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Emanuel’s tweaked speed-cam plan passes Council panel

Red light camer S. Blue IslAve S. Damen Ave.  Chicago Monday February 6 2012 . |  John H.

Red light camera at S. Blue Island Ave and S. Damen Ave. in Chicago Monday, February 6, 2012 . | John H. White~Sun-Times.

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Updated: May 13, 2012 8:23AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel got the green light from a City Council committee Wednesday to use fixed and mobile surveillance cameras to catch motorists who speed near schools and parks after softening the crackdown yet again to accommodate skittish aldermen.

The mayor has now agreed to cap the number of camera locations at 300 — 60 fewer than previously planned. The city will be divided into six regions, with each having “no fewer than” 10 percent of the citywide total.

Instead of slapping motorists with a $50 fine for going between6 and 10 mph over the speed limit near schools and parks, the fine will be reduced to $35. Those who exceed the limit by 11 mph would still face $100 fines.

“There was a real concern about people getting dinged at 6 miles per hour over and paying excessive fines and, potentially, not being able to pay them,” Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said.

Aldermen will be notified before cameras are installed but they won’t have veto power. And Klein said speed cameras will be installed slowly — beginning with a “pilot field test” of technology provided by a short list of vendors.

“In the first year, I can’t imagine we’d even be able to roll out 50 cameras, to be honest,” Klein said. As for 300 location maximum he said, “I don’t think we’ll even get there.”

Aldermen from across the city have argued that the mayor’s camera plan is more about raising revenue than improving children’s safety. They fear a political backlash that could rival the parking meter fiasco once tickets start arriving in mailboxes of speeding motorists.

But, the changes unveiled Wednesday — coupled with Emanuel’s earlier decision to issue two tiers of warnings and roll back the hours cameras would operate near schools — were enough to get the go-ahead from the City Council’s Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety.

The mayor’s ordinance was approved by a voice vote after a hearing that dragged on for nearly four hours. The initial voice vote was followed by roll call vote of 7-3.

“I ran a red light at Diversey and California. I have never [run] it again since I got the ticket,” said Ald. Richard Mell (33rd). “In areas around schools — some of our neighborhoods really desperately need something to slow people down. If the only way we can get their attention is in their pocket, then so be it.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Wednesday that City Hall has installed 10,000 speed humps in streets and alleys, 450 cul de sacs, 400 traffic circles and 250 “bump-out” curbs since 2005 alone — many of them near schools and parks — raising questions about why the city also needs speed cameras.

That prompted Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) to say, “The schools that I have on dangerous major thoroughfares, I welcome [cameras] around those: 119th, 115th and Wentworth . . . [ But], community schools? I’ve already put a precaution in place. On top of that precaution you’re gonna put another precaution? Well, you already know they can’t go that fast on a speed bump.”

Klein replied, “You’re right. . . . If we’ve already got that precaution, my guess is the data’s not gonna show that it’s appropriate to put a camera in that location. The problem you talked about on the wider arterial street where people are speeding — that may be the appropriate” location.

The latest changes to the mayor’s speed camera ordinance continue Emanuel’s pattern of proposing bold new plans, often without public input, then throwing the opposition a bone or two when he encounters resistance without compromising the overall goal.

“I know there’s a sensitivity to traffic tickets. But the fact is, we have a culture in this country — and in Chicago — that it’s sort of OK to speed. We all do it a bit. But, we don’t have a permissible amount of shoplifting,” Klein said. “We have some cultural values that need to change. No way better than technology when our resources are constrained.”

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