Chicago School Zone Speed Cameras: A Good Idea or a Money Grab?

Chicago School Zone Speed Cameras: A Good Idea or a Money Grab?
A picture of controversery at $100 a shot.

Chicago, Monday, April 16, 2012. Later this week Chicago aldermen will be voting on whether to install 500 “speed cameras”– in addition to the 382 red-light cameras already in operation–in the city’s nearly 1600 school zones. The measure has already passed the committee assigned to consider the proposal (7-3) and is expected to win approval of the full City Council with the backing of all of the “big guns” including: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

If approved, cameras will be placed within one-eighth of a mile of schools and parks.  It has been estimated that the enforceable boundaries will include somewhere between just under 50% to 66% of the city. The ante for violators, which was recently reduced, will be $35 for drivers going six miles to 10 mph over the speed limit and $100 for those going more than 10 mph over the limit.

Chicago already brings in about $68 million a year in fines from their red-light cameras in place along main arteries in the city. If these new speed cameras are installed, revenue will jump into the stratosphere.  According to The Expired Meter, the Chicago Department of Transportation conducted a two-month study of seven intersection approaches–single legs leading into intersections with two or more streets, monitoring vehicle speeds from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and noon until 4 p.m. on weekdays.

During those nine hours per day, over 43 days, 1,418,797 vehicles were recorded, 131,034 of which would have been issued tickets under the proposed system.  That sample group alone would have generated $13.1 million in fines.

Based on the average 48 violations per hour per camera recorded in the exploratory test, each camera would produce 768 violations a day, totaling $11.5 million monthly between seven cameras.

The question many are asking is whether this is just a revenue-raiser or a viable plan that will save lives.  Heated controversy and name-calling, per usual, are all part of the mix. Chicago aldermen report that some parents are cheering the proposal while others are decrying it as a money grab and invasion of privacy.

Keeping a cooler head, no one wants to see even one child injured or killed–but to date there have been no studies presented that show the “safety cameras” are the best option. Already, the city has installed 10,000 speed humps in streets and alleys near schools which slow traffic to 15mph; 400 traffic circles, 450 cul-de-sacs and 250 “bump out” curbs.

Currently more children in Chicago are killed by bullets and violent acts than cars in school zones.  Last year in Chicago, 260 school children were killed by violence while 32 pedestrians citywide were killed by cars.

Might it not be a better idea to place more police officers in schools and parks where they can protect the children and watch for speeders than to electronically monitor the area.  Sure we can fine the speeder and perhaps recognize the violent offender with the cameras–but only after the crime has taken place.  Wouldn’t it be better to stop the speeder or attacker before someone is hurt by having a live person (police officer) intervene?

Another question, what does Chicago know that the rest of the nation does not?  The second closest city to Chicago with revenues from surveillance cameras is Houston with 7.7 million (vs. Chicago’s 68.4) followed by Los Angeles with 3.7 million.  (2009 figures).  Interestingly, both LA and Houston have recently voted to end their surveillance cameras.

At the very least it seems more studies should be done to see if more lives will be saved by installing the cameras or if other options will produce better results. What do you think?

BREAKING NEWS: Noon, Wednesday, April 18, 2012. Speed Cameras have just won approval from the Chicago City Council by 33-14.  Any comments?

Here is the response to the vote from the Active Transportation Alliance:

As an ardent supporter of effective traffic enforcement measures, the Active Transportation Alliance extends a “thank you” to the alderman who voted “yes” today on Chicago’s speed camera ordinance.

“Speeding drivers make roadways unsafe for vehicle passengers, cyclists, and everyone who uses our sidewalks and parks,” said Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance. “Automated speed enforcement allowed under this ordinance will help keep cars within the legal speed limit, save lives and make our neighborhoods more walkable and bike-friendly.”

That speed cameras reduce speeding and crashes is a commonsense conclusion backed by research. An analysis of more than 90 studies assessing speed enforcement cameras in the Journal of the Transportation Research Board found an average injury crash reduction of 20 to 25 percent, with more effective programs reducing injuries from crashes by more than 50 percent.

Burke said cameras are one of many tools in the toolbox to slow down speeders, along with speed bumps, portable speed signs, education and enforcement. A comprehensive approach, he said, is what’s needed to combat this pervasive problem.

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  • A money grab.

  • I agree that they will be catching drivers far too late if we have to wait for a child (or an adult) to be hit. However, if it makes people slow down or stops other crimes, I don't think it's a bad idea. My one request however, would be that if they are to be put to the best use possible, they will also be used to highlight and fine every driver using a handheld phone, texting, reading an I-pad at the lights and driving with a dog on the lap. All of these activities are beyond ridiculous yet are seen every day. We could get the whole state back into the black if we fined these idiots.

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    Total money grab. There are no engineering studies being done at any of the locations to determine if this is a suitable solution - or if these are even needed. When half the city is a school zone, why even have them? These cameras are a solution in search of a problem. And will it really make people feel better if a drivers gets a ticket in the mail after running over a kid? Kids don't get run over because a driver is going too fast. They get run over because the driver doesn't see them or isn't paying attention. This is total BS.

  • I, too, am leaning toward money grab. I believe that there are many better options for saving Chicago's school children from injury or death from a speeding car than using speed cameras. In addition to the options that I mentioned in my post, neighborhood volunteers could be installed--similar to the patrol boys and girls of past generations--or if not volunteers--paid crossing guards. I certainly think that more studies should be done before we jump on the speed camera bandwagon. Throwing money at something is not always the answer. On-site police officers could still issue tickets to speeders as well as protect the children before rather than after the damage has been done.

  • "...boundaries will include somewhere between just under 50% to 66% of the city.." What kind of editing is that? If it's under 66% then it's under 50%. Why the slanted reporting?

    :Might it not be a better idea to place more police officers in schools and parks where they can protect the children and watch for speeders than to electronically monitor the area." That's a question, not a sentence.

    Do we have amateurs writing these biased stories?

  • In reply to SweetOldBob:

    Since the proposed ordinance has been and still is undergoing revisions, I based my figures on various estimates from a number of sources including the Active Transportation Alliance, Mayor Emanuel's press office, The Wall St. Journal and others. The highest estimate was 66%, the lowest, around 50% with other figures falling between the two numbers.
    However, the point of my article was to determine if the speed cameras are the best option to save the children or if more study is needed before implementation. I hope this came across.

    As to, point two--I do have a post graduate degree in English and know when to use a question mark. I meant this as a statement--that is why I did not use a ?

  • I believe that it's a way to frighten a bit the careless drivers in order to be more careful at school areas

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