Red-light cameras could be used to catch more than stopping infractions if Mayor Rahm Emanuel gets his way.
Emanuel's administration is asking lawmakers to approve the use of red-light cameras to identify, and automatically ticket, motorists recorded traveling above the speed limit in safety zones, the Chicago Tribune reports. The pitch, which would hit violators with fines of up to $100 per infraction, is drawing criticism from skeptics who say it could be more about the city's major budget problems than Emanuel's claims about public safety.
"I think it's piling on. It's really kind of draconian," Ald. Joe Moore, 49th, told the Tribune. "The jury is still out on whether the red-light cameras are effective in terms of safety. ... So then it really becomes a revenue-raising tool, rather than a public safety tool, and I think there are more honest ways of raising money."
But Emanuel cites alarming statistics to support his call for more speed enforcement in safety zones--which include schools and public parks. He said that between 2005 and 2009, there were 861 crashes involving Chicago students during school arrival and dismissal times, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Speed information collected with seven existing red-light cameras by the Chicago Department of Transportation last spring found that 25.7 percent of the 1.5 million vehicles caught at intersections within one-eight mile of a safety zone were traveling above the 30 mph speed limit. That's 360,000 drivers that, according to a similar study in 2004, average 10 mph above the limit.
“This is about deterrence," the mayor said, according to the Sun-Times. "I want our kids to get to school and be in schools safely."
Emanuel wants the red-light cameras to be retrofitted with special electrical strips that would allow them to accurately measure speed, WGN reports. Then, as with red light violations, the vehicle's license plate would be recorded and a ticket mailed to its owner.
Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan introduced a bill Wednesday that would grant Chicago permission to use the cameras for this purpose, the Tribune reports. Ald. Ed Burke, who called the cameras nothing more than a "money machine" in 2010, introduced a resolution two years earlier asking the cameras to record drivers' speeds, which was backed by former Mayor Richard Daley--a momentum Emanuel hopes to maintain in pushing the proposal through to legislative legitimacy.