Photo of a speed hump in Logan Square from the point of view of someone bicycling by Andrew Ciscel.
The following is a conversation between co-writer John Greenfield and myself and was derived from an email chain between him and me on Sunday.
By reading all my articles about speed cameras, you may find yourself confused on my position. I’ve figured it out. I want city council to not pass the ordinance. I think the surveillance and revenue aspects leave too much room for abuse and I believe that we should pursue human-scale strategies to reduce speed and change our culture that accepts speeding and the injuries and fatalities it leads to. -Steven
What is the potential for abuse? Is this just anti-Big Brother paranoia? It’s true that the Tribune reported that a longtime Emanuel campaign contributor is a consultant to a traffic camera manufacturer. But I still don’t really see a downside. I’m not concerned about the surveillance aspect.
The cameras can be used for non-speeding and non-traffic related monitoring and crime investigations. (New Scotland Yard admitted that even with the UK’s extensive CCTV coverage, it had little effect on preventing or even solving crimes.) I want the city to implement different strategies, like using more police officers to pull over drivers and issue citations and a lesson on the impact of speed in crashes (which at $200 are a lot more than the $35 or $100 tickets issued by speed cameras).
I suspect that a lot of the opposition to the cameras is coming from people who are afraid they’ll be unfairly ticketed. But the cameras aren’t going to ticket people who don’t speed. They’ll discourage people from speeding and thhey’ll save lives.
I agree that speed cameras will discourage speeding and will save lives (and limbs). But they lack a personal connection that may be key to changing behavior. The speed cameras can’t tell the driver that they were speeding until weeks later when the driver receives a citation. And the opportunity for the driver to associate their speeding with that place – the driver might not speed everywhere, but only in those places where it seems okay, like wide streets – is lost. These moments, when the police pull over speeders, would be a great time for them to become an arm of a major, widespread public education campaign.
They’ll probably pay for themselves (so it’s not like they’re going to take money away from other traffic calming infrastructure or enforcement strategies) and maybe actually raise revenue for the city. It seems like a win-win.
I, too, believe the speed cameras will pay for themselves, and then some. But I’m also concerned that the revenue raised won’t go to the best projects. The state statute governing our speed camera implementation is quite vague. I want more attention paid to the design and engineering of our streets, which fail to discourage speeding because of their widths. Speed camera revenue could help us fix this, as long as the City Council doesn’t direct it to pay for a hole in a bridge far away from the nearest street with a speeding problem.
I really haven’t studied the issue nearly as much as you, and this is basically my knee-jerk reaction. But assuming that the cameras do raise revenue, they’re actually less expensive than other types of traffic calming – they have a negative cost, i.e. a profit.
The profit aspect is a good side effect (as long as the City Council spends it wisely), and as Commissioner Gabe Klein said, ideally the system would generate no profits, meaning no one was speeding (but that probably wouldn’t happen). When it comes down to it, I support the use of speed cameras, but the implementation plan makes me uneasy.
Klein talked about a toolbox, filled with tools and strategies to lower speeding and increase street safety. But the toolbox should be created and implemented regardless of the passing or failure to pass of the “Establishment of Children’s Safety Zones” ordinance.
I am 100% behind Klein when he says, “we have a culture in this country, and in Chicago, that, it’s sort of okay to speed. We all do it a bit. But shoplifting, we don’t have a permissible amount of shoplifting, for instance. I think we have some cultural values that need to change.” (See a video of Klein speaking this; you can see me taking notes at 3:29.)
We disagree a bit, though, when he says: “And I think, no way better [to change cultural values] than with technology when our resources are constrained.” Technology doesn’t have to mean high-tech. There’s plenty of low-tech traffic calming.
Our resources have always been and always will be constrained. We have to find the best ways to deal with that. I believe there are better ways to reduce injuries and fatalities caused by speeding drivers than a surveillance system. Additionally, there is no guarantee to taxpayers and to speed limit violators that the proceeds would go to the best investments (as a community we’d have to figure out what constitutes the “best investment”). The City Council would be in charge of the proceeds and could spend them on a variety of things (allowed by broad definitions in the state statute), not all of which would be investments that further increase safety in our transportation system.
I would like to see changes in the ordinance that eliminate the cameras’ ability to surveil when the speed enforcement time is inactive, and restrict expenditures of speed camera revenue to infrastructure changes that reduce speeding, crashes, and injuries.
Speaking of our culture where it’s okay to speed, Active Transportation Alliance published a video yesterday featuring a staff member measuring the speeds of passing cars on Humboldt Drive at Cortez Drive in Humboldt Park with a radar gun.
Grid Chicago is a blog about sustainable transportation matters, projects and culture in Chicago and Illinois, by John Greenfield and Steven Vance since June 2011.
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