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Chicagoans Fight Back Against Red-Light and Speed Cameras

By Mike Brockway | January 15, 2013 6:57am | Updated on January 15, 2013 11:09am
 A pair of signs warn drivers of red-light camera enforcement along Cicero Avenue.
A pair of signs warn drivers of red-light camera enforcement along Cicero Avenue.
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CHICAGO — Stephen Hinton doesn't like Chicago's red-light cameras.

Over the years, like hundreds of thousands of other drivers, the 49-year-old Chatham resident has been slapped with $100 tickets after being photographed entering an intersection while the traffic light was red.

But Hinton said it was the third ticket he received about a month ago, at 95th Street and Stony Island Avenue, that inspired him to start an online petition to rid Chicago of the cameras.

"I see the glaring disservice the red-light cameras do to the citizens of Chicago," Hinton said of the cameras, which are triggered if even a small part of the vehicle enters the intersection after the light has turned red.

"It's unfairly taking advantage of the citizens of Chicago."

Because drivers can only fight their tickets in person Monday through Friday, Hinton said it's difficult for typical working Chicagoans to take time away from their jobs to try to contest these violations.

He argues that the difficulty in challenging these tickets forces drivers to pay the fines before the penalties double to $200, which occurs if they fail to pay 21 days after the violation is issued.

Chicago is the red-light camera capital of the U.S., with 383 cameras shooting video and still photographs at 190 intersections around the city, research shows. The fines amount to more than $60 million in a typical year.

"It's just an added tax — this is another way to generate revenue," Hinton said. "What was it? $61 million in 2010? It's unreal for them to present it as a safety measure and reap the benefits of that revenue."

But Hinton is not the only one working to rid the city of automated traffic-camera enforcement.

As Chicago plans to bring speed cameras to city streets in 2013, the Cook County Campaign for Liberty is planning the start of a long-term campaign against both speed and red-light cameras.

"Unsafe, unwanted and unconstitutional is our theme for 2013," said the Scott Davis of the Campaign for Liberty. "There was no public outcry for speed cameras. There's no real proof it will make thing safer."

Davis, a Lakeview resident, agrees with Hinton on the money aspect of traffic-enforcement cameras.

"It's obviously just another money grab, a tax on people who drive," Davis said. "They say it's about safety, but it's actually a revenue maneuver and against our civil liberties."

Campaign for Liberty had some success fighting the expansion of red-light camera enforcement in Cook County back in 2010, when County Board members voted to install cameras on county roads.

Davis helped spearhead the group's efforts against the devices, conducting a series of protests at intersections with red-light cameras within Cook County, both inside and outside Chicago. The group passed out thousands of fliers targeting County Board members in an election year.

Ultimately, complaints from constituents, combined with a backlash from many of the municipalities that didn't want red light cameras installed within their town limits, forced the board to back off its plans.

But this time around, Davis said he's taking a more long-term approach.

"You can't just do a few protests," Davis explained. "You need a sustained campaign to have success. We plan on keeping a scorecard on political officials and expose them if they make bad votes, or reward them with support and awards if they vote the right way. We believe it's a smarter way to do activism on this issue."

To defeat speed cameras, Davis said Campaign for Liberty will be targeting the "weakest" aldermen and distributing literature and prepaid postcards in their wards over the next two years leading up to city elections in 2015.

"This is going to have to be a two- to three-year campaign, a sustained campaign," he said.

Hinton's goal is to present a petition to Mayor Rahm Emanuel with 10,000 signatures of people who want the red-light cameras removed.

Hinton pointed to a Facebook page with 10,000 likes opposed to the city's red-light cameras and believes the signatures are doable.

"This idea of getting 10,000 signatures is not that far-fetched," Hinton said. "It's time to stand up and say 'enough is enough.'"