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Rahm, Aldermen Push Reforms to Red-Light Cameras

By Ted Cox | May 5, 2015 5:10pm
 A sign warns drivers of the red light camera at the intersection of Irving Park Rd. and Kedzie.
A sign warns drivers of the red light camera at the intersection of Irving Park Rd. and Kedzie.
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The Expired Meter.com

CITY HALL — The Emanuel administration is pushing ahead with promised reforms to red-light cameras.

The City Council's Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety met Tuesday to take up an ordinance amendment that would give the public a say in the placement of red-light cameras, while instituting payment plans for violators.

Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld testified that the ordinance would:

  • call for public meetings on any placement, removal or change in a red-light camera;
  • call for pedestrian countdowns at all intersections with red-light cameras;
  • allow more flexible payment plans; and
  • call for a "comprehensive" academic review of the program.

"We heard the public's continuing concerns about the program," Scheinfeld said.

 Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said red-light cameras
Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said red-light cameras "save lives and reduce the number of traffic accidents."
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

She maintained red-light cameras "save lives and reduce the number of traffic accidents," especially so-called right-angle T-bone crashes that result from running red lights.

"Red-light enforcement cameras reduce some of the most dangerous crashes and allow our police officers to focus on preventing and fighting crime — not writing traffic violations," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement released Tuesday. "I remain committed to making additional reforms to enhance public trust while maintaining this life-saving program.

“Over the past few months, I heard your concerns about the program and announced reforms designed to seek public input and further improve safety, and we are building on those reforms today," he added.

Red-light and speed cameras proved to be a strong campaign issue for Emanuel's opponents this year, and he promised reforms in March. Tuesday, those reforms were delivered in an ordinance co-sponsored by Aldermen Anthony Beale (9th), head of the Transportation Committee, as well as Tom Tunney (44th) and Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), head of the committee that took up the measure.

"It is still a work in progress," Tunney said Tuesday, adding that for him and his Lakeview constituents it was about "ensuring that these cameras are for pedestrian safety."

Scheinfeld insisted the Emanuel administration had not added any red-light cameras, and had in fact removed 82 — 50 in March in response to complaints and 32 before that. She said the city now has 302 red-light cameras at 149 intersections.

"At this time, we do not have any plans to add cameras," she said.

According to Burnett, the new payment plans available would allow a violator to set an installment plan by paying 25 or 50 percent of the amount owed in traffic-camera fines, most likely lower than the $500 to $750 currently demanded. He said this would provide "flexibility" to drivers trying to settle their fines.

Scheinfeld said the academic review of the program — which might take on the issue of increasing rear-end collisions at the intersections, even as T-bone crashes are reduced — would begin in the next few months and probably produce findings to be released before the end of the year. Yet she said the city was not reconsidering the duration of its yellow lights, set for three seconds in 30-mph speed zones. That was the subject of an earlier committee hearing on traffic cameras in October.

"We think that our yellow-light times are appropriate," Scheinfeld said. "We have not changed our yellow-light times in decades."

The ordinance passed by a voice vote and headed for approval by the full City Council on Wednesday.

"We're just trying to make lemons out of lemonades," Burnett said.

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