CHICAGO — As the city installed its first speed cameras on the North Side Monday, residents weighed in on whether the cameras are needed to keep kids safe and curb speeding or if the city his just levying another tax on motorists.
As traffic sped down Humboldt Drive in the center of the park Monday, drivers and pedestrians both agreed on the need for safety in the popular area, even as drivers said they were leery of the potential cost to them of speed cameras being installed there.
"I'm not happy about it," said Silvia Rapazz of Garfield Ridge, as she sat in a parking lot outside the Humboldt Park field house while running errands with her daughter Monday morning. "I understand the city needs money, but it just seems they're nickel-and-diming us and getting money from us every which way."
Despite her reluctance, Rapazz acknowledged that exiting the park onto Humboldt Drive is difficult due to speeding traffic.
There's the rub. Many agree on the need for pedestrian safety, especially in an area like Humboldt Park, where southbound traffic gets a running start on Humboldt Boulevard and typically breezes through the park, past signs demanding that cars stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk.
Yet they also see the speed cameras, which will cite drivers for a $35 fine for going 6 to 10 miles an hour over the posted speed limit and $100 for more than 10 miles over, as another city cash grab.
Dorian Wolak, loading his dog, Neko, into the car after a morning walk in the park, said he likes the stiff fines.
"If you're doing 10 miles over the speed limit, and there's kids around, maybe you should get hit with $100," he said.
"At the same time, I question the motivations of Rahm Emanuel as mayor and the city at large," he added. "The whole revenue thing, the parking meters, all that fun stuff, I have a bad taste in my mouth. I voted for Rahm, and I'll never do it again."
Speed cameras are being installed at four city locations near parks this week, with eight near both parks and schools to follow next month, including a set at 1440 N. Humboldt Drive. Although the initiative is called the "Children's Safety Zone Program" by the Mayor's Office and the Chicago Department of Transportation, Emanuel initially budgeted it for $30 million in revenue this year, even as the speed cameras were being phased in.
A two-month test program last December and January found 18 percent of all traffic exceeding the 20-mph speed limit outside Dulles Elementary School, 6300 S. King Drive, and 7 percent exceeding the 30-mph limit at Warren Park, 6500 N. Western Ave., on the Far North Side, with a top speed of 60 miles an hour. Two other test locations, on the near Southwest and Northwest sides, turned up 60-mph and 30-mph violations, respectively.
With Chicago capable of installing as many as 300 speed cameras citywide near parks and schools, there's potential to rake in not just tens of millions, but hundreds of millions of dollars unless city drivers alter their driving habits. Drivers have slowed down to avoid fines from red-light cameras.
For the first 30 days, the cameras will issue only warnings, and a driver will also receive a warning for her first offense. After that, however, it's pay or face the Denver boot.
Despite the potential revenue, the city maintains that safety is its top priority.
"These pilot tests confirm that speeding is a problem that puts children in danger. Speed is also one of the biggest determinants in whether an accident results in a serious injury or fatality, and reducing speeds to the posted limits will reduce injuries and save lives," said Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein. "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."
Speed cameras near parks will enforce a 30-mph speed limit from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. Those in school zones will enforce a 20-mph limit from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, a 30-mph limit until 7 p.m.
Next month, the cameras will go up near the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, 3857 W. 111th St., in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood.
"There's a lot of traffic out there, because 111th Street is the main thoroughfare leading to the expressway and Cicero," said Donna Whisenton, a security guard at the school. She said, to her knowledge, there have been no severe accidents at the school in recent years.
Some residents support the cameras outside a school.
"If you're gonna be speeding, and you're by a school, you shouldn't be speeding in the first place," said John McFee of Chicago Ridge. "If you're gonna be dumb enough to be speeding in front of a school, you deserve the fine."
"I don't mind them if they work properly," said Diogenes Diaz of Mount Greenwood. "In my experience, they just don't."
He said many in the neighborhood were opposed to the cameras.
Ciara Washington, a Richard J. Daley College student who lives in Alsip, said, "Personally, I think a lot of people are just going to ignore them," especially non-Chicagoans skirting the city limits.
The cameras in the school zone also will need to show a child present in the area to enforce the 20-mph limit, which raised other concerns about accuracy and legitimacy.
"My fear is the fact that they may not work properly," Wolak said. "I've been the victim of fraudulent parking tickets before, and I understand the city needs revenue.
"But at the same time, if you're gonna start enforcing the speed limit, I think that there should be human checks and balances on that," he added. "I don't think a camera or any kind of robotic device is capable of being 100 percent accurate."
Others say the need for pedestrian safety trumps those worries.
"I think it's a good thing, especially with all the speeding," said Azra Hodzic, of Humboldt Park, as she walked four children from her day care through the park.
"Yes, yes, definitely yes," said Angel Louis Rivera, a Humboldt Park angler who fishes in the lagoon almost every day during the summer. "It's a good thing. A lot of people [are] speeding." He added the cameras should enforce bicycle violations as well.
"I'm in favor," said David Gonzalez of Humboldt Park. "Sometimes they don't even stop for those signs" demanding a halt for pedestrians in the crosswalk. "Which they're supposed to, especially in rush hour."
"That's the problem," added Bam-Bam Rosario, of Bucktown, pointing to the crosswalk signs. "That's why they put them there, because no one pays attention. ... They really don't stop unless they have to."
He said the area sees abundant foot traffic from children and families going to the inland beach at the park, and the speed cameras trained on cars can only serve to "slow them down."
Rosario said the $100 fine for driving more than 10 miles over the speed limit was justified, adding, "Maybe they'll pay attention."