Red light countdown

By The Columbia Chronicle

By Alex Kukulka, Contributing WriterAlderman Ray Suarez (31st Ward) has proposed an ordinance that requires intersections throughout Chicago, including ones with red light cameras, to be equipped with a pedestrian countdown device.

The ordinance was introduced by Suarez on March 23 during a City Council meeting. The plan is currently assigned to the Committee on Traffic Control and Safety, which has jurisdiction over matters regarding vehicular and pedestrian traffic. It is not known when the proposal is to come up for consideration, according to Alderman Emma Mitts (37th Ward), member of the committee.

According to Suarez, having red light cameras and pedestrian countdowns will help avoid unjust red light tickets because drivers are not aware of how much time is left until the light changes. He is planning to have approximately 200 red light cameras and pedestrian countdowns systems installed throughout Chicago.

The ordinance states the red light cameras will record cars running red lights by photographing them and their license plates. On the photos, the time, date and location of the violation will be displayed.

“Drivers will have an opportunity to know how much time they have to cross the red light,” Suarez said. “So when it says one, you don’t stop in the intersection [and get a ticket].”

The intersections that will have these red light cameras and pedestrian signals are in tax increment financing areas, Suarez said. This means future property taxes Chicagoans pay will go toward the project.

“I think [the pedestrian countdown service] looks great if money grew on trees,” said Joe Schwieterman, public service management professor at DePaul University. “[The pedestrian countdown service] is easy to regulate but hard to pay for. The last thing the city needs is a cash drop on a new unfunded mandate.”

The new red light cameras will help limit people from slamming on their brakes to avoid running a red light, which will keep pedestrians safe, according to Alderman Brian Doherty (41st Ward) and vice chair of the Committee on Traffic Control and Safety.

Doherty said this new system would be beneficial, but expensive. The city has to figure out how to get the money needed for these pedestrian countdown systems.

“Most of the red light cameras are already installed,” Doherty said. “It will be more financially [appropriate] if they put pedestrian lights in because all the tools will be there and it will cut down on construction costs.”

However, the proposed system is financially flawed, according to Schwieterman. The city has to make sure all these pedestrian countdowns and red light cameras are a good use of taxpayers’ money, he said, noting the money would be better spent fixing potholes and other traffic problems.

“[The ordinance is] a luxury expense that should be used in a more targeted way,” Schwieterman said.

However, Suarez said he does not feel these red light cameras and pedestrian countdowns will be a luxury expense.

“I think it’s a safety factor,” he said. “Everyone gets a fair chance to avoid a ticket.”