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City Hall promises slow start for speed cameras near parks, schools

Red Light cameras corner 63rd   Western. Wednesday April 18 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Red Light cameras at the corner of 63rd & Western. Wednesday, April 18, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 21, 2012 8:54AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s speed cameras won’t start churning out $35 and $100 tickets until the end of this year after a field test of the fast-changing technology, a top mayoral aide said Thursday.

One day after a divided City Council authorized the installation of fixed and mobile surveillance cameras to catch motorists speeding near schools and parks, Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein reiterated his promise to proceed with caution.

The city will first issue a so-called “request-for-proposals,” then choose a handful of companies to test their camera technologies on the street this fall without issuing tickets.

That field test will be followed by the selection of a single vendor. There will also 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.

The bottom line is that speeding motorists won’t start paying the 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 — anytime soon.

“We may do some pilots earlier in the fall, but I don’t think you’ll actually see cameras out there on the streets issuing ticketing for bad behavior until the end of the year at the earliest,” Klein said.

The mayor’s ordinance authorizes a maximum of 300 locations. But, Klein said, “At most, I can see us maybe putting up 50 in the first year in 2013 — and that’s really a max number.”

Despite concerns that it’s more about raising revenue than keeping children safe, the City Council this week approved the dramatic expansion in Chicago’s Big Brother surveillance network. The vote was 33 to 14.

Klein said “many, many companies” offering an array of different technologies have expressed interest in installing the speed cameras in Chicago neighborhoods.

“There’s radar. There’s LIDAR. There’s induction loops [two strips in the road that calculate how fast a car is going]. There are new cameras that are 360 [degree] cameras that can do more than one thing,” Klein said.

“The technology is pretty complicated. Because everything is changing so quickly, the best way to figure out what the best value is for the taxpayers is to actually put something on the street and see it work. That’s what the mayor wants to see.”

The speed limit around most Chicago schools and parks is lower when children are present. How will the cameras know that a child is present?

“You’d be amazed at the technology. … The cameras are very high-resolution and can pick up incredible minutiae and detail,” he said.

To further protect motorists, Klein said there would be “three levels of review:” by the speed camera operator; by IBM, which has a contract with the city’s Department of Revenue and Finance and by the city’s Department of Transportation.

In a related matter, Klein said he plans to install Chicago’s first “pedestrian scramble” or “Barnes Dance” intersection in the downtown area later this year. That’s where the light in all directions stays red for 14 seconds every other light cycle so pedestrians can cross six ways, including diagonally.

He refused to identify the intersection, but acknowledged under questioning that State and Madison is a prime candidate.

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