Speed cameras have been used around the world for decades, reducing speeding everywhere they’re installed. This van is a mobile speed camera enforcement “device” used in Nottingham, England. Photo by Lee Haywood. 

The adoption of a speed camera system in Chicago is multi-faceted: it goes beyond encouraging people to speed less (which would increase the safety of all people in the streets), but touches on other issues like surveillance and how contracts and bidding are conducted. It has also induced people to think about other ways the city can achieve the same safety goals (fewer crashes, injuries and fatalities).

This post is part 2 of 3 about the hearing in council chambers on Wednesday, April 11, 2012, I will synthesize the concerns the aldermen discussed, their frustrations with how the automated speed camera enforcement system would work, and disappointment in being unable to receive (for weeks) the information they requested. I apologize profusely if there’s inaccurate information (like, are there really 85 schools with basketball programs?); I may have written that information down incorrectly as it’s hard to understand everyone if they don’t speak properly into the microphone.

Read part 1, part 3, or read all of our coverage on speed cameras. In this hearing, aldermen on the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety committee aired their questions alongside aldermen not on the committee – I’ve noted which aldermen are not on the committee.

Transportation commissioner’s testimony

First thing in the meeting, transportation commissioner Gabe Klein gave his testimony (the following is paraphrased except where quoted):

The children of Chicago are the least able to protect themselves. “The transportation network doesn’t place the right priority”. We know speed is determinant of serious injury or fatality. “The faster a car moves the more damage it causes when it hits something”. The fatality rate has an exponential relationship with speed. From 2005-2010, 3,000 people were seriously injured or killed in Chicago. 800 were children. “Let’s be honest, they’re not often accidents. We only ask that drivers follow existing traffic laws”. 32% of children walk to school.

CDOT has a four-pronged approach to transportation safety:

  1. Education – how to traverse urban environment safely
  2. Encouragement – walk/bike to school safely, but also to improve health wellness
  3. Engineering/re-engineering – infrastructure investments, ped refuges, bump outs, LPI
  4. Enforcement – without enforcement, the other three are not as effective.

60% reduction in pedestrian fatalities within 1/4 mile of red light cameras.

Mr. Klein then summarized how an automated speed camera enforcement system would work (SCE). Again this is paraphrased:

The first violation will in fact be a warning. There will be ample signage on the streets. There will also be a 90-day education campaign (ahead of the program). On a weekly basis, the CDOT website will be up to date on the locations of installed speed cameras (mobile or fixed) and the speed limit at that location. CDOT will also provide quarterly reports: speeding data, tickets issued, fines collected. It’s not intended to be punitive.

If you drive 6-10 MPH over the speed limit, you would get a $35 fine (reduced from $50 in this revised ordinance). If 11 MPH over, the fine is $100. These are civil and administration penalties and do not affect your driver’s license status [except if you don't pay them, then you could be subject to suspension].

We will create an advisory group, to include members of communities, and this committee’s chair and vice chair. The advisory group would review crash stats and other data and weigh in on the most effective locations for SCE to reduce speeding and crashes.

We are focusing enforcement times on when children are most active.

My take

I appreciate Mr. Klein’s comments about the lack of the transportation network to safely transport its users when he said, “The transportation network doesn’t place the right priority”. And I appreciated his comments again when he said that they are trying to change the culture. I have met Mr. Klein many times and I have spoken to him personally, for a period longer than any Chicagoan would likely be able to do (as has John). He is very sincere in wanting to make a culture of transportation safety in Chicago and there is evidence of this in the strategies that his department has implemented since his arrival less than one year ago (although we haven’t liked all of them), as well as in the strategies he wants to implement.

Mr. Klein bluntly pointed out that “we have a culture that says speeding is okay”. Typically, in this city and this country, we call for safety improvements after a tragedy, but never before, even though we have the knowledge and capability of preventing most traffic deaths (crashes are the number one cause of death of minors in the United States).

Unfortunately, Mr. Klein is just one member of his department and there’s a lot of institutionalized knowledge and resistance that will take time to reeducate and defeat, respectively, while implementing an organizational culture that values safety and facilitates sustainable transportation modes more efficiently than in the past. (It could take longer than the time Mr. Klein might work there – if he stays longer than 2 years, that would be longer than each of the prior 4 commissioners).

There was much hullabaloo about the revenues in the hearing. Mr. Klein stressed that the Department of Transportation (CDOT) would not be receiving any revenues whatsoever. Rose Kelly, of the Law Department, confirmed this multiple times (in response to different wordings of the same question from several aldermen). The revenues would be placed into a distinct account from which expenditures would have to be authorized by city council. In other words, if this is a “money grab”, as many online, in the newspapers, and testifying at the hearing accuse the mayor of, it would be at the city council’s authorization. There was a problem in that a representative from the Budget Office was not present. Said committee chair Margaret Laurino (39th Ward), “‘I was expecting somebody from budget to be here – they’re not here” (via Beachwood Reporter).

Now on with the reporting! Everything below is paraphrased from my own notes taken during the three hour meeting, unless in quotes. GK means Gabe Klein. Scott Kubly is the transportation department’s managing deputy. The concerns are organized by category, in bold text. Categories in part 2 are Operations, location selection, and revenues, and Enforcement, times, and notice.

Operations, location selection, and revenues

Alderman Rey Colón, 35th Ward

RC: Did you talk about the net proceeds of the fines are collected from SCE and how they are going to be used?
GK: First, CDOT is focused on safety (mainly because CDOT can’t use that money). The goal is for SCE to be self-sustaining (cover its own costs). Ideally, in a perfect world, you’d have no excess revenue. The mayor has been very clear that if there’s revenue, it gets spent on public safety initiatives, police protection, and construction/maintenance of infrastructure, “particularly around schools and parks”.

RC: So you don’t have revenue projections?
GK: Correct.

RC: How will the camera determine when there are children present?

[This would determine what the applicable speed limit when a driver passes through a school zone. If children are present then the applicable speed limit for enforcement is 20 MPH; if no children are present then the applicable speed limit is 30 MPH.]

GK: Currently we have a two-stage review process for RLCs. For SCE, we’d have a third stage.

RC: So if it’s determine that there’s no child present, then they’d have to be going 36 MPH?
GK: That’s correct.

RC: How will advisory group interact with the Wards?
GK: Utilizing data, we will come up with some recommended areas where CSZs should include cameras. Having the input from community is crucial because we don’t know the community as well as you do.

RC: What is the industry trend? Are we going to see stop sign cameras? Is this the wave of future, using cameras instead of police to enforce?
GK: I don’t have the answer, but I know that technology is a major part of police enforcement. But the police force is mostly fixated on stopping violence crimes. This isn’t just for pedestrian safety, it will also benefit drivers, cyclists, buses. We have a major problem with distraction and under the influence in Chicago. We’re trying to make a cultural change around schools and parks. I think this will make a cultural change around the city. It may make people fearful of driving drunk, speed, or drive carelessly on the road.

Alderman Richard Mell, 33rd Ward

RM: Did you say that the SCE will also be RLC at the same time?
GK: No. The technology is advancing so quickly and there are cameras that can do both.

Alderman Tom Tunney, 44th Ward – not on the committee

TT: Will the alderman be able to veto a camera installation?
GK: No. But let me explain why. The reality is that we have a lot of schools and parks that cross ward boundaries. And the transportation system is a system, sometimes you’re looking at 3 different wards. So you may have one alderman says yes, and one says no.

Unrecorded alderman

Alderman: I did a count of my Ward and I found 36 parks and schools. I’d like to know how many my neighboring wards have. A lot of my schools and parks are on a lot of my arterials.
GK: Arterials are a problem for children, especially wide ones. We’re going to look at this in a context-sensitive way. What’s appropriate for the different hierarchy of streets. We will show you that we are recommending a camera at this location because of X, Y, Z. It will be based on science, but the advisory council will weigh in as well. We’ll also prioritize where places of schools and parks overlap.

Alderman Roderick Sawyer, 6th Ward

RS: There would be no points issued against you in your driving record. Would you be eligible for booting?
GK: Yes.

RS: Is there possibility of driver’s license suspension?
GK: There is if you have 5 or more automated violations, basically the same as any other ticket. [This question was asked again, and I don't think it was sufficiently clarified. This falls under the purview of the Illinois Secretary of State, and I believe that if you don't pay or contest it, you've have additional problems.]

Alderman Howard Brookins, 21st Ward

HB: How do you intend to use the money?
GK: The money isn’t coming to us. The budget office will hold it in a separate account.

HB: Don’t you have evidence that there’s money coming in (in other places)?
GK: I don’t know how much RLCs bring in, because that’s not what we’re focused on. We don’t get revenue numbers, we only look at the number of crashes.

HB: Where does RLC money go?
GK: I believe it goes into the general fund. Rahm wants SCE revenues separated.

HB: Can the revenue be used on any infrastructure? (like a bridge downtown)
GK: My understanding is that they should be used in CSZs.

Rose Kelly (from the Law Department): The state statute sets several expenditure categories:

  1. public safety initiatives to ensure safe passage
  2. education
  3. infrastructure investments, yes and not associated with children’s safety zones
  4. after school programs

Rose Kelly: The funds are subject to your appropriation.

Alderman Mary O’Connor, 40th Ward – not on the committee

MO: Take me through the time frame, from passage to implementation, and tell me what things CDOT has to do in order for us to begin to see cameras on the street.
GK: Timeline thus far:

  • Building the safety zone toolbox (“sounds wonky”).
  • Building and finishing an RFP, on the street within 6 weeks of ordinance passing. The RFP would be open for 6 weeks.
  • We hope to be testing equipment by early fall. We’d be testing equipment: SK:
  • Scott Kubly: basic treatments in place at the start of school year 2012. (curb extensions, LPI, crosswalks)
  • Issuing tickets at the beginning of 2013.

Alderman Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward – not on the committee

BR: What are admin costs of adjudicating? What about ticket revenue? We should talk to the budget office. A child must be present. What is the definition of present?
GK: There’s 1974 an opinion from the Illinois Attorney General, that a child must be present on the street or outside the school. Basically the child has to be in the picture frame.

BR: Has CDOT determined how many and which companies could bid on the RFP?
GK: We don’t know, but we estimate 5 companies, possibly 8-10.

BR: how are we defining a location?
Scott Kubly: We think a single point with cameras pointing in both directions. 191 RLC intersections with 384 cameras. Most intersections have two.

R: [This is the day I would like from CDOT:] Total number of crashes in school areas vs. park areas in 2010. Children’s versus adults, ped crashes only. Pedestrian crashes in schools, parks, citywide, ward by ward, in 2010.

Alderman John Pope, 10th Ward – not on the committee

JP: When will the advisory council be in writing? Where’s that codified?
GK: Let me circle the wagons and get that to you.

Enforcement, times, and notice

Alderman Jason Ervin, 28th Ward

JE: The school zone speed limit of 20 is 7 AM – 4 PM [when children are present]. But speed limit is 30 MPH from 4 PM – 7 PM. Children are generally not in the vicinity from 4-7. Why don’t the hours between state law on SCE and school zone speed limit match? Couldn’t the hours be more aligned when kids are out and about present?
GK: 5:30 – 8:30 AM, 40k going to school each day (based on CTA student permits). [I missed the times for the after school period] 27.5 after school on CTA. There are 85 schools with basketball programs. There are games with spectators. In addition to sports, there are 20 driver’s ed facilities from 4-6 PM. There are over 18k students that attend those classes. 40% of schools have after school classes.

JE: What about in the middle of the day?
GK: State law about school zones require a child to be present for the school zone speed limit to be in effect. Schools let out at different times. There are also private schools.

Alderman Marty Quinn, 13th Ward

MQ: How do you intend to inform the public to avoid establishing traps?
GK: For one thing, we’ll have an advanced website that shows the location, and have an opt-in SMS communication program. Just because they’re mobile, doesn’t mean they will be moved constantly. They will sit there for 60-90 days. [The state statute explains that there must be a sign posted ahead of the speed camera at all times and installed 30 days prior to the activation of that speed camera.]

MQ: Only 40% of residents [not sure if he meant citywide or 13th ward] have computers. I hope there would be additional notification to the alderman so they can assist in letting their constituents know about the program. Can you talk about the specific details of an overlap of a school-park campus? Which time rule will be in place?
GK: There’d be a plethora of time [or distance] notifying driver. Let’s say there’s a contiguous zone, we’d look at the pathway of children. There we’d have the school part active.

Alderman John Arena, 45th Ward – not on the committee

JA: We have an enforcement system in place. We do we need this one?
GK: Police superintendent McCarthy wants to do more routine traffic stops. Maybe the drunk driver wouldn’t have driven the wrong way because they know there’s enforcement everywhere. “We have a culture that says speeding is okay”. Right now, people don’t feel that way [that enforcement is everywhere].

JA: We’re not giving drivers the right signals. You haven’t done these things [pointing to infrastructure improvements on the screen, like "your speed is" signs] and now you want to jump to speed cameras. We don’t give people the feedback. We could probably get the same effect (as speed cameras) with the “your speed is” signs.
GK: People know there’s no enforcement. We want to create an environment where people think there’s SCE everywhere. Also, 50% of red light camera citations are for people who don’t live in Chicago.

Read part 3 of 3 of the speed camera hearing.

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