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Speed Cameras to Hit Chicago Streets Next Month, Contractor Says

By Mike Brockway | July 19, 2013 7:25am | Updated on July 19, 2013 8:41am
 The speed cameras have been touted as improving safety for children around schools and parks, and the city is projecting it will take in about $15 million in revenue from the cameras for the remaining months of this year.
The speed cameras have been touted as improving safety for children around schools and parks, and the city is projecting it will take in about $15 million in revenue from the cameras for the remaining months of this year.
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DNAinfo/Mike Brockway

CHICAGO — When Chicago debuts its speed camera enforcement program in the next few months, it will start out with 50 camera sites near schools and parks around the city.

But based on the total value of the contract, that number will probably grow to as many as 300.

The contract with Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions was finalized Monday and has a potential to pay ATS $67 million over five years. Based on that dollar amount and the payment terms in the contract, the city is poised to ultimately employ the maximum 300 speed camera locations allowed under the law.

While more than 1,500 "Children's Safety Zones" — intersections within one-eighth of a mile from a school or park — were identified by the city, it's only allowed to erect cameras at 20 percent of those locations.

The exact locations of the initial 50 cameras have not been finalized, the Chicago Department of Transportation said.

But ATS staff and contractors are now in Chicago and actively preparing for the camera installations, according to Charles Territo, a spokesman for ATS.

"Each of the sites require design, engineering, permitting and construction," Territo said. "The installation of the camera won't take much time at all. Within the next 30 days, we will begin putting in cameras."

The Chicago Department of Transportation recently began a three-month public awareness campaign, which ends in late September. When the first cameras go live in August, there will be a 30-day warning period in which anyone caught speeding will be mailed warnings.

The city expects the first violations to go into the mail in September. All drivers will be given an initial warning violation if they are caught on camera speeding. Fines will begin with subsequent speed violations.

Fines of $35 will be issued for drivers going 6-10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. They jump to $100 for those exceeding the speed limit by 11 mph or more. Enforcement around schools will be  from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Enforcement near parks will be from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.

Originally, Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said he hoped to start the program in the first quarter of 2013. City budget officials were counting on about $30 million in speed camera revenue to help with Chicago's budget woes, but the lengthy contract negotiations forced the city to revise those estimates to just $15 million for this year.

"A delay of a few months was well worth ensuring a robust, thorough and competitive procurement process for residents and taxpayers," city spokesman Bill McCaffrey said. "And although the  procurement process took a few months longer than expected, it was most important to complete a procurement process in which we can be confident as we enter this agreement for this next five years."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans for the speed cameras back in November 2011 as his "Children's Safety Zone Program," which he and Klein called an important tool in reducing the number of car crashes involving children. The city said of the roughly 3,000 pedestrian crashes every year, 800 involve children.

The Chicago City Council passed the speed camera enforcement ordinance in April 2012.

"Speed is one of the biggest determinants in whether an accident results in a serious injury or fatality, and reducing speeds to the posted limits will save lives," Klein said. "The Children's Safety Zone Program protects children and other pedestrians by reminding motorists to slow down and obey speed laws — especially in school and park zones."

James C. Walker, executive director of the National Motorists Association Foundation and critic of speed camera programs, said the cameras will do very little to decrease pedestrian crashes and improve traffic safety, but will do a lot of fill city coffers.

A speed camera "doesn't change the speed of traffic," Walker said. "You will get a mild decrease in the number of speeders, but it will plateau. It will certainly not decrease enough to affect the profitability of the cameras."

Walker said, based on the city's revenue estimates for just 50 cameras ticketing for just the last few months of the year, the revenue from the speed camera program could be a huge financial windfall for the city. He said the city may select camera sites with speed limits set to low based on traffic engineering standards.

"You're going to have to put them in places where you know there will be speed traps," Walker said. "That's the only way you can generate that level of revenue. Revenue is the only purpose for which [speed camera enforcement is] being done."

The city said revenue from speed camera fines will be used to pay for children's safety programs, including anti-violence programs, traffic safety improvements and hiring more crossing guards and police officers.