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.

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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.

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The Chicago Tribune’s David Kidwell and his colleagues have written extensively about the city’s red light camera program. Some of that reporting has been constructive, including revelations about the red light cam bribery scandal, unexplained spikes in ticketing, and cameras that were installed in low-crash locations during the Richard M. Daley administration. Other aspects of the […]