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Governor Quinn signed legislation, public act SB965, on Monday morning to allow any municipality in Illinois with greater than 1 million inhabitants to construct and operate an “automated speed enforcement system”. There’s already a lot of misinformation and I intend to correct the record. I also present information gathered from multiple research studies on the impacts of speed cameras.
A car crash on North Avenue at Kedzie Avenue, in the new safety zone around Humboldt Park. There’s not a red light camera here but there could be a speed camera in the near future. From 2005-2010, there have been 22 injuries to pedestrians and pedalcyclists at this intersection, inflicted in automobile crashes.
The law is an amendment to the red light camera law. It is not the first time speed cameras have been allowed in Illinois. In 2004, Illinois passed the Automated Traffic Control Systems in Highway Construction or Maintenance Zones Act (view it), enabling speed cameras to be used in work zones on highways. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Illinois State Police (ISP) quickly deployed mobile speed camera vans – I discuss the study of this pilot project in the section, “Do they really make a difference?”.
What is a speed enforcement system?
A speed enforcement system uses fixed and mobile cameras to detect the speed of motor vehicles – most use RADAR – and then issues a citation. The citation is issued to the registered owner of the vehicle and not the person driving it at the time. The owner will have an opportunity to prove that they were not driving the car at the time. The citation is not a moving violation, so therefore would not count against a driver when it comes to calculating insurance, or a possible license suspension.
Where will this system go?
Cameras can only be used in “safety zones”, which are buffers (1/8th mile wide, or 660 feet) around schools and parks. The area starts at the property line of any public or private elementary or secondary school or at the property line of school district land or building that is used for educational purposes (and excludes headquarters and administration buildings). For parks, it starts at the property line of any land or building used for recreation owned by the Chicago Park District. In addition, if any portion of a roadway falls in this buffer, then the entire roadway, up to the far end of the nearest intersections, is included in the safety zone. No part of Lake Shore Drive, Dan Ryan, Kennedy, or Eisenhower expressways, or the Skyway, are included in a safety zone.
When will the system be operational?
There are two answers: A speed camera enforcement system cannot turn on until July 1, 2012. Signage indicating that a particular camera will enforce speed must be posted on the roadway at least 30 days before it starts issuing citations. The signage must also indicate the speed limit; a list of the speed camera locations must be posted online (the city already lists the red light cameras on its website).
The speed cameras in safety zones around schools can only operate on school days, beginning no earlier than 6 AM, and ending no later than 10 PM. The speed cameras in safety zones around parks and park district facilities can operate any day, but only on days the park or facility is open, beginning no earlier than one hour before it opens (parks open at 6 AM; facility hours vary) and one hour after it closes (parks close at 11 PM; facility hours vary).
What are the fines like?
Fines are $50 if you speed 6 to 10 MPH over the speed limit (which is 20 MPH on many streets around schools at certain times of day), and $100 if you speed 11 or more MPH over the speed limit.
The speed limit in Chicago is 30 MPH unless otherwise noted. There are many streets that have 25 MPH speed limits (much of Milwaukee Avenue is this speed, but not all parts of Milwaukee Avenue are in a safety zone) and at least one street has a 20 MPH segment: Dearborn Street starting at Hubbard Street (but only parts of Dearborn Street near Chicago Avenue are in a safety zone). I must note that the design of a street will have more influence over the practiced driving speed than any sign or law regarding speed – Bike Walk Lincoln Park discussed this. If you want to slow traffic, narrow the road and make it run in two directions. Dearborn Street is three lanes, all going northbound.
If there was a speed camera on Dearborn Street north of Hubbard Street, the camera would probably issue citations to 100% of automobile drivers.
How will the incoming revenue be spent?
The legislation requires that it only be spent on the following uses:
- “public safety initiatives to ensure safe passage around schools, and to provide police protection and surveillance around schools and parks”
- “initiatives to improve pedestrian and traffic safety”
- “construction and maintenance of infrastructure within the municipality, including but not limited to roads and bridges”
The third is the least restrictive directive, essentially saying money could be spent on sewers or sidewalk benches, and other things not related to constructing a safe walking environment.
I asked a spokesperson in the mayor’s office to respond to this, but she replied saying that the information on how the City intended to spend the money was not available because it was just signed into law (at the State level), adding, “Safety is our primary concern and all we are asking people to do is obey the law. Ideally, we would not have to issue a single ticket, and kids would be safe going to and from school”.
This is important, because speed correlates with the survival rate of a pedestrian involved in an automobile crash. If a pedestrian is hit by a person driving a car at 30 MPH, there is an 80% survival rate (according to New York City crash data; New York City has a lower crash, injury, and fatality rate than Chicago). If a pedestrian is hit by a person driving a car at 40 MPH (10 more miles per hour, or a 33% increase in speed), there is a 30% survival rate (or an increase of 250% in the fatality rate). Read more about this simple fact of physics.
I asked Alderman Moreno about this topic over Twitter, to which he publicly replied: “@stevevance if it is proven to me that it increases safety for our children then I will support it. If not, I will not.”
Do they really make a difference?
There have been reductions in the number of people speeding, and the number of injuries and fatalities, in locations where speed cameras are installed and operated. In my assessment of multiple studies, it seems that speed cameras are a main cause of these reductions. The effect varies in each region studied, though.
A Tribune analysis of federal data on crashes showed that Emanuel’s proposal would have a limited impact on reducing fatalities. Of the 251 pedestrian deaths in the city between 2005 and 2009, fewer than half occurred in the “safety zones” and less than one-quarter of those involved speeding. Chicago Tribune
I have not repeated this research, but I do have the data available to me (which I can pass along to interested readers). The Chicago Tribune eventually came out in support of speed cameras. I think their study discounts the focus on reducing injuries as well as fatalities.
I looked for academic and empirical research on this topic. I found a lot of information about red light cameras at intersections, but very little about speed cameras. Two of the studies I found were inaccessible to me because I didn’t have the right credentials, or $25, to download them.*
Study 1 – Illinois highway work zones pilot project
Speed camera enforcement was tested on I-64 in 2006, and I-55 in 2007. The article about the study is very easy to read. It opens succinctly describing the problem, that the percentage of work zone-related fatalities in Illinois is higher than the national average and that speeding is a major contributor to the frequency and severity of crashes in the work zone. The study looked at the effects of speed camera enforcement on reducing speeds in work zones “and compared the results with those of traditional enforcement approaches, such as police presence with and without patrol lights, speed display trailer, and a combination of police presence and a speed display trailer”. The study concluded that speed camera enforcement influenced drivers to reduce their speed. The percentage of speeding drivers, in one observed scenario, reduced from 93 percent to 45 percent. It does not seem the study looked at the levels of injuries or fatalities. Read the Illinois study
Study 2 – Royal Automobile Club (RAC) Foundation in the UK, conducted by University College London
This study (RAC) was based heavily on a four-year evaluation report of speed cameras around the UK and concluded that “speed cameras create a substantial improvement in compliance with speed limits and states that collisions and casualties decreased substantially at the more than 4,000 sites covered by the four-year evaluation”. It did not say that the speed cameras caused the decrease in crashes and injuries by acknowledging: “[It] is uncertain as to how much of the casualty [injuries + fatalities] reduction at camera sites was due to the cameras”.
The study was refuted by the Association of British Drivers (ABD) in their review of it. They pointed out the flaws in the RAC study and suggested ways a study of speed enforcement cameras could be better. But the ABD is not doubting that speed cameras have an effect on lowering practiced speeds. Read an evaluation of these two positions on the topic in Traffic Technology International, pages 16-22.
Washington, D.C. – “Enforcement zones were selected by the police department based on incidence of speeding-related fatalities, their proximity to school zones and other places where children are present, and known sites of chronic speeding”. The sites were compared to equivalent sites in nearby Baltimore, Maryland, which did not have speed cameras anywhere. One of the results of the study: “The proportion of vehicles at Washington sites exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 MPH declined by a statistically significant 82 precent compared with the Baltimore sites”.
England, Wales, Scotland – “In the first two years of operations, the following results have been achieved: (1) Speed is down. Based on a large number of speed surveys vehicle speeds have dropped following the introduction of both fixed site and mobile speed cameras. The reduction in speed has been greatest in urban areas. (2) Casualties are down. Where cameras were introduced, there has been a statistically significant reduction in casualties. The greatest reduction has been in killed and serious casualties. ”
Norway – “The results of a before-and-after study of the effects of automatic speed enforcement on accidents are reported in this paper. A statistically significant reduction of 20 percent in the number of injury accidents was found. The number of property-damage-only accidents was reduced by 12 percent.” Download the study.
It appears that most studies conclude that speed camera enforcement reduces the frequency of speeding and the “speed limit overage” (the amount the speed limit is exceeded). They then reference other research that shows lower speed driving reduces the frequency and severity of automobile crashes.
The legislation requires that an evaluation of the Chicago speed camera enforcement system be conducted “within a reasonable period following the installation of the automated traffic law enforcement system”. It will be up to residents and aldermen to hold the city accountable to this provision.
Who else uses speed cameras?
Speed camera enforcement is used in 93 communities in 2011, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). They are used, or have been used, in San Jose and National City, California; Prince George’s County, Maryland; Montgomery, Alabama; Washington, D.C.; and Renton and Lake Forest Park, Washington. People prefer speed cameras first in school zones, and next in work zones. “What might surprise people is that four out of every five people killed in workzones [sic] are drivers or vehicle occupants – not workers. Cameras are helping to protect drivers from themselves.” That’s Sherri Teille, vice president of marketing at American Traffic Solutions, speaking in the Traffic Technology International article.
Speed camera enforcement systems are used internationally: In Norway since 1988, in the UK since the 1980s, and Australia since the 1980s, among other places.
What will happen next?
The Expired Meter reports that, based on data provided by the Chicago Department of Transportation, 79 of the city’s 189 red light cameras are in safety zones. These cameras can be easily upgraded to monitor vehicle speeds and issue citations. The city will also be able to install any additional fixed and mobile speed cameras around the city in one of the 717 safety zones. The number of safety zones comes from data analyzed by an unknown commenter on The Expired Commenter that I haven’t yet verified for correctness (view their map here). In my short review of the data, it is missing a key piece of information: the park, park district facility, or school that the safety zone surrounds.
The City Council may consider this issue next Wednesday, February 15, 2012. I’m not aware of an ordinance or any other materials, including proposals, for aldermen to review.
Who will operate the cameras?
There are several companies. Redflex Traffic Systems already operates the city’s red light cameras. Redspeed is located in Illinois and operates many nearby communities’ red light camera systems (remember that only cities with more than 1 million residents can operate a speed camera enforcement system – only Chicago meets that).
Concerns about the system
Other options – Infrastructure redesign
Are there other ways speeding can be reduced? There are! We can use infrastructural traffic calming devices: speed humps, raised crosswalks, narrowed roadways, curb extensions, etc.
“Before pursuing a camera system contract, local governments should heed the advice of the Federal Highway Administration and first investigate traffic engineering solutions for problem intersections or roadways. If officials decide that private enforcement systems are appropriate, they should avoid deals that constrain future decisions related to protecting safety. Privatized traffic law enforcement should be used solely as a tool for enhancing traffic safety—not as a cash cow for municipalities or private firms.” – U.S. PIRG report on privatizing traffic law enforcement
While the Chicago Department of Transportation has completed projects including traffic calming elements, I don’t believe they appear systematically, or as part of a holistic and geographically broad effort to redesign our street network to better match the City’s stated goals of reducing crashes and injuries.
Other options – Hire people to do this job
Hiring people to enforce traffic laws should be considered. However, it seems to have already been considered and rejected. A commenter in the Second City Cop blog mentioned that the speeding enforcement efforts of the Chicago Police Department were abandoned:
The Traffic Section’s roving unit of LIDAR cars, which were implemented in 2006 to curtail speeding and directly respond to citizen and district commanders’ requests, was disbanded as of today [January 8, 2012]. The reason? Lack of personnel. They started out with 25 officers and 3 sergeants and ended 2011 with only 8 POs and 1 sgt. No more speed missions in the districts. The only place traffic officers will be running RADAR or LIDAR now is on Lake Shore Dr and the Skyway. The districts will be on their own for traffic enforcement from now on. But don’t worry. Crime is down and we’re fully staffed.
The cameras are able to record video. This is Chicago, the land of 1,001 cameras in the Loop, and hundreds more at CTA stations and at intersections; many are privately owned and linked to a City and FBI facility. Additionally, camera operators have access to the Secretary of State’s Office database of licensed drivers, as well as the databases in Departments of Motor Vehicles in other states. How well do these offices, and the camera operators, protect this information?
But the electronic control of vehicles is where we’re heading, one where a #robotcar means that a robot is actually driving and not a poorly educated, wrongly driving person. As one of my friends put it, “driving however you want may be freedom for the driver, but it collectively puts us all at risk“. The economic and safety benefits of a speed camera enforcement system may outweigh the privacy implications: benefits realized in costs not spent on injuries and crashes, and how those who speed will be funding safety infrastructure upgrades (assuming that speed camera revenues don’t become a “slush fund” like TIF money has been).
“Greed cameras” – revenue grab
The legislation attempts to prevent this by barring tying operation compensation to system performance. The operator cannot receive compensation for operating the system based on the amount of revenue generated or citations issued. This may discourage many of the practices the U.S. PIRG report discusses that favor the operator and not the city or its citizens.
I think Mayor Emanuel’s intentions are in the right place. I believe that speed cameras in Chicago will be able to reduce injuries and crashes near where they are located. In my conversations and interview with transportation commissioner Gabe Klein (for a different article), I believe that the two want to increase safety in Chicago. In every thing they’ve done so far, I believe that this effort will have the highest effect.
Discussions on the web
These are discussions I’m participating in. Have you seen others?
*This is a major criticism I have of academic and empirical research: Politicians, citizens, transportation planners, etc. should be basing policy decisions on the best known information, on best practices. But the information, the research, often funded by taxpayers, is locked up and only available to those at universities or with expensive subscriptions.
Photo by Katherine of Chicago. Updated February 9, 2012, to add links to other discussions around the web (scroll to the end). Also read my companion post, Police traffic enforcement is not a recoupable cost.