April 23, 2014
Speed cameras installed around four Chicago parks churned out 204,743 warning notices in just 40 days — and would have generated $12.2 million in fines — if tickets had been issued, as they will be starting next week.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has insisted that his plan to install 50 speed cameras around schools and parks by Dec. 31 — and as many as 300 by next year — is about saving lives, not raising sorely needed revenue.
But the warning notices flying around McKinley, Marquette, Garfield and Gompers parks shows there’s a windfall coming, no matter what the mayor’s motives.
In just 40 days, the cameras nabbed 204,743 speeders. They include 77,939 motorists caught traveling at least 11 mph over the speed limit and 126,804 more going between 6 and 10 mph too fast. If $35 and $100 tickets had been issued instead of warning notices, the city’s take would have been $12.2 million.
More than 200 motorists were clocked at more than 60 mph, twice the legal limit. Ten drivers were traveling at speeds exceeding 80 mph. One motorist was going 90 mph.
The avalanche of warning notices — and the potential for big money when the city starts playing for keeps, beginning Wednesday at Gompers Park — sent chills down the spines of Chicago aldermen.
They fear a political backlash akin to the parking meter debacle when tickets start arriving in mailboxes for real.
Ticketing is scheduled to begin the week of Oct. 21 at McKinley, Marquette and Garfield parks. Cameras installed at Douglas, Legion, Washington, Humboldt and Major Taylor parks and at Prosser Vocational High School are still in the 30-day warning phase.
“Those are some alarming numbers. ... It will give the perception that this is all about revenue, instead of about public safety,” said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th).
“That’s a lot of money on the backs of the people who can pay the least. People already have a perception that they’re being nickel-and-dimed and fee-ed to death. Now, we’re going to be hitting them even harder with these speed cameras. ... If proper signage is not in place warning people, then you’re getting into a speed trap situation.”
With the 2015 aldermanic election fast approaching, Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) said, “I’m worried they’re going to blame the aldermen for not fighting these initiatives. They’re going to say, `That’s your way of collecting some dollars.’ “
First Deputy Transportation Commissioner Scott Kubly said aldermanic fears that speed cameras will turn into a cash cow are unfounded.
Kubly noted that the number of speeders dropped by 50 percent in just two weeks after warning notices started arriving in drivers’ mailboxes.
City Hall hopes to continue changing driver behavior by installing 20 speed indicator signs and by initially ticketing only those speeders going 10 mph or more over the posted speed limit.
“We want to start with focusing on the most egregious speeding and give people plenty of time to slow down,” Kubly said.
Pressed on how long the city would wait before issuing $35 tickets, Kubly said, “It’s really going to be dependent on the data. I look at it on a daily basis to see how it’s changing behavior, and we’re going to keep evaluating the data. We have to see how speeding changes.”
Emanuel built $30 million in speed camera revenues into his 2013 budget, then cut the figure in half when the program took longer than expected to implement.
On Friday, Kubly said the blitzkrieg of warning notices would not alter the city’s estimate of $40 million to $60 million in speed camera revenues in 2014.
“What we’re seeing in terms of a decline during the warning period is actually more than we expected. That tells me you can’t simply multiply the number of warnings in the first week” and project ticket revenues, he said.
“What we’re projecting is a 90 percent decrease in speeding over the first few months of the program. We are going to reduce speeding dramatically for everybody and make it safer for all users of the roadway.”
American Traffic Solutions, the city’s speed camera contractor, said Chicago’s “level and volume of speeding violations” is higher than it has observed in other jurisdictions. The Gompers camera alone snared “nearly five times as many” daily speeders as “any other camera ever deployed” by ATS.
The company has installed more than 3,200 speed, red-light and “school bus stop arm” cameras across the country.
The three cameras at Marquette Park scored the biggest take, with 68,002 warning notices. Three other parks had two cameras each. They were led by McKinley Park (47,982 warnings), Garfield Park (35,285) and Gompers Park (28,600).
To win approval from a reluctant City Council, Emanuel agreed to cap the number of locations at 300 and reduced the lesser fine from $50 to $35. The mayor 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. Even after the warning period ends, the first ticket issued to each motorist will be a freebie.
The city chose to announce the avalanche of speed camera warnings and the decision to play for keeps starting next week on a Friday, when most bad news is traditionally buried and most Chicagoans are focused on weekend plans.
Last week, Emanuel abruptly announced that red-light cameras would be coming down Jan. 31 at 18 Chicago intersections because they’ve reduced accidents.
The timing of that announcement made it look like the mayor was throwing motorists a bone. He appeared to be giving drivers a small measure of relief from Big Brother surveillance just as they’ll be forced to endure even more of it—from speed cameras.