Mayor’s comments to Chicago Tribune about speed cameras


Crossing the street shouldn’t be so daunting that you see a cross on the other side. Photo by Gabriel Michael. 

I posted Saturday a link to the Chicago Tribune’s article about their interview with Mayor Emanuel. They also published the transcript of that 90 minute talk, which I didn’t see until after publishing the post. I’m not going to stop following the speed camera issue. It’s directly related to street safety and active transportation and I’ve not found good research that shows that speed cameras don’t reduce speeding.

Notice in the third paragraph of the first excerpt that Mayor Emanuel is committing all resources (which I interpret as revenues from speeding tickets issued by the automated speed camera enforcement system) to “increasing public safety for children near schools and parks”. The act, now an Illinois law since last Monday, includes specific directives on how the money can be spent although one of them is extremely broad.

Here are some excerpts from that interview I think are relevant to the discussion of speed camera placement in Chicago. They are not the most key in whether or not we should have cameras, but comment on how the City administration is handling the public information campaign. 

RE: I could walk through what I have done on speed cameras. You have basic information that has been taken to me by both the Chicago Police Department as well as by the Chicago Public Schools, as well as stuff I have picked up and I will give you an op-ed or a letter that the priest from a school on the West Side has talked about his accidents. But basically we had a series of data that shows Chicago kids, shows that we have a problem and look, I am not looking for another hard issue. I don’t go searching out for hard issues, OK? I’ve got an inbox filled with them. But I also have a problem. Which we have a problem as a city, not me alone, which is the safety of our children. And I can sit there and say that this is too politically difficult, or I can take it out because I have done a number of things that I think are essential to protecting our children, that’s what the curfew was for. That’s what making sure that both Safe Passage as well as (garbled) were not affected in the budget for CPS as is in my own budget. We had done work on the crossing guards so that didn’t get affected, everything else got affected. So we have a long record there, and the speed cameras near our schools and near our parks came to me through CPD and CPS leadership and I also so everybody knows — I know you think there’s another motivation …

DK: I don’t think there’s another motivation. I don’t know whether there’s another motivation.

RE: You guys don’t, don’t, don’t do that. That’s not accurate. All the resources and I even put it into the legislation. All the resources will go — are dedicated toward increasing public safety for children near schools and parks. And I want to do something else. I made it very narrow, very specific to schools and parks and I made it very specific that the resources, if and when they come, will go back into achieving the same goal that they were set up to do which is the safety of our children.

One more:

DK: Do you think the taxpayers of the city of Chicago have a right to know who your top advisers are, who you seek out for advice on speed cameras?

RE: Listen, not only do they have a right to, it’s all available. That’s what you refuse to accept. It is available, because …

DK: How? How is it available? How do I know who you talked to on speed cameras. Because you said it?

And another one:

RE: And you’ve covered some of it wrong. You’ve covered some of it wrong. As recently as Monday, my good friend, you said there is no data. Get him the report that your paper refuses, you or somebody on your staff refuses to write — 60 percent fatality reduction where speed cameras have been placed in Chicago.

Now, if the report is wrong you should go analyze that report. I based it on that report. OK, now nothing. This was not a no-bid contract. This was fully public and available and I stood there and annunciated why I am doing what I’m doing. Here is what we have to do and then the City Council, which you even in your own paper acknowledge was a more thorough democratic process, evaluated, and everybody came to the conclusion, they voted on it. And we are now going to proceed. That is not a no-bid contract, that is not somebody getting awarded something, somebody taking care of somebody. I announced it in front of the City Council with a full press corps present to analyze it. And, like the wells pipe that just broke, 99 years old, that is what it will deal with.

DK: There are number of things from when you were pushing for this before the Legislature and having press conferences. For instance, you invoked the name of Diamond Robinson, the 6-year-old who died in an automobile accident on the weekend after hours and suggested these are the consequences of not having speed cameras, but what didn’t get said was that her death wouldn’t have been prevented by a speed camera. There are number of things. The city has said Chicago was the worst in the nation in terms of pedestrian deaths, when according to your own pedestrian studies is not the case. It’s one of the best of the major cities.

RE: No, wait a second, the assumption there is there is nothing else to do.

DK: No the assumption is that there was a campaign of misinformation along the line to getting this thing pushed.

RE: No, I pushed this because …

DK: I am not saying it is a bad idea, I am saying what we were told is inaccurate.

The “it’s all about revenue” issue comes up:

DK: In fairness to this office, there are a lot of people out there who believe that one of the main reasons for these speed cameras is in direct opposition to what your stated reason is, and that it’s revenue.

RE: I got that. I can’t imagine (garbled) with the help of the Chicago Tribune.

The study the mayor keeps mentioning comes up in more detail:

 RE: No, what I think is important to that … here the number of traffic fatalities within a quarter-mile of the 107 red light cameras installed between 2006 and 2009 experienced a 60 percent reduction in fatalities in a two year before and a two year after study. We will get you all this. Your paper wrote as of Monday there is no evidence and here is actually the documentation. So do I think people are allowed information? Yeah, not only that, accurate ones.

That study is based on red light cameras, not on speed cameras, as the Mayor implied several times in the interview (which I believe was him simply misspeaking). But the Chicago Tribune reported Saturday that the report could not be released: “[Emanuel’s] press secretary later said the report could not be provided to the newspaper because key portions were ‘confidential.'”

I don’t believe using a study on red light cameras is a relevant basis on which to determine whether or not speed cameras will be effective – there are other studies that specifically investigated speed cameras so the red light camera research is not useful. For those interested, the City maintains a webpage about red light camera enforcement.

There’s more on speed cameras, but those parts not as important as the excerpts above. Continue reading the transcript. The Beachwood Reporter wrote about this interview yesterday.

DK is Chicago Tribune reporter David Kidwell. RE is Rahm Emanuel.

10 thoughts on “Mayor’s comments to Chicago Tribune about speed cameras”

  1. Still not about the money, right?  I can only hope the city council comes to it’s senses and does not pass this.

      1. It’s about the money in the sense that Chicago is suffering a structural budget deficit.  So if you want to penalize motorists engaging in behavior which has been correlated with pedestrian injuries and deaths without either raising taxes or cutting services elsewhere, options are limited.  Chicago can’t afford more police to ticket motorists.  So, this is what is on the table a stopgap solution.

        What is of course missing from these discussions is whether Rahm has seriously looked at other “living within our means” budgeting alternatives.  And here it comes…

        TIFs.  They have been reducing the City’s revenue stream for police, teachers, etc. for decades, and this is a major reason why we are in this hole.   Last I read TIFs diverted some $500m a year from the City’s general operating budget.  And there is a massive surplus. 

        All that said, I don’t find these cameras particularly onerous.  The speed limit on residential streets is too fast anyway IMO.  If you’re going 35 mph+ on a side street, you should slow down, period.

      2.  Money is fungible. You have to look at what the spending is on programs within a 1/4 miles of schools and parks before speed camera revenue and after speed camera revenue. If you add $20M to the capital budget of CPS for “safety” from speed cameras but subtract $20M from the baseline budget, you’ve freed up $20M for other priorities.

  2. I’ve been reading this interview transcript online this morning.  I’m at page 7, and I’m about to give up, because my brain hurts from trying to sort through his incoherent doublespeak.  I’d love it if he’d give an actual answer to even one question instead of darting around the issue like a squirrel on meth.

  3. “But the Chicago Tribune reported Saturday that the report could not be
    released: “[Emanuel’s] press secretary later said the report could not
    be provided to the newspaper because key portions were ‘confidential.’””

    There is where the kernel of truth is.  If it weren’t it would be available to read.

  4. “and I’ve not found good research that shows that speed cameras don’t reduce speeding.”
    There is plenty of it out there, including plenty of cities who have ENDED their speed camera programs after failing to see improvements in safety. In order to even say that speeding is a problem you have to establish that the current limits are appropriate and conduct comprehensive traffic engineering studies. These were not done. You can’t fix a safety problem until you identify the problem .One recent CT article demonstrated that the camera locations would only address a very small portion of the crashes from the previous year. There is a reason why they are hiding critical government documents which they are required to release under FOIA. This is all about the money and nothing else.

  5. I agree that it makes little sense to use red light cameras as a way of judging the effectiveness of speed cameras.  There are plenty of studies of speed cameras elsewhere that could be used.  It’s been several years since I looked into speed cameras, but when I researched them, they were very effective.

    1. All signs point to “yes, speed cameras are effective”, but so many other signs also point to “Chicago and Illinois most corrupted places in the country”. 

      I want other speed reduction strategies tried first. 

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