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Speed-camera tickets coming in September

Chicago aldermen voted 33-14 Wednesay approve speed cameras near parks schools.  |  BRIAN JACKSON~SUN-TIMES

Chicago aldermen voted 33-14 Wednesay to approve speed cameras near parks and schools. | BRIAN JACKSON~SUN-TIMES

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Updated: July 24, 2013 6:53AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s speed cameras will be installed in August near 50 Chicago schools and parks — and start churning out $35 and $100 tickets in September, City Hall said Friday after finalizing a contract with an Arizona operator.

“We should have a signed contract any day, and then we’ll be off to the races,” said Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein.

Emanuel was initially counting on $30 million in speed camera fines to bankroll children’s programs in his 2013 budget.

But the five-year, $67 million contract with American Traffic Solutions took more than four months to negotiate, forcing the city to cut that revenue estimate in half.

It assumes that the Chicago Department of Transportation will immediately launch an outreach campaign — featuring ads on CTA buses and trains and videos posted on CDOT’s website and Twitter feed — to warn and educate motorists before speed cameras are installed in August, in weekly groups of six.

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.

Ticketing will begin in September. Speeders face $35 fines for going between 6 and 10 miles-per-hour over the speed limit near schools and parks and $100 for going 11 mph too fast.

“There’s a whole plan mapped out…that specifies milestones that we’re gonna hit. But, it’s not around financials. It’s around operationally what we need to do to get cameras on the ground, issue warnings — all of the things that we committed to,” Klein said.

To generate $15 million, speed cameras would have to churn out 150,000 of the $100 tickets, 428,571 of the $35 tickets or some combination of the two.

That would only fan the flames for aldermen who have called the mayor’s claims about protecting children a ruse to raise millions.

Mayoral spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the city has a “draft list” of the first 50 of 300 potential speed camera locations that’s based on: “all vehicle crashes; serious and fatal crashes; bicycle and pedestrian crashes; speed-related crashes, and crashes involving children.”

But he refused to reveal the locations. Nor would he say when CDOT would ramp up to the City Council-imposed limit of 300 speed cameras citywide.

McCaffrey said the problem about whether cameras can capture high-definition images that show whether children are “visibly present” would be resolved by having “three different people determine if a child is present.” Motorists also will have the opportunity to challenge their violations before administrative hearing officers.

“If there is a question as to whether an individual captured on camera is a child, then we will not enforce the lower speed limit. That is the directive to city staff and vendors, who will have different people reviewing violations. We will not issue a ticket based on the lower school speed zone speed limit unless there is no question that a child was present and identifiable on film,” McCaffrey wrote in an email.

The city will be divided into six regions, with each having “no fewer than” 10 percent of the citywide total.

The five-year contract — with six years of renewal options — calls for American Traffic Solutions to purchase and retain ownership of speed cameras and replace them if traffic accidents take the equipment out of service. No “in-ground infrastructure” will be required.

One camera can enforce the speed limit in both directions. If the street is wide or has a landscaped median, a second camera may be required.

To win approval from a reluctant City Council, the mayor agreed to cap the number of locations at 300 and reduced the lesser fine from $50-to-$35. Emanuel also agreed to two-tiers of warnings and to roll back the hours cameras would operate around schools from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

ATS is known around the country for slapping embarrassing video of motorists’ transgressions on YouTube to help alert people to the dangers of speeding and red-light running.

The Emanuel administration has insisted that the YouTube feature would not be used in Chicago.

Michael Alvarez, an elected member of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, is a registered lobbyist for American Traffic Solutions, which beat out Xerox State & Local Solutions for the Chicago contract. Alvarez contributed $10,000 to Emanuel.

Last month, Inspector General Joe Ferguson complained about a lack of record-keeping, accountability and oversight in the red-light camera program and said there was no evidence to substantiate the city’s claim the cameras have either reduced accidents or are installed at the most dangerous intersections.

At the time, Ferguson warned, “The very same concerns… apply equally to speed cameras…If you don’t keep records and you don’t measure your program, the public doesn’t have a basis for trusting your claims about the program.”

On Friday, McCaffrey noted that CDOT will be posting quarterly reports that include statistics on speeding, accidents and on the number of tickets and fines in each zone.

American Traffic Solutions has had its share of controversy.

In December, ATS reached a settlement that’s expected to give as much as $4.2 million in partial refunds — $8.50-per-plaintiff — to roughly 500,000 red-light runners in 18 New Jersey towns.

Complaints included claims that the amber light was not long enough and did not give motorists sufficient time to clear the intersection.

“It had nothing to do with the technology,” company spokesman Charles Territo told the Chicago Sun-Times in February.

In 2011, both Los Angeles and Houston voted to shut down red-light camera programs run by American Traffic Solutions.

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