldermen.

Fearful of a political backlash that could rival the parking meter fiasco, they’re complaining that the hours of operation are too long and that the crackdown is a thinly-veiled money grab.

Cameras around schools would operate on school days between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 9 p.m. on Friday. Around parks, cameras would start rolling one hour before the park opens and stop one hour after it closes.

Drivers caught speeding between six and 10 miles an hour near schools and parks would face $50 fines and an additional $50 if the payment is late. The fine would rise to $100 for motorists caught going more than 10 mph over the limit.

“Cha-ching, cha-ching,” said Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th).

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) added, “I can’t think of many of my schools that run programs until 8:30 every night.”

Ald. John Arena (45th) said he was inundated with complaints after Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill from motorists who assumed the City Council had already approved the companion ordinance. He can only imagine what the reaction will be once speeding tickets start arriving in mailboxes.

“They’re saying, ‘Don’t do this to us. It’s over-reaching. It’s a money grab.’ That’s what we keep hearing,” Arena said.

“The data will tell me whether we should be doing this or not — and we don’t have the data to support that yet. They’ve said it’s there. Now, it’s on the administration’s side to give it to us and let us make an educated decision.”

Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd) added, “Each alderman should be allowed to look at the hours of operation based on what’s happening in our wards.”

Klein hedged when asked whether the administration would be willing to reduce the hours of operation to accommodate aldermanic concerns.

“We’re looking at when children are around schools. With the school day being extended and schools becoming more of a focus for families throughout the week, there’s a thought the hours right now are appropriate,” Klein said.

But, he added, “We had some great discussions and got some great feedback. We’re gonna collaborate with the aldermen on any issue — including that one.”

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