WOODLAWN — Heavy-footed Ald. Willie Cochran doesn’t have the political might to ban moneymaking speed cameras from his South Side ward.
But the 20th Ward boss says he’s making a push to warn drivers of Big Brother speed traps in the neighborhoods he represents — and hopefully the rest of the city.
Cochran — who got pinched by the same speed camera three times — said after reading DNAinfo Chicago’s analysis of speed camera fines earlier this month, he called on City Hall to post signs that tell drivers how fast they're going before passing lucrative speed traps in his ward.
“As far as I’m concerned, we need to show people what their speed is prior to getting where the camera is located,” Cochran said. “We emphasized to [Chicago's Department of Transportation] recently that we need signs put up, and that’s being expedited as we speak.”
Chicago Transportation Department spokesman Mike Claffey confirmed the city has received the alderman’s request but declined to comment.
Apparently, speed cameras, which haven’t been as controversial as red-light cameras, have become a touchy subject at City Hall — maybe because Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration wants to keep it that way.
A City Hall source said that Cochran should expect to get a speed board sign installed near the speed camera at Cottage Grove and Midway Plaisance in Hyde Park.
In recent weeks, the city has installed 30 speed board signs around the city, and there are plans to put up 20 more soon. But those signs typically aren’t located near speed cameras, the source said.
I asked Claffey why the speed board signs aren’t installed as a warning to drivers that speed cameras are ahead.
He told me the city implements many different techniques that are designed to slow down traffic.
Making matters even less clear, Claffey sent along this statement, "In terms of signage, the city currently exceeds what is required to be installed by state law and city ordinance for speed cameras."
Which didn’t really answer my question.
But, come on, it’s obvious, right?
It wouldn't be a lucrative speed trap without an element of surprise, and besides, a warning defeats what some think is the real purpose of speed cameras: stuffing cash in the city’s coffers.
Of course, the city says speed cameras are not speed traps. They’re a tool aimed at protecting pedestrians and children near playgrounds, schools and parks.
Here's more from the Emanuel administration's statement that successfully managed to avoid answering any of my questions:
"Motorists who drive at excessive speeds are not only breaking the law, they are putting their own lives and the lives of others in danger. The City of Chicago has been using speed cameras and speed indicator signs as part of an overall effort to encourage drivers to slow down, obey traffic laws, promote public safety and reduce dangerous vehicular accidents."
Now, Claffey will tell you that “available data” — anecdotal trends and a description of how speed increases the risk fatality in pedestrian crashes — show the cameras slow down traffic.
But after collecting about $58 million in fines since 2013, the city's "available data" doesn't include a stitch of statistical evidence that proves that is true. There’s not one study or analysis that shows speed cameras actually have made streets safer, protected more children, reduced accidents or saved lives.
But there’s good news on that front, Claffey said.
Last month, the City Council passed an ordinance that commissioned a team of national traffic engineering experts to study red-light camera crash and violation trends, among other things.
While the red-light camera “reform” made no mention of researching the effectiveness of Chicago’s cash-generating speed cameras, Claffey told me the “academic team” of traffic gurus will study the city’s electronic speed traps, too.
But in the meantime, the Emanuel administration doesn’t want to talk about why the city's hesitant to put up more signs warning drivers of speed traps.
Oh, they've got plenty of reasons — at least 58 million of 'em.
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