Ken Dunkin Pushes for Legislation That Would Make Chicago Streets Less Safe

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Ken Dunkin

Once again, traffic enforcement cameras are being used as a political football in Chicago. Last November, 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas showed he’s more interested in votes than reducing crashes and fatalities, when he led a protest against speed cameras on the 3200 block of South Archer in McKinley Park neighborhood, near the Mulberry Park green space.

Cardenas called the speed cams an “aggressive tactic to nickel and dime the taxpayers,” disregarding the fact that the eighth-mile safety zone around the park was in the top ten percent of Chicago safety zones for crashes. Between 2009 and 2012, there were 214 crashes near the park, six of them resulting in serious injuries or deaths.

Now state representative Ken Dunkin is getting in on the cam-bashing act. Dunkin, a Democrat whose represents the 5th District, mostly located on Chicago’s South Side, faces a tough reelection battle in next month’s primary because he broke ranks with his party in a key vote last November.

He sided with Republican governor Bruce Rauner by abstaining from a vote on a bill that would have reversed deep cuts Rauner made to state childcare programs, a move which effectively killed the legislation. As a reward to Dunkin for helping out the governor, a political action committee with ties to Rauner recently made a $500,000 donation to the rep’s campaign fund.

In an apparent attempt to shore up needed political support, Dunkin is calling for a statewide ban on red light and speed cameras. On Sunday, he held a press conference with dozens of members from Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras, the same group that showed up for Cardenas’ anti-cam grandstanding event. The presser took place near a red light cam at 76th Street and Stony Island Avenue

Dunkin said he wants House Speaker Mike Madigan to allow lawmakers to vote on House Bill 141, legislation to ban red light and speed cameras, which has been stuck in the Rules Committee since spring 2015. Dunkin argued that the cams are in place to create revenue but don’t improve safety, which allows taxpayers to be “gouged and to be played by the scam of the century,” the Sun-Times reported.

Dunkin pointed to last week’s conviction of Richard M. Daley-era transportation official John Bills for taking bribes from former red light camera Redflex as proof that the city’s traffic cam initiative is inherently corrupt. During his 2015 reelection campaign current mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a number of reforms to the red light camera program, including the removal of 50 red light cameras at 25 intersections that saw one or fewer right-angle crashes in 2013.

What Dunkin is choosing to ignore is that, despite the Daley-era corruption, there’s plentiful evidence from cities around the country and that well run automated enforcement programs save lives. A 2010 review of 28 studies of speed camera programs found uniformly positive effects on motorist speed and fatality rates.

And a 2011 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety comparing cities with red light cameras to those without found that in the 14 largest U.S. cities, the cams decreased the number of deadly red-light-running crashes by 24 percent.

There’s also evidence that automated enforcement is working in Chicago.  A preliminary analysis by the Chicago Department of Transportation found that crashes with injuries dropped by 4 percent citywide between 2012—the year before the first speed cams were installed—and 2014. However, injury crashes dropped 18 percent within the 21 safety zones where speed cams were installed in 2013. Severe and fatal crashes went down a full 22 percent.

Even 5th Ward alderman Leslie Hairston, who has not been particularly receptive to safe streets initiatives, told me last month she believes that the red light camera at 76th and Stony, where Dunkin held his press conference, is doing its job to help discourage dangerous driving.

Collisions increased dramatically after Houston banned red light cameras. Chart: Houston Police Department
Collisions increased dramatically after Houston banned red light cameras. Chart: Houston Police Department

“There’s no [legislative] member in his right mind who would not support this legislation [to ban traffic cameras],” Dunkin said at his event, according to the Sun-Times. So what would happen if lawmakers in Springfield did vote to abolish the cams?

Judging from the way things played out in Houston, Texas, the result would be significantly more crashes, serious injuries, and deaths. After voters in that city banned red light cameras in 2010, the number of collisions at intersections that formerly had the cams more than doubled, and the number of fatal crashes went up by 30 percent, according to the local police department.

Dunkin callously chose to block childcare funding legislation in order to score points with the governor. It’s not surprising that he’s being equally cynical about pushing for legislation that would win votes by making our streets more dangerous.

  • what_eva

    How on earth can this guy align himself with Rauner and still call himself a Democrat? Hey, I get it if you don’t want to fall in line behind Madigan all the time, fine, but you’re just switching over to following another megalomaniac in Rauner and one whose principles are quite the opposite of being a Dem.

  • Lakeview guy

    do you think John Bills or anyone at Redflex and CDOT said- let’s install as many cameras as possible because they will save lives? The answer is no. Cameras are not about safety. They are 100% for revenue. The statistics are manipulated to look like they are saving live, but they really aren’t. If you look at how defensive city hall is (in particular Rebekkah), it’s obvious it’s not about safety.
    Let voters decide. If they vote for carnage, then so be it.

  • BlueFairlane

    I’d be careful about getting on this guy’s bad side. You know the world runs on Dunkin.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Bills’ corruption aside, I don’t really care if the city’s main motivation for installing traffic cams is revenue, as long as the result is safer streets.

  • BlueFairlane

    Alternative joke: Dunkin, yo’ nuts!

  • JeffParkNIMBY

    Your “right” to speed through my neighborhood infringes with my right to remain alive. So I don’t think your opinion matters.

  • Anne A

    I’ll second that. If all the cameras were gone, it would be like the wild west out there, with little or no enforcement.

  • Jeff Gio

    That’s why I propose a 20mph speed maximum and a low-orbit satellite to ticket speeding drivers.

  • LAXer

    I don’t think your opinion matters, Jeff,
    You left wing liberal. What don’t you go collect your welfare check and sit on your ass waiting for the government to take of you, you lazy POS. And watch out as I come speeding through your neighborhood you jackass

  • JeffParkNIMBY

    I always wonder why people go and find sites on the Internet to upset them. Like this entire site for someone who loves speeding in their car.

    Don’t you know that one of the most common demographics for biking is people making a lot of money?

    Anyway, have a great day!

  • Bridgeport Republican

    I really hate when people believe that our elected officials must be in lock step with their political party. I didn’t elect a part to the office, I elected the individual. I wish they would do away with political parties and mandate that politicians only represent their constituents wishes.

  • Dastardly Don

    John Bills served his masters well by selecting sites for Red Light Scameras that would raise the most money and it never has been about safety. $600 Million Dollars over the last 10 years and today the city announced another study “to prove” they work. It’s time to stop stealing from the citizens. Tear down these toll booths.in our neighborhoods.

  • Mark Wallace

    It’s Amazing how they conveniently leave out certain data to bias their story. In every Scientific study that was done, showed that 40 % of cameras placed in Chicago. They were placed at Intersections with little to zero crashes and after being placed, they caused rear end crashes with injuries ny 22%. The reason why Chicago has the largest red light Camera enforcement is because it was financially incentivised with Illegal bribes. If it was about safety, there would never have been a need to offer a bribery scheme to put them in.

  • what_eva

    Nothing I’ve read anywhere in the press or trial docs says that Bills’ corruption led to RLCs. The city was going to do RLCs regardless. Bills’ corruption led to the RLC contract going to Redflex instead of some other vendor.

  • Mark Wallace

    I guess the constitution which prohibits private companies from enforcing state law. How about following the Federal Highway Administration recommendation of increasing yellow light times by 1 SECOND which has proven to reduce crashes by as much as 75%. Take real safety measures and I would rather pay higher taxes to have more traffic officers patrolling our streets as we once did in this country.

  • Tony Adams

    Rear end crashes only occur when drivers are following too closely or driving too fast to stop in time. Citing the rear end crash statistics just points out that we need more enforcement and safer driving habits, not less enforcement.

  • Tony Adams

    Your comparison of a red light camera to toll booth is absurd. A properly implemented traffic enforcement camera does not charge a fee to everyone who drives by, only those who endanger their fellow citizens and break the law. What actually is being stolen are the lives and safety of people who are being killed and injured by drivers who are too selfish to share the roads safely.

  • johnaustingreenfield
  • Tony g

    The city would NEVER do that. And it proves that the cameras are only about money. But sheleple, like most of the people on this site, would never believe that. They think whatever the government says is good, is, well good. Sheeple don’t have the ability to think for themselves or understand true FACTS.

  • Nimby76

    Oh the carnage. And before the cameras were up it was a bloodbath. How about officers enforce the laws, making traffic stops, finding drunk, unlicensed, uninsured drivers and getting them off the road. Don’t you get it? Those people are far more dangerous than someone going through a light 0.1 of a second after it turns red. People like you, tony, can’t seem to understand that. Unbelievable that you think lives would be lost if the cameras were shut off. What an idiot.

  • NIMBY76

    Gee Anne, yeah it really would be the Wild West. I mean, just years ago we must have had 100s of people being killed everyday but now with cameras everyone is so much safer. You’re probably the same type of person who steps into a cross walk in front of moving traffic and looks in disbelief as cars don’t stop! Oh the horror! You better watch out! Because I DONT stop. You can wait!

  • Anne A

    I see that our Troll of the Day has stepped up.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    He’s gone. You can pretty much say what you want on our forum, but we don’t tolerate insulting or threatening comments towards other readers.

    Here’s our comment moderation policy: http://chi.streetsblog.org/about/comment-moderation-policy/

  • Allan

    I think we all can agree that we want safer streets. The fact is that traffic enforcement cameras don’t make the street’s safer. If they did we would see a decrease in revenue for the city every year. Anyone can see that the cameras are there to generate revenue. If the city really wanted to make intersections safer they would implement a longer amber light, and if they wanted to make the even more safer, they could implement an all red interval after the amber. These two changes have been proven to work and are far more effective than traffic enforcement cameras. Can any of you pro camera people tell me why the city won’t do this? My guess is that changing the amber light by at least one second will decrease accidents but it won’t generate income.

  • ohsweetnothing

    Somehow that fact conveniently slips by each and every anti-camera rant I’ve seen. For years.

  • ohsweetnothing

    “The fact is that traffic enforcement cameras don’t make the street’s safer. If they did we would see a decrease in revenue for the city every year.”

    Pretty loose usage of the word “fact”, especially in light of the arguments John has painstakingly laid out time and time again.
    If I find the exact figures I’ll come back and post them, but I’m pretty sure RLC revenue has either remained flat or decreased over time. In fact one of the big takeaways from the RLC spikes scandal a year or two ago was that several cameras were UNDERENFORCING due to poor maintenance. The city was losing money off of illegal driving behavior.

  • Allan

    Even if I presented facts here you would dispute them. I can produce statistics that show that cameras don’t work and I’m sure you can find some that say they do. The question I have and no one can seem to answer is, why did the city choose traffic enforcement cameras and not try increasing the amber light and an all red interval first? Where can we find copies of the study that the city conducted that say’s traffic enforcement cameras were the best and safest method of reducing T-Bone crashes? Where can we find information that shows us how much of the revenue generated is put back into making the intersections safer? Why is the city so reluctant to increase the amber light? Last question. In your last sentence you stated that
    “The city was losing money off of illegal driving behavior”, can you explain how the city lost money? They didn’t make money but I don’t understand how they lost money. I would think that Ultimately the city’s goal is not to make any money from the cameras.

  • ohsweetnothing

    All of those questions have been answered. Repeatedly. You’re either new to this saga or you’re not really looking for an answer.

    You’re correct, the City technically didn’t lose money, but missed out on making money.

    Ultimately the City’s goal should be to not make money because no one is running red lights, not because the cameras aren’t catching drivers breaking the law. But as someone who walks/bikes to get around the City (and when I do drive, I’ve somehow found a way to not get a speed or RLC ticket…magic perhaps!?!) if they want to make money by fining illegal and dangerous driving behavior, I’m 100% here for it.

  • Allan

    I’m just trying to figure out if the city is really trying to solve a problem or as you say, make money from illegal and dangerous drivers.

    Can you please tell me where I can find the answers to the questions I asked earlier. I have searched and can’t find answers. I called my alderman, CDOT and some other places with no results. If you can point me in the right direction I would really appreciate it.

    Like I said earlier, you and I want the same thing, safer streets. We just disagree on the city’s method of making the streets safer.

    You and I have something in common. I walk, bike and drive in the city and I have never got a speed or RLC ticket. Thanks in advance for pointing me to answers to my questions.

  • ohsweetnothing

    Okay. I’ll make a good faith effort to track down the links and/or answers. I probably won’t get back to you before tomorrow afternoon though. Just a heads up. Work and all.

  • mediabites

    Ken Dunkin is a moron. He is one of many reasons I left Chicago.

  • mediabites

    How much did Madigan get?

  • BlueFairlane

    I don’t get it. Where’s the pun in that?

  • BlueFairlane

    Just browse through the stories on this issue on this site over the last year or so, and you’ll find the answers you seek.

  • mediabites

    Sorry, inserted my comment in wrong thread. Bills allegedly cut Madigan campaign a 5k check.

  • Chicagoan

    See yah.

  • I don’t disagree with your assessment on the amber/red timing, but this doesn’t have to be an either/or, nor should one just focus on the intersections themselves.

    Many speeders, roll-through-right-turners (guilty of that latter one once myself) don’t even realize they’ve broken the law until they get the ticket in the mail – the goal is to make Chicago drivers respect ALL traffic signals, and just pay more attention in general, not to just reduce individual intersection violations.

    I do agree not all intersections are equal. I’ve seen with my own eyes and had reinforced on a daily basis what a difference the cameras at Belmont and Kedzie have made. I saw ambulance-required T-bone accidents there at least once a week prior to the cameras, can’t remember the last time I saw an ambulance since. But that intersection has particularly horrible sight lines and light issues due to the overpass.

    “These two changes have been proven to work and are far more effective
    than traffic enforcement cameras. Can any of you pro camera people tell
    me why the city won’t do this? My guess is that changing the amber light
    by at least one second will decrease accidents but it won’t generate
    income.”

  • Allan

    Thanks for responding Carter. I think everyone can agree that we want safer streets but I don’t think that’s the main goal of the city. I’m not bashing the pro camera people here. We all have a constitutional right to our opinion. That’s what makes this country great. I just think that they are short changing themselves when they except the city’s BS that the cameras are they only way to make the streets safer.

    Can you see how a longer amber and perhaps an all red interval will allow the intersections to clear, reducing the chance of a T-bone accident? This is something that can be implemented all over the city where needed. I also think that CDOT should look at traffic patterns and configurations and make adjustments where needed, that would probably help some.

  • STOP

    Stop deleting my comments! You can run but you can’t hide! You’re a complete disaster.

  • STOP

    ANNe- you’re a complete idiot. Watch out or I’ll run you over as you try and cross the street mid block!

  • neroden

    Chicago does have a tailgating epidemic. Maybe if CPD ticketed tailgaters something might change.

  • neroden

    It’s impossible to do away with political parties; they form spontaneously whenever there is a big political issue. The framers of the Constitution tried to get rid of them — see what happened?

    What we *can* get rid of is the “two party system”.

    Accept that parties will happen. If you have what’s called a “proportional representation” system, it becomes *really easy* to start a new party or split a party or change parties — you get a much more real and dynamic election system, with shorter-lived parties formed around the issues of the day, rather than the antiquated, rigid patronage-based party bureaucracy we have today.

  • George Carty

    One issue is that proportional representation doesn’t work very well in a US-style presidential democracy.

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