MCKINLEY PARK — Drawing about a dozen protesters to fight a controversial speed camera activated in the neighborhood Monday, Ald. George Cardenas (12th) said city bosses are using the technology to pickpocket citizens.
“They have no understanding of communities or their needs,” Cardenas said just after 10 a.m., standing in the cold at 3200 S. Archer Ave. “This is completely wrong.”
Since its installation in 2014, the speed camera has drawn criticism from local residents and organizations calling the camera a money-grabbing scheme disguised as a safety solution.
The city pitched the camera as a way to protect children playing at Mulberry Playlot Park — but the camera isn’t very close to the park, Cardenas said.
Though the city's transportation department lists the camera at 3200 S. Archer Ave., it's about a block south of Archer on Robinson Street — an access road often used by semi-trucks as a shortcut to the Stevenson Expressway.
“If it’s about safety, let’s talk about safety,” Cardenas said. “But that’s not the debate here. You’re telling me you’re putting it here because some people are going into the park? It’s a complete lie.”
In front of television cameras, Cardenas offered his own solution: Relocate the playlot to a park where more children play.
"That’s smart money," he said. "This is not smart money."
Some residents said the camera will do little more than contribute to the erosion of the middle class.
“This is a scam,” said Robert Kubitz. “It’s a means in order to generate revenue. It’s all to line the city’s coffers.”
By some accounts, the city’s speed camera campaign — doling out fines of $35-$100 — has been successful at one thing: Making money.
A DNAinfo analysis published in May discovered more than $100,000 in speed camera fines were issued per day citywide. That translates to more than 2,900 tickets per day — or $58 million in speed camera fines citywide.
The city began planting the cameras outside schools and parks in 2013 as a way to curb pedestrian accidents in "children's safety zones."
To Kubitz, the camera’s activation represents nothing more than another fee locals will have to worry about on top of other mounting bills.
“The citizens of this area are middle class. We’re not making a lot of money and yet this fee is going up and that fee is going up,” he said. “My wages aren’t going up, but yet I’m being nickel-and-dimed. … You’ve got people working two-three-four jobs in order to makes ends meet, and here you’re being nickel-and-dimed. It’s insane.”
The 44-year-old McKinley Park lifer said the city would be better off spending taxpayer dollars to station more policemen on the streets.
“We’ve been standing out here for 20 minutes and I’ve yet to see a cop roll by here," Kibitz said. “That’s pretty sad. This neighborhood isn’t as safe as it once was.”
Veronica Vicenteno supports the camera. She has lived across the street from its new home for almost a decade.
The camera makes her feel safe walking home from the bust top.
“There’s a lot of drag racing here,” Vicenteno said. “At first I was against the camera, and then when I realized it helped me as a pedestrian to cross the street, I was in favor of it.”
Vicenteno said it appeared most of the people at the protest came from different neighborhoods.
“I’d like to know who these people are, because I’ve never seen them,” she said. “They don’t understand how it is crossing the street here all year long.”
One of those non-residents included Mark Wallace, a South Shore native and head of Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras, a group working to end both the city's red-light and speed-camera programs.
“It is immoral for the city to continue to defend a defenseless program that is riddled with corruption,” Wallace said.
Cardenas plans to take the neighborhood’s complaints Downtown.
“The next step,” he said, “is to talk to folks in City Hall and see if we can negotiate.”
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