RIVER NORTH — Some of Chicago's yellow lights are too short, according to an administrative law judge who said he's thrown out "60 to 70 percent" of red-light camera tickets he's come across recently because of the discrepancy.
The city uses the state and federal standard of having yellow lights display for a minimum of three seconds at intersections. But an administrative law judge, who hears appeals from motorists ticketed by red-light cameras, said during a hearing this week that he has seen evidence that yellow times are slightly beneath that at some Chicago intersections with red-light cameras.
The hearing at 400 W. Superior St. lasted three hours Monday, after the city sent three lawyers and several department supervisors to defend five tickets being challenged by Barnet Fagel, a video forensic specialist who helps drivers fight red-light and speed camera tickets.
Three attorneys, a city Law Department supervisor, a public information officer and a Chicago Department of Transportation deputy director overseeing the city's traffic camera programs showed up to what normally would be a brief, attorney-free affair. Typically, drivers try to persuade administrative law judges that their ticket should be thrown out by presenting photos and other evidence.
But Monday, city attorneys Alexis Long and Tom Doran spent the first 30 minutes of the hearing challenging Fagel's expertise and his ability to testify in these matters on behalf of the motorists who were ticketed.
Mike Brockway says the city is dismissing red-light camera tickets "in droves." He explains why and how to challenge yours here:
Over the objections of the city, Fagel was allowed to present his video evidence on two of the red-light tickets that he said showed yellow light times slightly under three seconds.
Judge Robert Sussman dismissed the two red-light camera tickets and then surprised the hearing room by saying the Department of Administrative Hearings was seeing a large volume of red-light camera violations that listed a yellow light time of under three seconds.
"We're having a big problem with these yellow lights," Sussman said. "Sixty to 70 percent are coming up under three seconds."
Sussman said he has routinely thrown out any ticket for which documentation shows the yellow light lasted less than three full seconds. And he said he will continue to do so until the timing is fixed.
The city maintains that yellow-light times at red-light camera intersections are set at the federal minimum of three seconds.
Sussman said the issue with shortened yellow-light times popped up when Xerox Local Solutions took over the system from the scandal-plagued Redflex Traffic Systems.
"What concerns me is for the last six months since Xerox took over we're seeing violations with yellows under three seconds," Sussman said. "Something is going on now. Xerox is saying it's 2.9 [seconds] ... [the city] is saying they haven't changed anything."
Fagel, who said he's seen tickets like this at about 10 intersections, agreed that violation notices didn't start exhibiting these short yellow-light times until Xerox became the city's vendor.
"It corresponds to when Xerox took over," he said.
Fagel said he thinks Xerox's technology is accurately documenting the intersections — which he has been doing on his own for years. Fagel routinely goes out to take video of traffic signals at red-light camera intersections to check the timing, and says the short yellow problem goes back years.
"The problem goes back more than the last six months," said Fagel. "It's at least six years. I have proof of this. No one has visibly measured the steady yellow light timing at these intersections except for me."
After the red-light camera tickets got dismissed, the three speed camera tickets were heard.
Despite the video evidence Fagel presented and his technical challenges of the city and state's speed-camera law, the hearing officer upheld all three speeding violations.
Fagel said he believes the crew of lawyers and other officials sent to Monday's hearing is a sign that the city is concerned.
"I think the city with all the other things going on — the Redflex bribery scandal, the Tribune story, the inspector general ... the city is quite concerned."
City representatives at the hearing would not comment at its conclusion. CDOT, Xerox and the Law Department have not yet responded to requests for comment.
Here is a copy of one of the tickets challenged by Fagel Monday, which shows "Amber Time" (yellow light time) at 2.95 seconds:
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