CHICAGO — The city got a taste of how prolific its new speed cameras could be, revealing Friday that 200,000 speeders were nabbed in a 40-day warning period, five times more than the speed camera vendor had ever seen from a set of cameras.
The warning period comes to an end Wednesday near Gompers Park on the North Side. Live tickets will be issued Wednesday to drivers caught going more than 11 mph over the limit. Those tickets will cost lead-footed drivers $100.
But despite have the legal ability to do so, the city will indefinitely delay issuing $35 fines to drivers who are caught going 6-9 mph over the limit. Drivers going 10 mph over will still face the $35 fine. The threshold for the $35 fine will be incrementally lowered over time according to CDOT's Scott Kubly. But he couldn't give a firm date when fines will be attached to the lower speeds.
"Basically, we wanted to focus on the outset on the most egregious speeders," explained Kubly.
The law requires warnings to be issued to drivers for 30 days after a speed camera is installed. Fines could technically start on the 31st day, but last week the city announced it will delay all fines for two to three weeks to ensure everyone issued a warning has ample time to receive it.
The cameras adjacent to Gompers Park, at 4100 W. Foster Ave. and 5100 N. Pulaski Road, were the city’s first two speed-enforcement cameras when they were installed back in August.
The city released data showing the cameras caught 200,000 drivers going over the speed limit during the first 40 days the cameras were operational.
The city said more than 200 motorists were caught going more than 60 mph — twice the speed limit — another 10 drivers were captured going more than 80, and one was caught doing a whopping 90 mph.
“Despite additional signage to alert drivers to the automated speed enforcement cameras, the large amount of warnings issued ... indicates that there is a chronic and serious problem with speeding in Chicago,” said Gabe Klein, commissioner of the city's Transportation Department. “We need to change the culture of speeding in Chicago in order to increase the safety around our parks and schools.”
According to American Traffic Solutions, the city's speed camera vendor, the cameras at Gompers Park captured nearly five times as many speeding incidents per day as any other camera ever deployed in the history of the company.
In fact, the nine operational speed cameras in Chicago saw enough daily speeding incidents to equal 15 percent of the company's total daily ticket volume nationally. The company operates more than 3,200 automated traffic enforcement cameras in the United States.
On the surface, the numbers point to a tremendous possible revenue source for the cash-strapped city. If the speeding infractions caught in the first few weeks had fines attached, millions of dollars would have been generated.
But the city said it believes the speed cameras already are changing driver behavior, as infractions fell nearly 50 percent between the first day warnings were issued and two weeks after the warnings started, according to the city.
“We expect to reduce the amount of speeding substantially through enforcement, but we first warn motorists of their excessive speeds,” Klein said.
To further reduce speeding, the city has bought 20 speed displays that tell drivers how fast they're going.
City spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the city has placed one of the displays near Gompers Park ahead of the speed camera on Foster Avenue —but not on Pulaski Road— to test how the displays work to reduce speeding.
James Walker, executive director of the National Motorists Association, said the number of violations during the warning period shows speed limits are too low.
"That's a massive number," said Walker. "But I would say it's absolute proof that speed limits are set incorrectly on the main roads in Chicago. You cannot have this extremely high level of violations where the speed limit is set for maximum safety and smooth traffic flow."
Walker said that Chicago's one-size-fits-all speed limit policy is not smart. Speed limits should be set using proper traffic engineering practices that also reflect the safest speed limit, he said. In some cases, setting nominally higher speed limits improves traffic safety, he said.
The city plans to install cameras at 50 sites near parks and schools by year's end. The cameras near schools will enforce the speed limit between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays, while cameras near parks will enforce the speed limit from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.
Cameras installed at McKinley, Marquette and Garfield Parks are slated to begin issuing tickets the week of Oct. 21. Cameras near Douglas, Legion, Washington, Humboldt and Major Taylor parks, and Prosser Vocational High School, are still issuing warnings.
Revenue from speed cameras will be used to fund after-school programs, anti-violence and jobs programs; pay for crossing guards and police officers around schools; and fund infrastructure improvements such as signs and crosswalk markings, the city said.