Cameras catch speed

By Gregory Cappis

It’s all about the children, according to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Both houses of the Illinois General Assembly have approved a bill that would allow speed cameras to be placed within 1/8 of a mile of schools and parks. Current red-light cameras could be converted to monitor speed, and mobile monitoring units could be put in priority zones, if Governor Pat Quinn signs the legislation. The cameras would ticket motorists traveling more than 5 mph above the speed limit.

Opponents of the bill see the cameras as a measure to lessen the city’s debt, instead of providing a public service. Emanuel addressed these worries at a press conference on Nov. 7, at the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, 1411 W. Madison St.

“Any revenue goes back into protecting our kids,” he said. “It doesn’t go to fund the deficit, if we ever were to get anything.”

One study suggested the city—or school system—could profit extensively from the campaign. Mike Brockway, who operates TheExpiredMeter.com, a website devoted to traffic news in Chicago, analyzed research from the seven red-light cameras the city converted into speed cameras as a test run. His study showed that individual cameras could generate up to $100 million per year on their own because people would be caught speeding 20 to 60 percent more frequently than running red lights. According to Brockway’s study, the speed cameras would multiply the $61 million in total revenue that was generated by the city’s red-light cameras in 2010.

The Chicago Department of Transportation conducted a study that proved red-light cameras are saving lives in addition to producing much needed revenue for the city. The study sampled the area around the first 109 red-light cameras that were installed. It found during the two years before the cameras were put in place, 26 pedestrians were killed within a quarter-mile of the cameras, according to Gabe Klein, CDOT commissioner. He said in the two years after the cameras were put in place, that number had been reduced to six pedestriandeaths in the same area.

“When people say the jury is out on whether automated enforcement works, it’s not out,” Klein said. “There’s a lot of data out there that show it’s working, and it’s working right here in Chicago.”

He said the 77 percent drop in pedestrian fatalities is a direct result of the cameras, and he expects similar results with the speed cameras.

“People are smarter when they know you’re watching,” Klein added.

And people in Chicago will be watched. According to a Chicago Tribune analysis, almost half of Chicago’s streets would be eligible for speed camera installation. But Lake Shore drive will not.

Cameras near schools would only be activated from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, and will stay on until 9 p.m. on Fridays. Cameras in the vicinity of parks would be turned off an hour after the park closes and back on an hour before it opens, according to the bill.

Emanuel said the cameras are not a “one-trick pony,” but a single piece of a five-part comprehensive strategy to protect the children of Chicago. He said the automated speed enforcement cameras in combination with crossing guards, the Safe Passage Act, installation of high-tech security cameras at 14 Chicago public high schools—as mentioned in the Sept. 6 issue of The Chronicle—and the new curfew policy for children are part of a larger plan to keep children safe.

Reducing pedestrian accidents would also reduce the workload on doctors. Approximately 25 percent of the 2,500 patients treated at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital, 5721 S. Maryland Ave., in the past five years were pedestrians hit by vehicles, according to Deborah Loeff, a pediatric surgeon and assistant professor of surgery at the U of C. She said the injuries incurred ranged from superficial injuries to fractures, internal organ damage and serious head injuries. She added that these injuries can affect children down the road.

“Tragically permanent, devastating disabilities really can’t be measured in dollars,” Loeff said. “Sadly, some of these children will deal with residual effects from a car accident for the rest of their lives.”

Emanuel reinforced what Loeff said by reminding his audience that children who get hit by cars are the victims—not the speeders who get caught.

“As [long as] you follow the law, this is not a problem,” Emanuel said. “If you break the law, obviously [you’ve] got a concern. All I’m saying is don’t do it near a school or a park.”

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