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At the head of the room, from left to right: Kelly, Kubly, Klein, Quinn, Laurino, an assistant, Colón, and Cappleman. They are all referenced in the text below. Updated April 13, 2012, 12:35 to add that it passed 7-3. 

I am trying a different method to write this article. The hearing I attended for three hours conveyed a lot of complex information and sentiments and it’s going to be very difficult for me to communicate all of those things, especially for those who’ve never attended or watched a city council meeting or committee meeting. I want Grid Chicago readers to have the best information so they can converse with their aldermen in the next few days about speed cameras before the ordinance goes to the full council for voting on April 18, 2012. With that in mind, I have broken the information into easy to follow sections about what happened (what, when, where, who, why) and, in a second post later today, into categories for what people said (operations, contracts, safety). At the end will a full list of aldermen who spoke and my interpretations of their concerns.

This post is part 1 of 3 about the speed camera hearing. Read part 2 and part 3 (both published Friday, April 13, 2012).

What happened Wednesday

There was a hearing to consider Mayor Emanuel’s proposed update to the existing “automated traffic enforcement system” ordinance in Chicago, more commonly known as the speed camera ordinance, but officially titled “Establishment of Children’s Safety Zones program” (see our full coverage of speed cameras). It’s extremely important to note that there was a revised ordinance that was completed moments before the hearing for the committee to consider. 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman expressed his displeasure at being unable to read the revised ordinance because he didn’t receive it until 5 minutes before the hearing began.

The ordinance passed the committee with a 7 to 3 vote. I am awaiting a roll call for that vote. 

I’ve read the original ordinance originally introduced on March 14, 2012, but I was unable to read the revised ordinance. Documents distributed to the aldermen are not distributed to the public. Changes in the revised ordinance were said to include:

  1. Reduces the fine for the first level violation; 6-10 MPH over is now $35 instead of $50
  2. Adds a new subsection that requires the CDOT commissioner to divide the city into 6 regions, each holding at least 10% of safety zones (I may have misheard the second part about holding a specific number of safety zones). These regions are for reporting data.
  3. Aldermanic notification when speed cameras are proposed to be placed in their wards
  4. Cleans up text/language

Commissioner Gabe Klein talked about an advisory council that would be made up of the PTS chair, vice chair, and members of the community. They would review crash stats and other data and weigh in on the most effective locations for speed cameras to reduce speeding and crashes.

When did the meeting happen

The Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee (PTS), chaired by 39th Ward Alderman Margaret “Marge” Laurino, rescheduled its meeting from April 4, 2012, to Wednesday, April 11, 2012, at 1 PM. The hearing started at 1:25 PM and concluded at 4:30 PM. I was under the impression that the committee would also consider the ordinance to enter into a contract for bike sharing but that has been moved to a second meeting, on Friday, April 13th, in council chambers, at 10 AM. They will also conduct the rest of committee business, which includes consideration of humdrum ordinances to change one-way streets, add or modify parking restrictions, loading zones, and other traffic changes.

Where did the meeting happen

City Council chambers at City Hall, 121 N LaSalle Street. All committee meetings are open to the public unless otherwise noted. Anyone may testify in support of or opposition to any agenda item. Find meeting agendas on the City Clerk’s website. Not all agendas are published in advance of meetings. This is usually not the fault of the clerk.

Who spoke

Members of the PTS committee at the head of the room were, from left to right, 13th ward Alderman Marty Quinn, 39th ward Alderman Laurino, 35th ward Alderman Rey Colón, and 46th ward Alderman James Cappleman. There are 15 members in total. Vice Chairman Deborah Graham, alderman of the 29th ward, was unable to attend. Laurino explained, with a hint of irony in her voice, that Graham was in a car crash and has a fractured foot. She’s in the hospital and will be in surgery on Thursday. Said Laurino, “We don’t know if there was speeding involved in that”.

Transportation commissioner Gabe Klein and managing deputy commissioner Scott Kubly represented the Mayor’s proposed ordinance and answered a majority of the questions. Rose Kelly of the Department of Law was present to answer relevant questions about the proposed ordinance or the existing Illinois statute that enables cities with at least 1 million citizens create an automated traffic enforcement system that includes cameras that can issue citations to speeding automobile drivers. A representative from the Office of Management and Budget was supposed to come but did not; this was problematic because several important questions couldn’t be answered properly.

Many individual alderman spoke. I will expand on what they said in a second post later today.

Why is this ordinance being proposed

Mayor Emanuel wants to reduce children’s serious injuries and fatalities. The ordinance accomplishes this by implementing an automated camera system to record speeding violations that would likely reduce the incidence of speeding and therefore the injury and fatality rate. It’s well-known to sustainable transportation activists and advocates that someone who is hit by a car moving at 20 MPH has a 90% (or greater) chance of living. Someone who is hit by a car moving at 40 MPH has a 10-15% chance of living. As you can see in the photo above (and in the image below), that information was graphically portrayed and the slide was left on the screen for over an hour. You may also notice Active Transportation Alliance’s logo in the corner. They distributed a press release and fact sheet (pdf) on Wednesday with the fact sheet showing the same graphic. Active Trans is calling for broader enforcement times to match what the state law allows and to keep the fine thresholds.

graphic showing fatality rate of pedestrians based on vehicle speed at impact

Read part 2 and part 3 (both published Friday, April 13, 2012).

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  • http://jmd1125.blogspot.com/ Jennifer

    Has anyone crunched any numbers on potential reductions in driver/passenger fatalities?

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      The Chicago Tribune did this back in October and found that only a handful of child (minors) pedestrian fatalities would have been “prevented” or “caught” by speed cameras. 

      The focus on children is a criticism I have in the City administration’s approach to pitch this ordinance (“establishing children’s safety zones”) to the City Council. This has made all questions be about how many children will be “saved” by speed cameras (the speed cameras only stop speeding through enforcement, not traffic calming engineering, which is self-enforcing) when the administration’s approach could have been “this is for everyone’s safety”. 

      As Leslie Hairston said, “You can say it’s not about the kids, but you keep saying it is” and “We’re trying to help you, but you’re not helping us help you” (on the lack of supporting information the aldermen have received from the administration). 

      • http://jmd1125.blogspot.com/ Jennifer

        Your response is enlightening but does not answer the question that I asked. What I mean is, has anyone studied the effect of speed cameras on people who are inside the cars?

        • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

          Yes. The effect of speed cameras on the drivers of cars is that the drivers exceed the speed limit less often. As for the other people in the car, I don’t know what the effect is on speeding. I believe I’ve read research that shows the effect of passengers on the driver (the driver drives more calmly, less erratically).
          Also, unrelated, the distraction effect of a passenger is much less than the distraction of an electronic device.

    • jcwconsult

      Likely slightly worse with artificially low limits that are not complied with.
      James C. Walker, NMA

  • what_eva

    I’m really disappointed to see ActiveTrans buying into this crap.  It’s not going to slow people down, it’s a revenue grab and nothing more

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      Did you not read any of my previous posts showing study after study after study indicating that, in most (if not all) cases where speed cameras were installed that incidence of speeding was reduced?
      Here they are: http://gridchicago.com/2012/what-speed-camera-legislation-means-for-chicago/
      And here’s a meta-analysis (study of studies) that concluded, in its review of 35 studies, “All studies reporting speed outcomes reported an absolute reduction in average speeds post intervention.” http://gridchicago.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Speed-cameras.pdf

      “A reduction in the proportion of speeding vehicles (drivers) over the accepted posted speed limit, ranged from 8% to 70% with most countries reporting reductions in the 10 to 35% range.”
      This meta-analysis was created by the Cochrane Collaboration, a non-profit organization headquartered in Oxford, England, founded in 1993 whose vision “is that healthcare decision-making throughout the world will be informed by high-quality, timely research evidence”. http://www.cochrane.org/about-us

      Are you an Active Transportation Alliance member?

      • what_eva

         All those studies show that speeds go down WHERE THERE ARE CAMERAS.  Isn’t going to help anything where there aren’t camera.

        Come on Steven, you’re smarter than this, even if ActiveTrans isn’t.  Listen to Waguespack, he’s right.  This is a revenue grab and nothing more.  Stop buying the city’s bullshit.

        • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

          This ordinance and the direction of the Department of Transportation is about more than stopping speeding where there are cameras. It’s about changing a culture where speeding and its injurious outcomes are acceptable.

          When tragedies happen, we want fixes to prevent them from happening again. But we have the tools and resources now to prevent any more traffic tragedies.

          • jcwconsult

            But since the ordinance will affect only a minority part of the drivers, the speed variance increase will likely make things worse and more dangerous.
            James C. Walker, NMA

          • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

            Can you point to a location that got speed cameras and this happened (speed variance increase led to making “things” worse and more dangerous)?

  • Quasar

    1) “All committee meetings are open to the public unless otherwise noted.”  the city council chambers are not, in fact, open to anyone.  if you actually have something to say and you’re willing to say it, then you are not allowed http://occupiedchicagotribune.org/2012/01/occupiers-say-no-to-shut-up-and-sit-down-law/

    2) The ATA inaccurately employs academic literature to make their case http://www.beachwoodreporter.com/politics/mystery_speed_camera_plan_pass.php

    3) The city bought ATA during the Daley administration and the CDOT/ATA relationship has only gotten cozier since.  http://www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2009/11/09/the-active-transportation-alliance-does-an-about-face-on-the-parking-meter-deal

    4) Lots of aldermen have received lots of criticism of the ordinance from their constituents and “no wards reported a scenario where the majority of constituents supported the speed cameras” (http://theexpiredmeter.com/2012/04/some-aldermen-getting-an-earful-on-speed-camera-ordinance/

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      1. At least one person was prevented from testifying because of time considerations. He was asked to provide his written statement “for the record” (I’ve never seen a meeting record published) in lieu of speaking it. 

      My text is saying that anyone can attend, not that anyone can speak. I don’t know the rules for that.

      2. There are better studies people should be citing, like this one from the Cochrane Collaboration: http://gridchicago.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Speed-cameras.pdf

      4. Many of the alderman mentioned their constituents’ opinions and communications. I will write about that in the forthcoming article.

  • joejoejoe

    Great original reporting! Two questions:

    1) Was the agenda available to citizens attending the meeting?
    2) You list 4 alderman at the head table. Did they take attendance for all 15 alderman? A quorum of 15 is 8 people according to my rusty civics knowledge.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      1. The agenda was posted online at least 24 hours before the meeting (I checked). There was a single item on the agenda: considering this ordinance. 2. Yes. I will get to that in my Friday article, although I will not be able to confirm the presence of all the alderman on the committee. I also don’t recall how many nay votes there were. Unlike Congress, they aren’t displayed on a screen. There was at least one nay vote, James Cappleman.

  • jcwconsult

    The science of how to set the safest posted speed limits has been known for 70+ years.  IF safety is the true goal (rare for posted speed limits in the USA and virtually unknown in Illinois) then the posted limits are set at the 85th percentile speed of free flowing traffic under good conditions – a method that Chicago and the rest of Illinois NEVER use.  85th percentile posted limits will not allow speed cameras to issue enough citations to even pay their own high costs of operation ($4,000+ per month per camera), let alone make any of the projected millions of dollars in corrupt profits the Mayor wants to make.
    This entire proposal for more speed cameras has nothing whatever to do with safety and everything to do with a naked money grab for revenue.
    Citizens who care at all about traffic safety and who do NOT support ticketing safe drivers for the Mayor’s profit scam need to repeatedly call their Aldermen to demand that these predatory speed camera cash registers NOT be used. Any Alderman who votes to support this scam needs to be voted out and replaced with someone who values traffic safety above corrupt ticket revenue totals collected mostly from safe drivers.
    See the science of 85th percentile speed limits on our website and if it makes some sense to you, pick up the phone and go to your email system  to tell the Alderman NO WAY.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association, http://www.motorists.org, Ann Arbor, MI (frequent visitor to Chicagoland, most recently last month to see Aida at the Lyric Opera)

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      Thanks for the feedback. Please clarify: how would installing cameras that ticket speeding drivers lead to ticketing safe drivers?

      • jcwconsult

        I will try, Mr. Greenfield. In another good post Mr. Vance quoted the study that shows speed cameras tend to reduce the proportion of speeding drivers by 10% to 35% – and I agree this is a common result. 
        What this does is increase the speed variance between the fastest and slowest groups.  65% to 90% of those above the posted limit will still be there, with more vehicles below the posted limit.  Significant speed variance causes less smooth flow with more passing, tailgating, passing, frustration, aggressive driving, etc.
        It has been known for about 50 years that the drivers with the lowest risk of being in a crash are those around the 85th percentile speed.  So, if the posted limit is arbitrarily set about 10 mph below the 85th percentile, then the drivers with the lowest possible crash risks will be the primary ticket targets.  Download the booklet by the Michigan State Police called Establishing Realistic Speed Limits at  http://www.michigan.gov/speedlimits  and look at the graph of speed versus crash risks on page 15,  Smooth, even, predictable traffic flow tends to produce the lowest crash rate and artificially low posted limits that most drivers do not find reasonable makes it worse.
        James C. Walker, NMA

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      The science of how to set speed limits is not under question. Nor is the posted speed limit. While “twenty’s plenty”, thirty’s not too bad, when observed. What’s under question here is how to ensure people travel at the speed limit, which is a rule and not a suggestion or advice.
      Gabe Klein spoke at the hearing about a “toolbox”, which would be a “box” of tools to reduce speeding, in which speed cameras and speed humps are included. I prefer street design that controls speeds without the need for speed limits and signs informing road users of the speed limit. Engineering can be self-enforcing.
      When switching the conversation to criticism about the plan as being a ploy for revenue, do you understand the desire to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities, the relationship between speed and the likelihood of being in a crash, being injured, or being killed, and the effect speed cameras have on reducing practiced driving speeds?
      Regarding the $4,000 cost per camera. This may or may not be the cost of a speed camera in Chicago, and this figure is based on the existing contract the City has with the vendor that operates the red light cameras.

      • jcwconsult

        Good comment, Mr. Vance.  You are correct that the best way to change or control travel speeds is to change the road design so that about 85% of the drivers will travel not faster than the speed you design. Then you could effectively throw away the speed limit signs.
        I do understand the desire to reduce the crashes, it should be the goal of all traffic engineering.  What does not make sense is to just reduce the speed limit with sporadic enforcement because it does not work and often makes things worse by causing more:   speed variance, tailgating, passing, aggressive driving, etc.
        We have known definitively since at least the 1992 Martin Parker study that you can raise or lower posted speed limits by up to 15 mph and you will change the 85th percentile speed by a maximum of 3 mph, but on average by 1 mph or less.
        The lowest cost for cameras I have seen in print is $3,999/mo/camera.
        James C. Walker, NMA

        • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

          The speed limit will not be changing.

          • jcwconsult

            I am sure that is true Mr. Vance.
            Chicago WANTS the posted limits to be well below the safety-optimum 85th percentile levels.  Ann Arbor is the same.  Most posted limits where I live are arbitrarily set at or below the 20th percentile speeds, and one minor commuting route is posted at the 1st percentile with 99% of all drivers arbitrarily defined as violators.  You can probably guess why you find an officer there frequently.
            There are two reasons for cities to want improper and less safe posted speed limits.  1) It is profitable with tickets, issued either by officers or cameras.  2) It makes the officials “look good” to a public they refuse to educate about the realities when they sporadically enforce the artificially low limits to show the public they are “doing something about the speeding problem”.
            The engineers, police officers, and politicians ALL know it is a farce, because posted limits have almost no effect on the upper end of actual travel speeds.  But it IS profitable.
            James C. Walker, NMA

          • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

            I’m not understanding this 85th percentile business you keep talking about. Can you tell me how you would determine the 85th percentile “speed limit”, say, for Chicago Avenue between Ashland Avenue and Western Avenue?
            At what percentile is 30 MPH, the current speed limit on Chicago Avenue between Ashland Avenue and Western Avenue? How would the safety of people bicycling be affected if practiced speeds were even greater than they are now (making the speed differential between the bicycle and the automobile greater)?

        • jcwconsult

          For Mr. Vance and maybe others.  To get the 85th percentile speed of free flowing traffic under good conditions, you survey the area with a stealthy method, so drivers do not perceive the study.  I use a Lidar gun from an unmarked vehicle.  You do the study when traffic is free flowing, typically mid-morning or mid-afternoon, avoiding rush hours, construction, any enforcement, or anything else that would affect drivers free choices of travel speeds.  When you get 2 or more cars close together called “platoons”, you measure only the first vehicle, since the other(s) may not be at the speeds they would choose if not blocked. 
          For simple math, assume you measure exactly 100 vehicles (the minimum many engineers prefer to call a survey valid).  You then count down from the fastest vehicle to #85 and that is the 85th percentile speed – and it is almost always the safest speed limit to post.  Remember, we are talking about what numbers to paint on the signs, NOT the actual travel speeds.  The actual travel speeds at the upper end of the range will be unchanged plus or minus maybe 1 mph.  What you do see is some of the slowest vehicles speed up slightly, perhaps 2 to 4 mph, making the flow smoother to reduce tailgating, passing, aggressive driving, frustration, etc.
          I would have to at least drive that stretch of Chicago to know about what percentile that 30 mph represents, but I would be quite surprised if it is above the 50th percentile, and it may be more like the 30th or 40th. Question for Mr. Vance or others familiar with that road.  About what percentage of cars under really good conditions are at 30 mph or less?
          James C. Walker, NMA

          • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

            If 30 MPH is the 50th percentile on Chicago Avenue, then that means 50 percent of people (assuming your study was valid) are driving faster than 30 MPH and 50 percent of people are driving slower than 30 MPH. I don’t think this is the case. And if 30 MPH is the 50th percentile on Chicago Avenue, then the 85th percentile speed would be a number greater than 30 MPH. I believe anything faster than 30 MPH should not occur (be driven) on streets where people walk or bicycle. It’s known what the impact is on pedestrians when they are hit at specific speeds: the chances of death increase exponentially. 30 MPH speed limits are too fast for places where people without the protection of metal boxes move or congregate.
            There is some data that suggests what the percentile may be. For example, at 3000 S King Drive, 54% of vehicles were traveling faster than 30 MPH. At 4600 S King Drive, 76% of vehicles were traveling faster than 30 MPH. This is based on a 24-automated count conducted by the Chicago Department of Transportation. The data released so far is not very detailed; the next reported figure is that 3.4% of vehicles were traveling faster than 45 MPH at the first location, and 2.9% of vehicles were traveling faster than 45 MPH at the second location.
            It seems there are two issues we’re talking about: 1) what the current speed limit should be, and 2) whether or not Chicago should use cameras to enforce current speed limits. Issue 1 is not part of this ordinance, but since you’ve brought this up, I think that speed limits in a majority of places in Chicago are too high. And the practiced speeds of drivers are also too high. If speed limits should change, they should be lower, and not potentially higher (to reach this so-called ideal speed limit, at the 85th percentile).

          • jcwconsult

            I would have to survey the area to be sure, or at least test-drive it, but from your data on King I would guess the 3000 block would have an 85th percentile speed that would round to 35 mph.  The 4600 block would likely have an 85th that would round to 40 mph, but it could be as low as 35.  The posted 30 is wrong in both cases.
            IF the posted speed limits had much effect on the upper end of the actual travel speed ranges, the entire issue would be drastically different – but they don’t.  Lowering speed limits will NOT reduce actual travel speeds, unless the enforcement is 24/7.  The only realistic way to reduce travel speeds is to degrade the driving environment with various traffic calming methods.
            Look at the last article for Establishing Safe and Realistic Speed Limits at this URL for the Michigan State Police Powerpoint  http://www.motorists.org/speed-limits/articles   The 85th percentile speed was ONE mph different when taken from an unmarked car and when taken from a marked patrol car with a uniformed trooper.
            Changing posted speed limits is valueless to change the higher end of the speed ranges.  It just tends to make the flow less smooth and therefore less safe.
            The Michigan State Police I know say they have never had a speed study that came out with an 85th percentile speed of below 27.5 mph on a through street.  People simply will not drive that slow, unless the driving environment makes higher speeds feel uncomfortable.
            Note that the under posted speed limits are what makes the red light camera program so profitable, because the yellows are timed for speeds slower than are true.  James C. Walker, NMA

          • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

            All of this discussion about what a speed limit should be, and how to find the right speed limit for a street, is moot if we can’t enforce the posted speed and we design roads that are incompatible with the posted speed limits (that is, the road encourages a speed of 40 MPH, but is posted for 30 MPH).

          • jcwconsult

            There are two issues here. 
            First, if the road is posted correctly at the 85th percentile speed, there will be little or no enforcement required.  85% will be legal, by definition, and the next 5 mph interval will usually have at least 10% of the rest.  Fewer than 5% will be at 6 or more mph over the limit. And the actual travel speeds will NOT rise more than perhaps 1 mph if the limit is corrected from 30 to 35 or 40 mph to match the 85th percentile survey.  It is a total myth that “people will always drive 10 over”.
            Second, you are absolutely correct the point is moot for limits posted too low.  If most drivers perceive the road is safe and comfortable at 31-40 mph, then posting it at 30 is useless – except for ticket revenue. 
            The goal for safe speed limits is to get as many cars as possible in the PACE, the 10 mph band with the most vehicles. The top of the pace is almost always the 85th percentile speed, plus or minus 1 mph.  So, if the 85th is 40, the pace is very likely 31-40 and the higher the percentage of vehicles in that band, the safer it tends to become.
            If you want a lower 85th percentile speed and a lower PACE, then you need to convince the authorities to degrade the driving environment so most drivers will find it uncomfortable to go as fast as they do now under the current design.
            James C. Walker, NMA

          • ChicagoStreetcarRenaissance

            First, basing the speed limit on what drivers feel comfortable with seems recklessly dismissive of what’s going on outside your car. The point of the LIMIT is not to notify pedestrians of how fast 85% of the cars are traveling, but to keep the cars from traveling faster than is safe for the pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers. Regardless of how comfortable you feel at 40 mph on my street, it’s still dangerous. 

            Second, 85% is nowhere near good enough compliance with the law, especially if the limit is set by what drivers want to drive instead of what’s safe. I can’t imagine why letting 15% drive dangerously fast would be acceptable.

            Third, I like your suggestion that we “degrade” the street until people drive a speed that is actually safe, but I fear that’s not going to be in the budget. Until then, let’s have the cameras or whatever else it takes. 

          • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

            I think “degrade” is his term for “traffic calming” or “road diets”, which are upgrades to people walking and cycling. :)

          • ChicagoStreetcarRenaissance

            I know, I thought that pretty much clarified his perspective on things. My guess is that everything that makes my neighborhood a good place to be makes it worse to drive through.

    • http://www.thegetaroundblog.com/ Spencer Gardner

      How do you define “safest”? 85th percentile is probably a good metric if you’re only concerned about people inside the cars, but what about for bicyclists and pedestrians? Many of Chicago’s roads have been engineered for higher-speed traffic than ought to be driving based on the surrounding land uses and prevalence of other travel modes.

      Just because a driver feels comfortable driving 35 down my neighborhood street doesn’t mean I feel comfortable with him doing so.

      In an ideal world, our roads would be engineered based on their urban context. However, we don’t live in an ideal world; we live in Illinois. I’ll support whatever reasonable measures necessary to keep pedestrians like me and my family safe.

      • jcwconsult

        Uneven traffic flow with more variance caused by artificially low posted limits that get a small percentage of compliance is more dangerous than 85th percentile limits with smoother flow and slightly higher average speeds with cars at the lower end going on average slightly faster. 
        Think about it this way.  If you are going to cross a street where the actual 85th percentile speed is 36 mph regardless of what the signs say, would you rather have the signs tell you the truth and say 35 mph is the expected approaching traffic speeds to help you gauge when to cross, or would you rather have the signs lie to you and say 25 mph which is a false prediction of approaching traffic speeds? Which is better or safer?  Why?
        Remember, the actual 85th percentile speed remains at 36 mph, regardless of what the signs say, because posted limits have virtually no effect on actual travel speeds at the upper end of the range – within +/- 1 mph in most cases.
        THIS is the thing that is hardest to teach to people who don’t know the science.
        James C. Walker, NMA

        • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

          I don’t think anyone is under the impression that the posted speed limit is what people are driving.
          Even if you could trust that someone is driving at 25 MPH, you would have no better chance at gauging the time (and distance) at which that person’s car would be at your crosswalk (where you’re deciding to cross) than if the person is driving at 30 MPH or 35 MPH. Humans are inherently poor judges of velocity, and the other two factors, time and distance.
          Compliance for the law about stopping for pedestrians in the crosswalk should also increase. Maybe we’ll get a crosswalk camera for that ;)

        • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

          I understand the basic concept about variation in traffic speeds having the potential to become hazardous when that variation becomes wide enough.  I have occasionally experienced this on city streets in unusual situations.  However, the 85th percentile idea seems most applicable to limited access roads or highways designed for speeds of 45+ mph, where cars are unlikely to be sharing the road with cyclists or pedestrians.  

          Such roads make up a relatively small percentage of the road mileage within the city of Chicago, and most of them are interstate highways.  These roads are not part of the speed camera proposal.

    • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

      Your goal seems to be entirely based on the assumption that “free flowing traffic” is the ideal.  On selected roads, that may be a good thing, because we need to have some faster routes.  On many of our other roads, it is not.  Traffic safety only for the cars is a fallacy, because someone else ends up paying the price for that form of “safety.”  That someone is usually a pedestrian or cyclist.

      Another hidden cost of that “safety” is the crisis of obesity and related illnesses because so many places have been optimized for the car to the point where walking is unpleasant, unsafe or both, often due to vehicle speed.

      Steve recently cited a study showing that congested NYC actually has much better traffic safety statistics than we do.  My guess is that lower traffic speeds have a lot to do with that.  Steve – Care to elaborate? 

      In Chicago and many other cities, we are at a turning point where we are choosing to reject that long-term trend and try to create conditions that are safer and more accommodating for non-car forms of transportation.  I believe that road design changes to reduce speed should be a significant piece of that picture.  

      If you choose the car as your only form of transportation, that is your right. It doesn’t mean that all of us should join you. Telling us that our speed limits should be based on the choices of speeding drivers – seriously?!?  That doesn’t belong on our neighborhood streets.  It’s why we have mess like the ridiculous, unnecessary legal situation that Raquel Nelson faces in Atlanta.

      • jcwconsult

        The principles of smooth predictable traffic flow apply equally to 45-75 mph main roads, and 20-35 mph small city streets.
        See above:  The hardest thing to teach is that the numbers painted on the signs have virtually no effect on the actual travel speeds.  Only road design has any real effect.  You have to start from that fact before deciding what to do next.
        James C. Walker, NMA

        • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

          “Only road design has any real effect”.

          I’ve been saying that for months. http://gridchicago.com/tag/infrastructure-design/

          • jcwconsult

            That is absolutely correct, Mr. Vance.  The speed camera program is about money, not actually improving safety because it will not do that. 
            James C. Walker, NMA

      • jcwconsult

        The prosecution of Raquel Nelson seems completely wrong to me.  And, the loss of the child will be a far worse punishment than anything the courts could decree.
        That said, it looks
        like she was responsible for the accident by crossing when it
        was not safe.  The adult(s) along with children are responsible to know
        when it is safe to cross roads, and when it is not.  But I would not
        have prosecuted her. 
        James C. Walker, NMA

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  • http://www.bikewalklincolnpark.com Michelle Stenzel

    Thank you for this extensive coverage of the hearings, Steve. I hope that the aldermen and alderwomen recognize that speed cameras are one tool of many that we can use to make our streets safer for children and youths, yes, but also for all people. Speeding is breaking the law.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      You’re welcome, Michelle. Please read the other comments on this board, from James C Walker, who wants to talk about changing speed limits to meet the “85th percentile” of observed speeds. 

  • jcwconsult

    For ChicagoStreetcarRenaissance and others. The 85th percentile method is the oldest and most proven way to achieve the posted speed limit that produces the smoothest and safest traffic flow with the fewest accidents.  I have a 1941 National Safety Council Report on Speed that says to post between the 80th and 90th percentile speeds for the best results.
    There is NO way to achieve 100% compliance. If you set the limit at the 85th percentile, about 10% will be in the next 5 mph interval, so you enforce versus the top 5% – the ones that are far enough out of the pattern to present real accident risks.
    Read the Michigan State Police booklet on Establishing Realistic Speed Limits on the Michigan government website at   http://www.michigan.gov/speedlimits  The two officers that run that department have received two Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commission awards for their work in establishing safe speed limits.  YES, it is very counter intuitive, but the basic method is taught in every civil engineering class dealing with these issues.
    James C. Walker, NMA

    • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

      So you’re effectively saying that it’s okay, on a busy commercial street with intersections every 0.1 mi and frequent curb cuts in between, to raise the speed limit from 30 to 35 mph because over 50% of drivers are going 40-45 mph anyway?  Yes, it’s counter-intuitive.  No, it doesn’t sound safe to me for an urban street with dozens of potential conflict points per mile (intersections, curb cuts, parallel parking and crosswalks).  

      In a world where only cars are on the road and there is no substantial traffic density, perhaps that is “realistic.”  Doesn’t sound like my world.  Maybe that’s what’s wrong with some of our road designs and standards today.

      • jcwconsult

        For AKA60643:  If the posted speed limit actually reduced travel speeds, your comment would be quite valid.  But it doesn’t.  They are just numbers painted on signs, almost entirely unrelated to the actual travel speeds – particularly at the upper end of the actual travel speeds.
        There are two, and only two, ways to reduce actual travel speeds.  One is to degrade the road design so higher speeds are not comfortable to most drivers.  The other is enforcement 24/7 on every street where you want lower travel speeds, something no city can afford.
        This predatory money grab program the Mayor wants will put cameras at random intervals on some of the streets and will collect millions of dollars in road taxes from safe drivers.  It will NOT, and is not intended to, materially change the actual travel speeds on most of these streets.
        It is a money program, not a safety program.
        James C. Walker, NMA

        • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

          It will collect nothing if no one speeds.

          What do you mean by random intervals? They will be placed at up to 300 locations, with a 30-day posted warning prior to any location’s activation.

          • jcwconsult

            Only a tiny fraction of the drivers will program all 300 locations into a GPS and keep that database updated to avoid the tickets.
            The program supporters, including the Redflex lobbyist who helped get Rahm elected, are depending on the fact that most people will not alter their travel speeds very much, so the revenue stream will be enormous.
            Many people know about the predatory way yellow lights are timed too short in Chicago to give thousands of tickets to safe drivers for revenue, but the revenue stream continues virtually unchanged.
            Remember, one of the first rules of speed limits is that they do NOT change most people’s travel speeds.   Redflex, ATS, GATSO and the other predatory camera providers know this – it is a key part of their business plans.
            James C. Walker, NMA

  • jcwconsult

    Well, the ordinance passed, despite many serious questions from some Aldermen. The red light camera cash register program is already the largest in the country and this should make the speed camera cash register program the largest of its kind.
    Revenue, along with a likely small reduction in safety, will be the results.
    Once residents start getting fined for the “dastardly crime” of driving safely at normal speeds for the conditions, perhaps a groundswell of objections will come about.
    Every Alderman who voted for the predatory program needs to be de-elected at the next opportunity, along with the Mayor.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association, http://www.motorists.org, Ann Arbor, MI