Rahm bet on $70M from speed cams but gets just $1.5M so far
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter March 12, 2014 10:15PM
A pickup truck speeds by the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, at 3857 W. 111th St., in August 2013, shortly before speed cameras were installed near the school. | Sun-Times Media file photo
Updated: April 14, 2014 11:09AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is counting on speed cameras installed around Chicago schools and parks to bankroll $70 million worth of children’s programs this year.
But he’ll have a tough time getting there, thanks to motorists hitting the brakes, winter driving conditions that forced them to slow down or a combination of the two.
The 92 speed cameras installed near 43 schools and parks have generated just $3.7 million in fines, and only $1.5 million of that has been collected. That’s after churning out 758,176 warning notices and 42,568 tickets since the first camera was installed at Gompers Park in August.
Somewhat surprisingly, the speed camera generating the most fines was not the first, according to data provided to the Chicago Sun-Times in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
It’s located at 445 W. 127th, along the Major Taylor Bike Trail. That camera went live on Nov. 30, but it has already generated $289,025 in fines — $79,612 of them paid — after spewing out 2,696 $100 tickets and 555 tickets at $35 a pop. That followed 55,260 warning notices.
Top-earning speed cameras also include: Marquette Park, 6909 S. Kedzie, with $281,145 in fines levied and 3,024 tickets; Douglas Park, 2900 W. Ogden, $255,875 in fines, 2,874 tickets; McKinley Park, 3843 S. Western, $240,245 in fines, 2,719 tickets; Gompers Park, 4214 W. Foster, $233,165 in fines, 2,672 tickets; Garfield Park, 3646 W. Madison, $228,210 in fines, 2,624 tickets; and Washington Park, 536 E. Morgan, $222,460 in fines, 2,521 tickets.
All six of those parks have at least two speed cameras. Marquette Park has three. The above figures were generated by only one of those cameras.
During City Council budget hearings last fall, then-Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein bragged about a 60 percent decline in speeding around schools and parks since surveillance cameras started catching speeders.
Klein called the decline in speeding “amazing, tremendous, fascinating to watch” and a major selling point for a politically unpopular program that he encouraged Emanuel to implement.
“The number of actual citations is not that huge by the time you get through 30 days of warnings,” Klein said. “We’re only setting the trigger speed at 10 [mph over the limit], even though we’re allowed to do it at 7. And everybody gets a freebie.”
“There are so many fail-safes. If you get a ticket, you’re just not paying attention. . . . You literally have to be on your phone or drinking if you get a ticket.”
Since then, the change in behavior has been even more pronounced, shooting down a speeding alderman’s argument for more and better signs to alert motorists to slow down.
From the first day of warnings through March 9, the average number of motorists caught speeding each day has dropped at all but four of the 92 cameras locations. The biggest decline — 97 percent — occurred at McKinley Park, 2080 W. Pershing, which went from an average of 861 daily speeders in September to 28 in March.
Horner Park, 2721 W. Montrose, scored an identical 97 percent drop — with 98 daily speeders in November and three this month. Cameras at nine other parks — Challenger, Gompers, McKinley, Humboldt, Garfield, Marquette, Abbott, Riis and Gage — also scored daily speeding declines of at least 93 percent.
The largest increase — 25.7 percent — was recorded by a camera installed at Bogan High School on the Southwest Side. It went from 688 speeders a day in February to 865 this month. Two of four cameras at John Hancock High School on the Southwest Side recorded daily speeding increases of 8.4 and 11.7 percent. The smallest increase — 3.8 percent — occurred at Jefferson Park, 5432 W. Lawrence.
Four cameras installed to nab student speeders around St. Rita High School, 7740 S. Western, had the worst collection rates. They assessed $49,145 in fines, but collected just $3,670.
Emanuel’s words and actions about speed cameras have been contradictory.
One the one hand, he budgeted for a $70 million windfall that, aldermen feared, was a low-ball figure. On the other hand, the mayor has insisted his plan to put cameras in up to 300 locations is about saving lives, not raising sorely needed revenue.
Unless there’s a dramatic turnaround, Emanuel’s words are likely to prevail.
That would blow a hole in the city’s 2014 budget at a time when cash-strapped Chicago can least afford it. City Hall has already plowed through a $20.5 million snow removal budget that was supposed to cover this winter and the start of next.
“This program has always been about safety and creating a deterrent to speeding, and the data indicates a substantial reduction in speeding,” mayoral spokesman Bill McCaffrey said Wednesday.
McCaffrey refused to say how the budget gap would be closed if, as expected, speed-cam revenues fall short of the mayor’s $70 million estimate.
He argued that the program was still “coming online” with more cameras on the way. Other cameras now issuing warning tickets or in a “two-week blackout period after warnings when no tickets are issued” will soon start playing for keeps, he said.
“The program will generate adequate revenue for the children’s fund investments,” McCaffrey wrote in an email.
To win approval from a reluctant City Council, Emanuel agreed to cap the number of speed-camera locations at 300 and reduced the lesser fine from $50 to $35.
The mayor also agreed to two tiers of warnings and rolled back the hours cameras would operate around schools, originally from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Even after the warning period ends, the first ticket issued to each motorist is a freebie.
The city gives motorists a break by issuing $35 tickets, only to drivers nailed going 10 miles over the speed limit and $100 tickets to those going 11 miles over or more.
“While we have not yet lowered the enforcement speed to those speeding 7 miles-an-hour [over the limit] or more, drivers will be given notice before that is enacted,” McCaffrey said.