Letting Drivers Dictate Speed Cam Placement — What Could Go Wrong?

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George Cardenas.

12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas wants to use a dubious method to decide where Chicago’s speed cameras should go: crowdsourcing.

On September 4, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed a speed cam in the ward at Archer Avenue and Paulina Street, near Mulberry Playlot Park, which features a playground and a water play area. Since then, the camera has been issuing warnings to drivers who speed in the posted 25 mph safety zone on Archer. After October 19, the cam will begin issuing tickets to motorists who go 35 mph or faster in the zone, a speed at which studies show pedestrian crashes are usually fatal.

After resident Lupe Castillo posted a video that claimed that the playlot isn’t visible from Archer (actually, it is), and griped that the camera is a case of the city “stealing our money,” drivers in the ward demanded that it be removed. Cardenas, who voted in favor of Chicago’s speed camera ordinance, told DNAinfo.com earlier this month that the Mulberry cam is “nothing more than a money maker,” and said he wanted to get it relocated to nearby Ashland Avenue.

CDOT spokesman Pete Scales told DNA the department does not plan to move the camera. He noted that Mulberry Park’s safety zone, the one-eighth-mile buffer within which speed cams can legally be installed, was in the top ten percent of Chicago safety zones for crashes. Between 2009 and 2012, there were 214 crashes near the park, including six causing serious injury or death. In 68 of these collisions, speeding was a factor, and 47 of the crashes involved children.

mulberry-park-speed-camera
The Mulberry safety zone is outlined in blue; green dots show crash locations.

Cardenas recently launched an online survey to ask constituents for their opinion on the Mulberry speed cam. The survey asks whether the camera should remain in place, whether it should be relocated to the Archer/Ashland intersection – where the bulk of the crashes have taken place — or whether it should be removed altogether. Archer/Ashland lies within the Mulberry safety zone, so it would be legal to install a cam there.

One option that is not included on the survey is to leave the Archer/Robinson camera in place, and add a second one at Archer/Ashland. “We didn’t consider that option, mostly due to feedback prior to the survey that was overwhelmingly against the camera,” 12th Ward spokeswoman Anabel Abarca told me. She said Cardenas will take the results of the questionnaire to an upcoming meeting with CDOT.

I don’t claim to be an expert on the intricacies of speed camera placement. However, it would be foolish to let a small sampling of 12th Ward residents — largely drivers who’ve complained about getting speeding tickets — dictate where a speed cam should go. It would also set a bad precedent for other parts of the city.

The Mulberry speed cam has only been in place for two-and-a-half weeks, which isn’t not enough time to gauge the extent of the speeding problem on Archer. If Cardenas is really concerned with making sure speed cameras are optimally placed, not just pandering to disgruntled constituents, he should ask CDOT for more data. One idea would be for the department to monitor speeding at both Archer/Robinson, and Archer/Ashland, for a period of time. Then, they could determine which intersection has a bigger need for speed enforcement — or whether both locations need speed cams.

  • IlliniNation

    I’m astonished at the obvious pro-camera bias screaming from your report. You state: “One idea would be for the department to monitor speeding at both Archer/Robinson, and Archer/Ashland, for a period of time. Then, they could determine which intersection has a bigger need for speed enforcement — or whether both locations need speed cams.” You’re exactly right; the city should have conducted this study BEFORE installing a speed camera that automatically disqualifies any legitimate study from being performed at that stretch of road.

    Also, are you that foolish to believe that THIS city council and mayoral administration is more sensible than the citizens of Chicago? “It would be foolish to let a small sampling of 12th Ward residents — largely drivers who’ve complained about getting speeding tickets — dictate where a speed cam should go. It would also set a bad precedent for other parts of the city.” While I agree a larger polling of residents would be necessary for forming a consensus, the fact of the matter is the residents deserve to have an input with the placement of the speed cam. The city’s excuse for placement at that location resting on a small parcel of green space tucked away from sight, that they claim to be a “park”, is a direct insult of the public’s intelligence. More citizens ought to have a louder voice in local gov’t and actual hold Rahm and his puppetry (even mildly) accountable for his autocratic mayorship. Sometimes we forget the city government works for US, not the other way around. Am I really that insane to think that residents should have a voice at the table before proceeding with installation of these cameras?

    Cardenas can blame no one but himself, by the way. He cast his vote for “Yes!” to the city’s current speed cam program along with the majority of his action-less peers–all knowing very well the majority of Chicago residents were clearly against it. Now, he wants to cry wolf as timing couldn’t be worse for him; close to re-election time and the local constituents will all be reminded of his “Yes!” vote. The entire assembly at City Hall apparently needs to be reminded of their elected duties.

  • duppie

    They did look at the numbers beforehand: 218 crashes in 4 years, and in almost one third of the crashes speeding was a factor.

    What more due diligence should the city have done?

  • Vic

    Last time that I checked, isn’t the speed limit around a park 30 mph? So I’m guessing the city is changing the rules and make it up as they go along.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    From my observation, a newly installed speed camera on Ashland south of Belmont, north of Barry. Marked as a 20 mph camera during times when children are present because its near a school. Because of the way lights are timed and the volume of traffic on Ashland it’s near impossible during morning or evening rush to get above 20 mph in either direction even if you wanted to. In times when it isn’t rush hour, just the timing of the lights prevents going over 30. The cameras don’t ticket after 11:00 pm, when you may actually have the ability to drive over 30 mph because of light traffic. Just stupid placement.

  • This location has been signed at 25 mph for a couple of years. The default speed limit in Chicago is 30.

  • hello

    I still don’t see what all the huff is about. If you aren’t going 10 miles an hour or more over the posted speed limit, you won’t be ticketed. It’s kind of a “choose your own adventure.”

    -speed excessively, get ticket (this should have been happening all along, but didn’t due to lack of enforcement)

    -don’t speed excessively, continue living

  • Alex Oconnor

    It seems to me that it is drivers who need to be reminded of their responsibility to obey that law. A speed limit is just that an upper limit on the legal velocity of a vehicle on a public road.

    If you do not like getting tickets 1. Do not speed; 2. Do not drive on that road.

    It really is in your control.

  • skyrefuge

    This random and confusing speed-limiting seems like the real issue to me, and except for some Streetsblog comments, it’s being ignored. Browsing StreetView, I can see that Ashland, which passes even closer to the Mulberry Playlot than Archer, is explicitly signed as 30mph. Even worse, there is a 30mph sign on westbound Archer, just west of Paulina, while the eastbound traffic is limited to 25mph (between Western and Ashland on eastbound Archer, all (~3?) speed limit signs were 25mph). A road with different speed limits depending on the direction you’re traveling. What kind of idiocy is that?

    If the city wanted to engender skepticism and lack-of-respect towards speed limits and lawful behavior, they couldn’t have done better if they tried.

    I think a good “compromise” option would be to leave the camera where it is, but fix the speed limits to be a uniform 30mph.

  • Brian

    Well said- I knew this would happen, and hopefully alderman are regretting their “yes” votes. Speed cameras are about one thing- money. That’s it. There are no safety benefits and Chicago streets will not be safer.
    A study just published found that, in Washington, D.C., where there are plenty of speed cameras, they have no impact on safety. Same thing will happen here

  • IlliniNation

    You obviously have not comprehended my clear-cut point; or rather the likely case here is you will choose to hold strong to your stated beliefs–and that’s fine. Just understand that I don’t need you to provide a definition of the law nor the term “speed limit”; I am well aware that fines are consequential to not abiding by the laws. However, the point is regarding the causation of such laws–in this case, the clear cut scamera trap that once again is a prime source of income for the mayor’s pockets that will likely never get funneled back to the benefit of local residents. Last night, ABC7 aired a follow-up investigation to the mayor’s SUVs speeding much faster than the regular traffic and easily violating the posted speed limits by 20+ mph–drawing SEVERAL speed zone violations that anyway can view on the city’s revenue website. So, I ask you, if you are that naive to believe that all of these speed cameras are installed in the name of “safety” for “the children”, then explain why the mayor feels it’s perfectly OK for him to REGULARLY speed through these zones at all different times of the day? To simply submit to whatever the city decides to impose upon the citizens, without any form of transparency, dialogue, or legitimate explanation, is absolute nonsense and cowardly. Your comment is a shining example of why the status quo of corrupt Chicago politics persists. Haven’t you learned anything from the notorious Red Light camera scam that robbed Chicago residents clean? Ya know, the same program that city “leaders” told you with a straight face was in the name of “safety”? Yet, you probably still think it’s all about safety; nothing about generating revenue. Right.

  • IlliniNation

    Ok, since it’s ALL (100% unequivocally) about safety, explain why last night ABC7 aired a follow-up investigation to the mayor’s SUVs speeding much faster than the regular traffic and blatantly violating the posted speed limits by 20+ mph–drawing SEVERAL speed zone violations that anyway can view on the city’s revenue website. So, I ask you, if you are that naive to believe that all of these speed cameras are installed in the name of “safety” for “the children”, then explain why the mayor feels it’s perfectly OK for him to REGULARLY speed through these zones at all different times of the day? Yet, you probably still think it’s all about safety; nothing about generating revenue. Don’t believe everything you’re fed from City Hall, duppie.

  • IlliniNation

    Thoughts of one with a tiny brain.

  • IlliniNation

    Exactly my point. There is a major issue of transparency and uniformity in enforcement with this speed camera program. Did folks not learn a single thing from the notorious Redflex scam that robbed the city blind? That program, too, was commissioned under the guise of “safety” when it was presented otherwise in a federal court of law–whether the mayor & city council claim they knew about it or not. Both the red light & speed camera programs in Chicago are administered by firms with a singular fiduciary duty to maximize profits from these pricey cameras.

  • duppie

    Maybe you can first answer the question that I posed to you, instead of answering with a question:
    What more due diligence should the city have done to prove that there is a true safety issue at that location?

  • Kevin M

    Hey, whoever you are, back off on the personal attacks. This poster took no disrespectful tone towards you or your post.

  • BlueFairlane

    Of course, we only know the mayor’s motorcade was speeding because there were cameras. Too bad he can’t just break the law without anybody watching.

  • IlliniNation

    The question you posed is quite rhetoric in nature. Certainly if the city acted with due diligence then they would have conducted an official traffic study at that stretch of road before deciding for the public what’s best for them. Or, even lesser, they would’ve engaged the public on the plans for installing the speed trap rather than springing it upon them without any input. That’s how local gov’t is supposed to work; the people don’t work for gov’t.

  • IlliniNation

    And neither did I. Continue on.

  • Kevin M

    Dude, you referred to this blog poster as having a “tiny brain”–was that criticism necessary to make your point?

    Denying the obvious–that you just made a personal attack on someone who didn’t provoke you–puts you in the same rank as the mayor or the rest of the camera-crew that you’re railing against.

    Go ahead and rail against me now–even though you don’t even know what my position is on the camera topic.

  • IlliniNation

    Relax, Internet cop. I have no personal qualms with you or anyone here. I’ve clearly made my point and you are more than welcome to express your own. And no, I don’t care what your position is.

  • Kevin M

    Really, “Internet cop”?

    You reply to every post, you drop insults and then immediately deny them, and now you resort to name-calling.

    You’re a live one alright, and I do have a personal qualm with you.

    (Queue John Greenfield: http://chi.streetsblog.org/?s=personal+attacks)

  • Please refrain from personal attacks. These will be deleted in the future, and repeat offenders will be blacklisted from posting. Thanks.

  • Alex Oconnor

    Apparently, you do.
    Whether the mayor motorcade speeds or not is irrelevant to the legitimacy of speed limits and their enforcement via video / photo.
    If the mayor speeds he should be ticketed and pay that ticket just like any other driver who speeds.
    Generating revenue and safety enforcement are not mutually exclusive your paranoid rant not withstanding.

  • IlliniNation

    Ah, I see what this blog is about. It’s evident that only those who share the author’s beliefs are welcome to chime. An accredited news site actually called out this blog for this very reason: unnecessary censorship against those with opposing viewpoints. Btw, a “personal attack” is directed at a specific person; not once in this statement did I specifically attack anyone; the notion, yes. Quite astonishing the level of sensitivity here.

  • IlliniNation

    “Paranoid rant”? First, learn how to construct a proper English paragraph. None of this makes sense, especially in response to my clear line of thoughts.

  • Not at all. As detailed in our moderation policy, dissent is welcome, but insulting other commenters is not: http://chi.streetsblog.org/about/comment-moderation-policy/

    Not sure what news source you’re talking about, but feel free to provide a link.

    Obviously, referring to another commenter’s post as “Thoughts of one with a tiny brain” is a personal attack. This kind of thing really degrades the quality of the conversation, which is why future attacks will be deleted.

  • Curtis James

    Those accidents are taking place between vehicles on Archer and Ashland. Maybe kids are in some of the cars, but the accidents have absolutely nothing to do with the alleged park or children playing in, walking to, or leaving it. The alleged park is nothing more than a pretext for putting in a speed camera that would otherwise not be legal there. John Greenfield, did you actually check out this situation with your own eyes before writing this article?

  • Alex Oconnor

    Yes, paranoid rant.
    Those are all well formed english sentences.
    You should take note of your own advice as there are several grammar and usage errors in your response, including redundancy, the lack of ability to distinguish between the possessive and the contraction, over use of the passive voice among others.

    Oh and “scamera” certainly bolsters your cool-headed, dispassionate sensitivity and your rhetorical gravitas.

  • IlliniNation

    Go ahead and search for these “several grammar and usage errors” that you speak of. Then, we can talk. In the meantime, I’ll let you continue your baseless diatribe in isolation.

  • You have a good point, which is that it’s unfortunate that the speed camera law only allows the cams to be installed near schools and parks. The city should have the option of installing them wherever there is a speeding problem. However, it appears the mayor felt the law wouldn’t pass in Springfield unless it was justified as a way to keep kids safe, rather than keep all Chicagoans safe. That leads to situations like this, where a speed camera is warranted because of the high crash rate, and the presence of the park allows for the installation of the cam, but the park itself may not be the main reason for the cam.

    I haven’t visited this intersection recently, but aerial views make it easy to understand the relationship between the park and the camera location. I have traveled this stretch of Archer on many occasions, and it definitely needs traffic calming.

  • Alex and IlliniNation, please stop bickering. It fills up our inboxes and annoys other readers. Any more posts of this nature will be deleted. Thanks.

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