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Tests of speed cameras near city schools and parks end

A speed camerduring test  thbegan late last year 2323 W. Cermak. File Photo. I Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

A speed camera during a test that began late last year at 2323 W. Cermak. File Photo. I Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 3, 2013 7:50PM

A monthlong test of speed cameras near Chicago schools and parks ended quietly Thursday but Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration won’t say how it went, what happens from here or when cameras will be turned on for keeps.

Since Dec. 3, Xerox State & Local Solutions and American Traffic Solutions have been testing their technology on Chicago streets at four locations. Both companies are represented by clout-heavy teams of lobbyists.

One company, Xerox State & Local Solutions, recently lost its contract in Baltimore after a series of front-page stories there about its school zone speed camera program.

Five Xerox speed cameras were shut down following concerns about their accuracy, said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Ragina Averall, who sits on a Baltimore mayoral task force on speed and red light cameras. During Xerox’ tenure, a stationary AAA tow-truck was cited for speeding — a ticket later dismissed in court, Averall said.

AAA Mid-Atlantic in December called Baltimore’s automated speed enforcement program in school zones a “nightmare” and a transportation “low for the year.” A program intended as a “traffic safety tool’’ is perceived instead as “nothing more than a money grab by many motorists,’’ AAA Mid-Atlantic said in a news release.

However, Xerox spokesman Chris Gilligan recently told the Baltimore Sun the company believes problems are “rare and isolated.”

In Chicago as part of the pilot, North Side cameras were installed near Warren Park in the 6500 block of North Western and around Near North Montessori School in the 1400 block of West Division.

South Side cameras were installed in the 2200 block of West Pershing near McKinley Park and in the 6300 block of South King Drive near Dulles Elementary School.

No tickets were issued and the city won’t say how many speeders were observed or how fast they were going. Nor would the Emanuel administration outline the precise criteria for choosing a single contractor.

But it’s clear there will not be another request-for-proposals. City Hall plans to choose between the two finalists based on field test results.

“The city is in the middle of a competitive bid process and we do not produce interim results or other indicators of how bidders compare to each other until the process is complete and a vendor has been selected,” mayoral spokesman Bill McCaffrey wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“The evaluation criteria were explicitly laid out in the bidding documents. And I can assure you that we will disclose every step of the evaluation process used to identify a vendor for the children’s safety zone program once that process is complete. We are confident in our process and the results will speak for themselves.”

McCaffrey noted that Illinois’ Freedom of Information Law “recognizes the public interest and taxpayer interest in ensuring the integrity of a competitive process is preserved until a contract” is negotiated and signed.

“At that point, the public will have full scrutiny to determine the appropriateness of the selection and process. And if that process was not appropriate in any way, the city has the right to terminate a contract,” McCaffrey wrote.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is counting on up to $30 million in fines from speed cameras installed near schools and parks to help bankroll his “children first” budget without raising taxes.

During a meeting with the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board on the day he unveiled his budget, the mayor denied that the $30 million figure contradicts his longstanding claim that speed cameras are about saving lives — not about raising revenue.

“I’m keeping my word. I said we were gonna invest in kids and their safety…We’re gonna expand by 30 percent our after-school programs, double the size of our summer jobs and add 5,000 kids to our pre-K, wrap-around, full-day services,” the mayor said.

“It wasn’t a money-maker in the sense that you were leaving the impression, which is that it was gonna be just some sloshing around inside the budget. It’s going right back into what I said it was. And there’s no better child safety program than after-school programs…when two-thirds to three quarters of all children become a victim of crime.”

Once a final vendor is chosen, there will be two tiers of warnings to motorists — including an unlimited number during the first 30 days after cameras are installed and one more-per-driver after the break-in period is over.

But the $30 million figure makes it imperative that the city ramp up quickly during the first quarter of 2013 so speed cameras can start churning out hefty fines: $35 for going between six and 10 miles-per-hour over the speed limit near schools and parks and $100 for going 11 mph over the limit.

That means the problem about whether cameras can capture high-definition images that show whether children are “visibly present” must be quickly resolved.

The mayor’s ordinance authorized a maximum of 300 locations. But Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein assured aldermen during budget hearings, “At most, I can see us maybe putting up 50 in the first year in 2013 — and that’s really a max number.”

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