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.

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