Today’s Headlines

  • Tribune Investigation: Red Light Cams Unfairly Tickets 1000s of Drivers
  • Class-Action Lawsuit Filed Over Tickets Issued by Redflex Cams (DNA)
  • Editorial: To Be a World-Class City, Chicago Must Have First-Rate Transit (Sun-Times)
  • 2 Years After Big Fare Hike, Metra Board Will Discuss Raising Ticket Prices Again (Tribune)
  • City Officials Trying to Ease Tensions Between Cops & Parking Enforcement Aides (DNA)
  • Cams Show That Orange Line Train Robbers Had Been Riding All Day (Tribune)
  • Stretch of Damen in Bucktown Will Close Saturday for Bloomingdale Construction (DNA)
  • The Brown Line Is the Slowest It’s Been in Nearly 2 Years (RedEye)
  • CTA Installing New Digital Displays for Train Tracker Info & Ads at 10 Stations (RedEye)
  • Plans for Cafes at Blue Line Stations Canceled Due to Renovation Project (DNA)
  • Chicago Team Hopes to Win Urban Bike Design Contest; Kickoff Part Next Week (Tribune)
  • Sign an Active Trans Petition to Support the Transit Future Funding Campaign

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

  • Kevin M

    Re: the Sun-Times editorial
    “Another new service discussed Wednesday: a lakefront public transit line
    to link downtown to the museum campus and McCormick Place that would
    run on a right-of-way now dedicated to private bus routes. Eventually,
    it could run all the way to the Far Southeast Side.”

    Sounds like the Metra Electric extension into LSD-North that I mentioned here a week ago.

    It is encouraging to see some push from a major public media outlet towards pushing the City to increase funding to transit projects. For far too long, this city has rested & relied on the privately-invested transit system that it inherited. In fact, it even shrunk the system by removing elevated train branches and streetcars. The piecemeal improvements we’ve seen over the last few decades have been, for the most part, federally- and state- funded projects.

    Step up, Chicago. Start by opening up some (more) TIF money for transit capital projects instead of for private business development in thriving areas of the city.

  • One thing seems a little silly about the editorial. It notes: “Chicago is designing a $32 million downtown bus rapid transit line to connect the Near West Side commuter rail stations to Michigan Avenue. Service is expected to begin next year.”

    Then two grafs later: “Chicago should prioritize a proposed transit line to run along the Chicago River bank, connecting the Union Station and the Ogilvie Transportation Center to North Michigan Avenue, either along existing streets or using an abandoned rail right-of-way.” That seems pretty redundant to the aforementioned BRT.

  • ohsweetnothing

    What does the Tribune think is unfair about the RLC ticket spikes? Is it that the cameras are ticketing people during the spikes that aren’t running lights? Or the inverse, that the spikes are capturing much more people running lights and the rest of the time enforcement is spotty? Is the City running manual “stings” at certain intersections? I’m still trying to decide which would be worse.

    I did notice that the appeal rates also spiked in correlation with the number of violations. Perhaps that hints at mechanical error?

    Also, some of those intersections aren’t “spikes” at all.

  • Transit agencies should raise fares annually instead of spikes every 2-3 years. Campaigning on a promise not to raise the price of service, even when it has changing costs, is a terrible strategy in running a transit system.

  • ohsweetnothing

    On a related note, did you see this? I’d be interested in what you and John would have to say about this take on transit fares:

    http://www.citylab.com/commute/2014/07/why-higher-fares-would-be-good-for-public-transit/374314/

  • BlueFairlane

    I think the problem with annual fare increases is two-fold. One, people like knowing what they’re going to pay for a thing. The rate they pay for transit becomes fixed in their brains to the degree that it becomes difficult to shift it. This is okay every three or four years, but changing it every year would mean that nobody would ever have a firm idea what transit’s going to cost them. They’d always be saying, “What am I paying for the Red Line now?” It would create a lot of negative chatter.

    Two, the nice multiples of 25 cents people like to pay for something like transit wouldn’t be possible. An annual increase would inevitably be some multiple of three or something, so the cost would wind up something like $3.13 or whatever. That’s much more difficult to keep in a brain, and it complicates that math people do every day. This probably won’t matter to the technorati who just slide their magnetic strips and say “Whatever,” but I think it will matter to a large number of people.

  • skyrefuge

    For the record, the Trib article currently uses the word “undeserved” rather than “unfair” (although curiously, a meta tag in the HTML has the same headline but uses “unfair” instead…was the headline adjusted at some point? Though I don’t see much difference between the two words anyway…)

    Despite the headline and the lengthy verbiage, the Trib presents scant evidence of people getting tickets that they should not have gotten. Rather, it appears that these “spikes” are largely caused when right-turn-on-red violations are being enforced more stringently, but still legally.

    My off-the-wall guess would be that someone at RedFlex would fill in for a week or two for someone on vacation, and grade the right-on-red violations differently than normal for that period.

    Certainly it would be nice if the violation criteria were enforced consistently, and it’s definitely cool that the Trib got (and published!) all this data, but it seems like they’re (understandably) trying to make it a bigger story than it actually is.

  • Corn Dog Aficionado

    Maybe Metra should eliminate most of their labor force and stop having conductors manually check tickets. Many of these guys in the old boys public union racket are raking in six figure salaries to do very little work.

  • rohmen

    I’d disagree. Going from a 10% reversal rate on appeal to close to a 45% reversal rate–with an apparent correlation between the times the spikes occurred and the increase in the appeal reversal rate–is more than “scant” evidence that something went wrong here.

    EDIT: And the article makes clear this wasn’t just a change in enforcement that led to the increase in reversal on appeal: “In almost all of those cases where a ticket was tossed out, it was because the officials hearing the appeal ruled that the vehicle came to a stop.”

    The above, if accurate, reflects a straight-out malfunction or manipulation of the cameras.

  • ohsweetnothing

    If the appeal reversal rates spiked at the same time, doesn’t that show that whatever malfunction or manipulation or whatever is going on is being caught/checked?
    That’s the conclusion I end up at right now, but I’m still processing what all the data could mean.

  • ohsweetnothing

    To me the biggest story is all the hoops the Tribune claim they had to jump through to get all of this data. I thought the City made this publicly available…if they don’t, they definitely should.

  • Cameron Puetz

    The North Michigan route and Central Loop BRT aren’t really redundant. Many North Michigan destinations are over 1 mi north of the proposed Central Loop BRT.

  • I was inspired to leave this comment after reading this CityLab article. See point #1.

    http://www.citylab.com/cityfixer/2014/06/5-lessons-us-transit-systems-should-learn-from-london/373667/

    However, it seems that Transport for London is using word magic to make it seem that fares are not going up “in real terms” although the amount of money deducted from your bank account is changing.

    http://www.london.gov.uk/media/mayor-press-releases/2013/12/mayor-freezes-fares-in-real-terms-for-2014-as-tfl-sets-out

  • The part about CDOT not showing the videos to the Tribune disturbs me, citing “privacy” concerns.

    This video is actually obtainable through a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request, as we’ve shown through some of the articles we’ve published discussing lawyers who’ve obtained the video when trying to identify a driver who hit their client.

  • R.A. Stewart

    Ah, it was a *Sun-Times* editorial. Somehow I missed that on my first reading of your comment. Clearly a second cup of coffee is called for.

    Well, that makes more sense. Pushing for more transit funding doesn’t quite seem the Tribune’s style, though to give them credit they have recognized the Illiana for the disastrous boondoggle it is.

    Anyway, I agree, it’s encouraging to see this. Though I do note that outlying neighborhoods mostly remain off the editorial’s radar, as they are certainly off the CTA’s, and there is always a dash of the old cars-versus-transit double standard in that reference to “has to find a way to primarily pay for itself.” Still. Just to recognize the importance of new investment in transit—and to recognize that it is an investment and not some superfluous giveaway to the supposedly lazy and undeserving—is, for Chicago, a step forward.

  • skyrefuge

    That’s some of the poor data analysis by the Trib. That “10%” and “45%” are comparing 2 different things. 10% is the systemwide appeal-success rate, while 45% is the appeal-success rate at one particular camera. And it’s one where right-turn-on-red violations account for “almost all” of the citations (while systemwide, only “about one-third” of violations are for right-on-red).

    It stands to reason that right-on-red violations have a higher appeal-success rate than straight violations, since those involve a judgement call on whether a vehicle “stopped”.

    An honest analysis would report the “baseline” appeal-success rate for that particular intersection that had a 45% appeal-success rate during the spike. Since they didn’t, I took it upon myself and looked at the 52-day “normal” period following the 52-day “spike”. The appeal-success rate then was 36% (9 of 25 vs. 109 of 242 during the spike). Doesn’t seem nearly as out-of-line then, does it? And that 36% is more than the next 2 cases they presumably thought were the biggest anomalies; those appeal-success rates were only 27% and 19% during their spikes.

    A couple other examples of their poor analysis (all of which unfortunately adds up to make me more skeptical than I’d like to be):
    They spend a few paragraphs on an intersection suggesting that the significant variability in the yellow light duration there was responsible for the spike. Yes, that’s definitely a problem that needs to be solved. But, as with all the other spikes, the increase in violations came from right-on-red, which *has nothing to do with yellow-light duration*! (I cross-checked a few of the violations there to confirm this) So that’s just a total red-herring.

    They make much of a “dark” period of no violations that surround many of the spikes. Maybe they did a statistical analysis, but just eyeballing their charts, I don’t see a correlation. “dark” periods are semi-regular occurrences at most cameras, and it seems like they occur just as often unrelated to a spike as they do near one.

    Finally, the article notes that even in cases that were successfully appealed, where the hearing officer explicitly noted that the driver had stopped, their own review of the video showed that “drivers hit their brakes and slowed to a crawl as they went around the corner”. So even a successful appeal does not mean that the appellant did not in fact violate the law.

  • rohmen

    I’m certainly willing to trust your numbers, and that definitely casts doubt on what the trib. is saying as far as camera reliability.

    That said, even a 36% reversal rate suggests a problem in the system somewhere to me. Now, based on what you’ve noted in a persuasive way above, the problem may be in how the administrative judges are actually applying the law (not enforcing a true roll-through-red), but a system is going to be easily called into question with those type of numbers at certain intersections.

  • Kevin M

    RE: Tribune article on Metra board considering fare hike.

    Trib: “Revenue from ridership is flat and additional federal funding is
    unlikely, forecasts show. Yet, Metra riders pay hundreds of dollars a
    month less than what riders pay in metropolitan areas such as New York,
    Boston and Philadelphia, officials say.”

    It is wrong to compare the costs of services without also comparing the services themselves. I am 100% certain that the transit riders in NYC, BOS, and PHL all have way more frequent and fast transit service than CHI riders do. Metra maintains a M-F, 9-5 rush-hour catering business and seemingly loathes to try to expand its off-peak ridership base.

  • rohmen

    Assuming a spike caused by a malfunction or manipulation occurred (and I say assuming since the numbers have been called out), I’d argue the appeals process is definitely not the way you want to catch it. Appealing a ticket is a pain in the a*s, not to mention all of the tickets issued that weren’t appealed and may have been issued in error, which would be the point driving this if manipulation by the camera operators is really a root cause here.

  • skyrefuge

    I did some more looking at the photo evidence. I probably looked at some 50 photos, from Halsted/Fullerton/Lincoln, and Touhy/Western. Both have No Turn On Red in all directions, so that eliminates any “did they come to a complete stop?” ambiguity, which requires a video (and human judgement) to make a determination. For these, the two photos provided, one behind the line with the light red, and one in/past the intersection with the light still red, are pretty unequivocal proof of a violation.

    And every single one I looked at (including one that was successfully appealed!) showed a clear violation. Most were straight-through violations, with an occasional right turn and one or two left turns.

    Halsted/Fullerton/Lincoln has a particularly crazy spike. For a 2-day period it averaged 35 violations, while the background level was somewhere around 6 violations per day. One appeal was filed for each of those days, both failed. The violations are spaced fairly evenly throughout each day. I can’t think of any reason off the top of my head why a Thursday and Friday at the beginning of August 2012 would cause the number of people driving through red lights at that intersection to actually sextuple. Lollapalooza was that weekend, but that’s not much of a link.

    So the conclusion that particular analysis leans me toward is your second option: Chicago could actually be catching a lot MORE violators than they currently are, but for some reason their cameras are missing the vast majority of violators on most days.

    Wouldn’t it be funny if this Trib investigation (which the red-light violators are surely cheering at the moment) actually led to six times MORE citations being handed out in the future!

  • Roland Solinski

    You’d be largely wrong… residents of those other cities deal with the same kind of mediocre rail service that Chicagoans do. Virtually all American commuter railroads operate under the same 19th century paradigm.

    Caltrain in SF is unique in trying to break away from this mold. NY and Philly’s commuter railroads offer 30-minute off-peak service which is much better than Metra but still not frequent. Those systems also have the advantage of NOT sitting at America’s freight rail nexus. Not making excuses for Metra though, it can and should do much better but are we willing to tax ourselves to pay for it?

  • Roland Solinski

    I’d be interested to see how the proposed travel times of Central Loop BRT compare to a Carroll Ave LRT from Union Station to Pioneer Plaza.

    Obviously anything along Carroll Ave has the advantage of grade separation, so it won’t be blocked by protests, parades, festivals, etc – and LRT has a much higher capacity per vehicle, so it can move more people at a lower cost.

  • Pete

    It’s certainly no surprise to see the Revenue Cameras revealed as the scam on the public that any sensible person always knew them to be. It was apparent to me from the beginning that the cameras had nothing to do with safety and everything to do with making money. The Tribune’s report proves it. Anyone who still supports the cameras and thinks they have anything to do with safety was born yesterday.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    This. They should go to the system we have out west where you tap your card when you get to a platform, and you tap when you get off the train at your destination. No humans involved, except the occaisional (like, once every 10-20 trips) fare inspector that walks through the whole train scanning cards to see if you’ve tapped. + Super compatible with smartcard, AKA Ventra.