Waguespack Kvetches About Traffic Cameras and Higher Parking Fines

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32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack

As I’ve written several times, 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack is one of City Council’s key independent voices, and he’s also a frequent bike commuter and a likeable person. That makes it especially annoying that he keeps making backward statements about transportation and public space issues.

First he worried about the effect that swapping car parking spaces for Divvy stations and People Spot mini parks would have on businesses. He still seems to have that attitude, even after I demonstrated that a Wicker Park docking station is generating more foot traffic than adjacent car spaces. Then he implied that the relatively small amount of tax increment financing dollars used to help fund the stations is wasteful, even though his office has requested a maximum number of stations in the ward.

Lately, the alderman has expressed extreme skepticism about the city’s plan for fast, efficient bus rapid transit on Ashland Avenue, characterizing it as a ruthless move by Rahm Emanuel. “The mayor wants to see this project done at any cost, so I think it is going to move forward no matter what,” he told the Tribune.

So it was another forehead-slapping moment this morning when I read Waguespack’s wrongheaded comments about red-light and speed cameras, and Emanuel’s plan to raise parking fees and vehicle impoundment charges, in a Sun-Times article on the proposed 2014 budget. “You’re basically telling motorists, `You’re not welcome in the city of Chicago,’” he said. “It’s pretty onerous on drivers.”

He argued that the mayor’s estimate that the speed cams will bring in about $60 million is a lowball figure, based on the fact that nine cameras at four city parks issued 204,743 warnings in only 40 days. Two hundred of the drivers were clocked at over 60 mph. “You could tack on another $10 million or $20 million. The intersections they’ve picked are going to be extremely lucrative,” Waguespack said.

The number of warnings issued proves what many Chicagoans already suspected. Our city has a reckless driving epidemic, and speed and red-light cameras are sensible enforcement measures. Studies show that pedestrians struck by drivers at 40 mph almost always die, those struck at 30 mph have about a 50/50 survival rate, and those struck at 20 mph almost always live, Anything we can do to force drivers to comply with the city’s 30 mph speed limit will help save lives.

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Pershing Road by McKinley Park. Photo: Caey Cora, DNAInfo

Waguespack also didn’t mention that any extra revenue from the speed cameras would be earmarked for traffic safety and violence prevention efforts. He can characterize the cameras as a money grab if he likes, but if we can encourage safe driving, punish lawbreakers and fund safety programs, that’s a win-win-win.

As for whether the mayor’s proposal to hike parking fines and towing fees is reasonable, that’s subject to debate. However, most of the increases apply to behavior that’s truly problematic, such as parking in a disabled zone, parking too close to a fire hydrant, or blocking peak-hour travel lanes on streets with rush-hour parking controls. Arguably, these things are selfish moves that deserve to be penalized, and a fair source of revenue for patching the budget gap.

At any rate, most Chicagoans, including motorists, agree that there are too many cars on our streets. If these measures make driving a little more expensive and inconvenient, discouraging unnecessary car trips and encouraging people to choose sustainable travel modes when possible, that’s good for everyone.

Contrary to what Waguespack says, a glance at any clogged urban arterial is a reminder that motorists are more than welcome in the city of Chicago. They’re just not welcome to blow red lights, drive dangerously fast, or park like a jerk.

  • Brian

    It’s a wonder anyone from any city office even speaks to you anymore, especially you write articles like this, attacking their positions. The alderman are elected to represent the people in their ward, NOT your silly agendas. You live a fantasy world where you think the answer to everything is to ride a bike and don’t even consider anyone else’s point of view.
    It’s obvious you are a frustrated journalist, if you can even call yourself that, and have nothing better to do that piece together news stories to create attacks on public figures.

  • Guest

    John Kass, is that you?

  • Brian, sorry, I can’t recall if you’ve posted here before, but you seem to be unclear of the concept of what we do here at Streetsblog. This is not a traditional new outlet, where there’s a claim of providing a “fair and balanced” perspective on current events. This is a sustainable transportation advocacy website, and we make no bones about our goal of promoting safer, more livable streets. If you think that’s a silly agenda, we’ll have to agree to disagree on that.

    As I indicated in the post, Waguespack is a nice guy and he has a good track record as one of the few aldermen who’s not afraid to stand up to a powerful Chicago mayor, most notably when he fought Richard M. Daley on the disastrous parking meter deal. I’m glad he’s currently serving in City Council as a dissenting voice on issues like education, privatization, and crime.

    The problem is, Waguespack keeps choosing to attack Rahm Emanuel on some of the things the mayor is doing right, sustainable transportation and traffic safety. As long as Waguespack keeps saying backward things about these subjects, I’m going to keep calling him out on it, because that’s a big part of our job here at Streetsblog.

  • Anonymous

    “any extra revenue from the speed cameras would be earmarked for traffic safety and violence prevention efforts”

    Money is fungible. Do not be surprised when this “extra” money doesn’t actually materialize because it just means that less will be spent on those efforts from general revenue.

  • JZ

    BRT will work on Ashland (although it’d work better on Western). LA, Cleveland, and other grid system cities have great BRT systems and they bring in way more people for businesses. It’d be great if every BRT stop had a Divvy bike station, so folks could shop at stores not near a BRT stop.

  • BlueFairlane

    Why’d you change the headline?

  • I original chose “whines” because it’s alliterative, but on further reflection I decided it doesn’t quite reflect the nature of Waguespack’s comments. “Whine” and “kvetch” have slightly different meanings.

  • Katja

    As someone who lives in Mr. Waguespack’s ward, I appreciate John’s commentary as it is reflective of my own viewpoints.

  • CL

    I agree with him. This is going to be a huge transfer of money from drivers to the city, and the small margin for error and the huge costs for parking violations mean it won’t just be the reckless jerks paying.

    I get that you guys don’t really care about that because you’d like driving to cost a lot more. If we could just make driving expensive and inconvenient for the people who “don’t really need to drive” that would be one thing (fewer cars in front of me!), but the cameras and parking ticket fines are also going to affect families that can barely afford their current transportation costs and don’t have a feasible alternative. I’m sure Waguespack is hearing from those people in his ward, and he’s looking out for his constituents.

    I do wish that Waguespack was more supportive of BRT, because that’s the type of carrot that will give people the option of not driving, without making their lives miserable — to me, this is the solution, not making driving cost a million dollars.

  • CL, you’re the poster woman for compassionate car use, so I certainly respect your opinion on this issue, but these fines are entirely avoidable. Whatever your income level, don’t blow red lights, drive at a safe speed, and don’t park in ways that will potentially inconvenience or endanger others, and you won’t have a problem. Yes, this requires a change in attitude about driving for many people, but that’s the point. City driving should not be about getting somewhere at the fastest speed you can get away with but about operating your 2,000-pound vehicle in such a way that you minimize the risk to yourself and others.

    You raise a good point that, in addition to sticks that discourage inappropriate car use, we also need more carrots to make other modes more attractive. Contrary to what Brian wrote, I’d be the first to admit that urban cycling isn’t for everyone but, in addition to creating better conditions for biking, we need to make walking safer and more pleasant and we need to provide faster, more reliable transit service. The Ashland BRT plan is a great start for creating a public transportation system that’s an appealing alternative for a broader range of people, and that’s why Waguespack should get behind it.

  • As a resident of Waguespack’s ward and a supporter of Ashland BRT, Divvy, people spots and safety measures like speed and redlight cameras, I am very disappointed to hear his recent statements. I will pay close attention to his statements going forward, as well as the positions of future alderman challengers on these issues.

    Also, if drivers do not want to pay fines from the cameras, I recommend they drive the speed limit and stop for red lights.

  • Anonymous

    What if someone proposed applying speed and red light cameras to bikes as well, mailing tickets for every incomplete stop, or riding in the middle of the street, etc? Would you be cool with this?

    Besides the money aspect of this, I think there is a point, albeit a debatable one, at which this crosses the line from a legitimate public safety issue to purely a nuisance for a given group, in this case drivers.

  • That’s a pretty absurd proposal, considering that about 140 people are killed by drivers in Chicago each year and exactly zero are killed by cyclists.

  • Anonymous

    So since bikers don’t kill anyone, are laws regarding riding bikes not necessary at all?

    I think you’re missing the point. We have laws that are expected to mostly be followed. When they’re not, there is a system to slap peoples’ wrists (tickets, etc). It’s not about comparative death stats. Should bikes be immune to these things because riders dont kill anyone?

  • Anonymous

    Btw, I think there are plenty of pedestrians and drivers who would tell you that there are dangerous riders out there who put other people in danger by riding recklessly.

  • Anonymous

    John, does that number 140 include drivers killing other motorists in crashes?

  • BlueFairlane

    But how many cyclists are killed after running a light or a sign and getting hit by a car with the right-of-way? I can think of three featured here in the last year.

    Edit to add: I think this is an absurd proposal, by the way.

  • CL

    It’s true that I personally can avoid the fines, and I do — I haven’t gotten a Chicago parking ticket in a few years, and my last moving violation was in 2007. I’ve never gotten a red light camera ticket, and I don’t expect to get speed camera tickets either. But I enjoy spending my free time reading and thinking about transportation, so it’s a lot easier for me to avoid fines than it is for most people who aren’t aware of every parking ordinance or red light camera or posted speed limit.

    I just think all of these things are set for such low margins of error (the three second yellow, 31-in-a-25 when they lower the threshold, the huge tickets for parking when it’s confusing) that other drivers who are trying to be safe are getting these huge unexpected bills. And I think it’s about money, not safety — if they cared about safety yellow lights would be longer and roads would be designed to match posted limits.

  • I think you’re overestimating the number of bicyclists killed in Chicago after disobeying a stoplight or stop sign in the last year – I can only recall one. At any rate, when drivers obey the speed limit, collisions with cyclists are much less likely to be fatal. Truly dangerous behavior by cyclists, while worthy of ticketing by police, is a trivial issue compare to the epidemic of dangerous behavior by motorists.

  • Yes.

  • While I have no qualms with police ticketing cyclists for truly dangerous behavior, our enforcement resources should be focused on the much, much, much bigger problem of reckless driving.

  • Anonymous

    Totally agree, but the point that some people are making, I think a legitimate one, is that the cameras seem like they have a lot more to do with generating revenue than fighting dangerous driving.

    There have been numerous comments here to the effect of, “If you get a ticket you deserve it because all you have to do is follow the law.” All I’m saying is that if it’s as straight forward as that, then why not start nailing bikes? And you’re exactly right it doesn’t make much sense, but that doesn’t therefore mean it absolutely does make sense to do this with cars.

    There will ALWAYS be the issue of cars being inherently more hazardous than bikes or whatever. But things like speed cameras,** from purely a safety angle**, are subject to some pretty serious diminishing marginal benefits.

  • Currently you can only get a speed cam ticket for going 11 mph or more over the speed limit, e.g. 41 in a 30 mph zone, a speed at which you will almost certainly kill a pedestrian if you hit them. But even 31-in-a-25 enforcement makes sense, because 25 mph zones are generally in places where there are lots of children crossing, and even striking someone at 30 mph only gives them a 50% chance of survival.

  • Scott Sanderson

    Same here. I am also a resident of the 32nd Ward, and, while I agree with the Alderman on a majority of issues, I also experience forehead slapping moments when he talks about transportation. I ride past his ward office every day on Clybourn, which is located in a sea of off-street parking. I just can’t relate to his statement that cars are not welcome in the city. It’s as if he lives in a different city than I do.

  • If we amend that line to “If you get a ticket *for doing something that could potentially lead to serious injury or death for yourself or others* you deserve it because all you have to do is follow the law,” I’m fine with that being applied to bicyclists as well as drivers. Speeding and blowing red lights by drivers fits in that category; bicyclists treating a stoplight like a stop sign, or treating a stop sign like a yield sign, does not.

  • BlueFairlane

    FYI: The search function on the site is kind of annoying.

    There was an old guy who made a left turn on a red arrow in front of somebody. There was a woman who ran a stop sign on the South Side somewhere and sideswiped a car. And there was a similar accident where somebody sideswiped a semi and I theorized he passed under the rear wheels, though on that one it’s possible I’m not remembering correctly just how the cyclist came into the intersection. Considering that the number of cyclists killed in the same time period is something under 10, that’s a pretty big percentage.

    I think my largest point of contention with the philosophy often espoused on this site is that since the problems caused either by automobile traffic or infrastructure design is so much larger, the cyclist is absolved of responsibility to take even the most minor steps to protect him/herself. Traffic controls protect everybody, and they only work when everybody follows them. Excusing bicyclists–or pointlessly condemning those who don’t–only reinforces the us-vs.-them mentality of so many on both sides of the debate.

  • Anonymous

    I think CL is right that these tickets will rankle people given the norm in this country of driving 5-9 miles over the limit.

    On the other hand, when I rented a ZipVan and was driving down Augusta at 25-30mph, it stressed me out that there was a line of people riding my butt (one driver eventually passed me!!). It would be great if drivers considered 25-30mph to be a reasonable speed to drive in the city.

  • Scott Sanderson

    As much as I like the idea of red light cameras, I can relate to your point about the low margin of error. My wife and I use a car to drive our little one to day care because there is no safe way to get her there on a bike. There have been times when I thought I was completely clear to get through a yellow light but the car in front of me stopped and I did not make it. If every light had a camera, I probably would have racked up a couple tickets, despite my best efforts to drive as safely as possible. 3 seconds is not a lot of time if you are not driving fast.

  • Scott Sanderson

    Yes, I would have no problem if cameras gave tickets to cyclists for blowing red lights or stop signs. The only injury I ever sustained on my bike was when another bike totally disregarded a stop sign and hit me. It’s not right to let anyone drive or ride like that.

  • Anonymous

    Ok that’s fine, I was just curious.

  • I believe you’re remembering some of these cases incorrectly. The one case I’m thinking of was a young man who was killed while making a left on red.

    See my comments to bedhead1 below for my take on the enforcement issue.

  • Bingo. Speed cameras will change the driving culture and make people realize that it’s OK to drive at a moderate pace on city streets, and it’s not OK to speed.

  • David Altenburg

    Exactly. When I drive in the city, I make it a point to stay within the speed limit. I frequently get honked at for doing so, especially in those places where the limit is below 30 mph.

  • Peter

    As I’ve heard soooo many times, “Its the PUBLIC Right of Way, everyone is entitled to use it!” Shouldn’t all users be held to the same standard when it comes to rule of the road within the Public ROW? It’s time to end this cyclist “immunity” that seems to exist.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Don’t speed, don’t get a ticket. Don’t park where you are not supposed to; do not get a ticket. In essence, be a responsible car owner; do not get a ticket.

    I’ve received my share of tickets; and guess what yes it has always been my fault. I’ve slowed down; I am more careful now where I park, and often chose an alternative to driving. Guess what no tickets for several years.

    Try it. Be a responsible car owner.Don’t get a ticket.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Always count on bedhead1 to advocate reckless driving

  • MF

    I always tell my friends that no matter how great of a driver you are in Chicago, you’ll end up with two tickets a year minimum.

  • mf

    has anyone considered the cost/benefit that in shifting towards cameras, we lose the ability to find deeper charges…. For example, joe schmo (or the guy who hit Bobby Cann) could have been pulled over for speeding and arrested for drunk driving.

    You lose the ability to enforce drunk driving (and many other heinous crimes) when you start using speeding cameras,

  • mf

    I think it’s a rhetorical point, John. His point is that this article make a John Kass-like argument that it’s ok to penalize ‘them’ because they are not ‘us’

  • mf

    John, If they did studies that showed speed cameras did nothing significant to lead to more safe conditions, would you still have this position? (hypothetical)

  • That is, in fact, a hypothetical question, because studies have shown speed cameras have reduced speeding and serious crashes in cities where they’ve been implemented, such as Washington D.C., where Gabe Klein previously led the DOT. That’s why he’s keen to replicate that success here.

  • decisivemoment

    I’m really concerned that Waguespack is taking this stance. Let’s face it — Chicagoans are terrible drivers. When Allstate a few years ago celebrated our improvement to just seventh-worst in the nation for collision insurance claims, almost caught up to Houston, that said it all. Houston! Where they make illegal left turns in front of streetcars and then get mad at the streetcar when it hits them! That’s what we’re still worse than.

    We need a bit of Thomas Hobbes in this city when it comes to street regulation, and I for one applaud the mayor on photo enforcement.

    What’s it to be, Alderman? Representing terrible driving, or representing making our streets safer from it?

  • HUGE success in my home country, the Netherlands, and they have existed for more than 15 years now. They are literally everywhere there. You pay per Km over the limit. Intrusive? Money-grab? Perhaps, but unfortunately very necessary. Once in a supercharged car, civility goes out the window, no matter the location. With the handful of cameras I really think we’ve relatively little to complain about here in Chicago.

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