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Mayor’s administration chooses company for speed cameras

Updated: February 22, 2013 6:22PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration on Friday chose American Traffic Solutions to install speed cameras near Chicago schools and parks after the company emerged as the unanimous choice following a month-long field test.

“There were a variety of reasons [American Traffic Solutions was chosen], including the performance of its camera system, technology, costs, the extent and depth of data that can be collected and its user-friendly website,” said Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Procurement Services

“Implementation…will begin once a contract has been finalized, the equipment and accompanying signs have been installed and the Department of Transportation conducts its outreach campaign to educate pedestrians and motorists. I don’t have a timeline or a drop-dead date for that, but it is coming.”

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

The mayor is counting on up to $30 million in fines from speed cameras installed near schools and parks to help bankroll his “children first” budget without raising taxes.

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.

But the $30 million figure makes it imperative that the city ramp up quickly during the first quarter of this year so speed cameras can start churning out hefty fines: $35 for going between six and 10 miles-per-hour over the speed limit near schools and parks and $100 for going 11 mph over the limit.

That means the problem about whether cameras can capture high-definition images that show whether children are “visibly present” must be quickly resolved if it hasn’t already.

The mayor’s ordinance authorized a maximum of 300 locations. Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein has assured aldermen that 50 speed cameras “at most” would be installed during the first year.

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 said.

That wasn’t the company’s only problem. In 2011, both Los Angeles and Houston voted to shut down red-light camera programs run by American Traffic Solutions.

In Houston, civic groups opposed the cameras as more of a money-making than a public-safety scheme. In LA, audits found that only 60 percent of tickets based on the cameras were paid -- possibly due to the way the enforcement portion of the law was written. But in addition, a LA city study found the cameras were generally installed at intersections thought to produce the greatest chance of revenue, rather than the highest incidence of traffic accidents.

For a one-month period beginning Dec. 3, ATS and Xerox tested their technology on Chicago streets at four locations.

North Side cameras were installed near Warren Park in the 6500-block of North Western and around Near North Montessori School in the 1400-block of West Division.

South Side cameras were installed in the 2200-block of West Pershing near McKinley Park and in the 6300-block of South King Drive near Dulles Elementary School.

No tickets were issued and the city still won’t say how many speeders were observed or how fast they were going. Results are expected to be released after the contract is negotiated.

American Traffic Solutions uses YouTube with customers and as a company to help alert people to the dangers of speeding and red-light running, Territo said Friday.

But city officials here said the YouTube feature would not be used in Chicago.

Contributing: Rosalind Rossi

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