No right on red

New red light cameras planned for 42nd Ward intersections

By B. David Zarley | Staff Writer

November 15, 2017

By the end of the year, three new red light cameras are slated to be placed at the intersections of Michigan Ave. and Ontario St., Michigan Ave. and Jackson Blvd., and Lake and Wacker Streets, barring objections by 42nd Ward residents. The metrics for selecting the new corners were provided by an Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) commissioned study by the Northwestern University Transportation Center to reevaluate the city’s controversial camera program.

An intersection’s crash numbers are entered into the Transportation Center’s template and receive a score, explained Abraham Emmanuel, CDOT’s deputy commissioner for traffic safety. “We can take any intersection in the city, plug that in and get the score,” Emmanuel said. While the Northwestern study is being used to help select camera placements, Emmanuel made it clear that it is not the only factor—human judgement and community input matter as well.

At a public meeting in October, Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras and a small contingent of envoys from Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) met in the Chicago Cultural Center’s Millennium Park and discussed placement of red-light cameras.

For the most part, the meeting seemed a formality and show of strength; most of the speaking was done by the abolitionists in their bright, logo-bearing sweatshirts and six CDOT posters. “We are here as an advocacy group that [has] been advocating for the abolition of photo enforcement—or red-light cameras, speed cameras—in the city of Chicago for over five years,” said Mark Wallace, executive director of Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras and host of The People’s Show on WVON. “There’s no questions that it’s about revenue [more] than it is about traffic safety.”

CDOT Deputy Commissioner for Traffic Safety Abraham Emmanuel (foreground left) at the October 16 meeting; Mark Wallace, executive director of Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras can be seen in a black vest and white shirt in the background. Photo by B. David Zarley

Wallace cited a study done by Texas A&M’s Zachry Department of Civil Engineering, published by the Tribune in 2014, that found the cameras “do not reduce injury-related crashes overall.” The study also found minor reductions in right-angle crashes—around 15 percent—and a 22 percent increase in rear-end crashes, perhaps caused by motorist’s slamming of the brakes or becoming yellow-shy at the idea of getting snapped for a ticket.

From its outset, Chicago’s red-light camera program has been rife with controversy. Cameras were installed in the midst of a bribery scandal and issued tickets for intersections where the yellow-light times were below federal minimum. The cameras also failed to send out second notifications before raising fines, leading to a class-action lawsuit that saw the city settling for millions. Since then, the second notification was written out of the ordinance.

In an effort to help build public support for the program and make the ordinance more fair, the city has increased the grace period—during which a light can be red and a car not be photographed running it—to 0.3 seconds. Additionally, cameras that issued tickets but did not see a markedreduction in crashes are being removed.

“They generate tickets, but that’s not a concern of ours,” said Mike Claffey, directorof public affairs at CDOT. “Our concern is based purely on traffic safety.”

The Northwestern Study, completed in early 2017, found that the cameras led to a 10 percent overall reduction of crashes and a 19 percent reduction in more dangerous crashes. The study also found the program causes a “spillover” effect, making intersections safer even without cameras.

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