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Emanuel wants to use red-light cameras, vans to catch speeders

Red-light cameras. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

Red-light cameras. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 22, 2011 8:33AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday he wants to use red-light cameras and vans with hidden cameras to catch motorists speeding near schools and parks to protect children.

Speeding motorists would be slapped with $100 tickets, but it’s not about the revenue, the mayor said, even though red-light cameras have turned into a cash cow for the city.

In the four-year period ending in 2009, there were 861 crashes involving Chicago students during school arrival and dismissal times, the mayor said.

Last spring, the Chicago Department of Transportation collected speed information at seven existing red-light camera intersections within one-eighth of a mile of schools and parks and found that 25.7 percent of the 1.5 million vehicles — 360,000 drivers — were traveling above the 30 mph speed limit, officials said.

“This is about deterrence. I want our kids to get to school and be in schools safely,” the mayor said.

“I have a set of policies already put in place on the curfew, more cameras in schools, raising the fines for those who have guns near schools. And I want to make sure that people driving near a school or a park have a deterrence.”

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said that pedestrian deaths in Chicago are 68 percent higher than in New York City, with the overwhelming cause being a failure to yield.

McCarthy also said he still has vivid memories of being hit by a car in the Bronx in 1950, when he was just 8 years old.

“I can still see the front of the car hitting me, I can still see the pipes going over me, I can remember getting up falling in to a man’s arms who put me in the back of a station wagon and took me to a hospital.”

He awakened weeks later with a fractured pelvis bone.

On Thursday, McCarthy stood with Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard at the University of Illinois at Chicago College Prep High School, near the busy corner of Damen and Roosevelt, where four students have been struck by vehicles in as many years outside the school.

Both McCarthy and Brizard pushed for passing the measure.

The bill introduced on the mayor’s behalf would establish “safety zones” within one-quarter mile or two blocks of any school, park or college in Chicago. Within those zones, the city would be authorized to use “automated speed enforcement systems” to catch speeding motorists — either by using mobile speed vans with cameras inside, installing cameras on stop signs or by retrofitting red-light cameras.

Tickets carrying $100 fines would be automatically mailed to the license plate holder. Motorists who choose to challenge those tickets could do so at administrative hearings.

Revenues would be used to bolster police protection and camera surveillance around schools and parks, improve pedestrian and traffic safety and maintain roads and bridges.

Over the years, Chicago aldermen have lowered the speed limit on residential streets, put in cul-de-sacs and installed a record number of speed humps in an attempt to force motorists to slow down on residential streets.

None of it has worked.

Motorists continue to barrel down residential streets and blow through stop signs, endangering children and other pedestrians. Arguing that “robo-cop is better than no-cop,” aldermen have clamored for surveillance cameras to fill the void.

Efforts to convince the Illinois General Assembly to deliver that high-tech solution to chronic speeding along residential streets date back to 2005, when the City Council approved an ordinance authorizing the use of radar cameras to catch speeders.

The crackdown hit a dead end in Springfield.

The state’s Motor Vehicle Code confines the use of radar cameras to expressway construction zones. Repeated attempts to relax the code have met with heavy resistance from Downstate lawmakers, who view surveillance cameras as a Big Brother intrusion.

In 2008, a joint City Council Committee approved a resolution urging lawmakers to take another look.

At the time, State Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago) warned that aldermen were fighting an uphill battle — the same battle they fought and won for the right to install red-light cameras that reduced the number of fatalities from 54 to 18 in just one year.

If a 2004 test with mobile speed vans on selected Chicago streets is any indication, radar cameras could be like shooting fish in a barrel.

During a one-hour period in mid-afternoon, 510 vehicles drove westbound between the 2400 and 2500 blocks of Western and 146 of them — 28.6 percent — were caught speeding. They averaged more than 10 mph above the 30 mph limit.

The percentage of speeders rose to 41 percent on southbound Homan between 108th and 109th. Thirty-four vehicles passed the mobile speed van during a 29-minute period ending at 8:05 a.m. Fourteen of them were speeding.

By using cameras to solve the speeding problem, City Hall could rake in millions. Red-light cameras are currently installed at 189 intersections and cost $18.8 million a year to maintain.

They pumped out 789,329 red-light tickets in 2009, generating $58 million in revenue, more than doubling the $24 million raised from 353,423 tickets in 2007.

Contributing, Lisa Donovan

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