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More Noise About the Mulberry Speed Camera From the Anti-Cam Crowd

An anti-cam rally near Mulberry Playlot Park. Photo: John Greenfield

The backlash against the Mulberry Playlot Park speed camera keeps getting more surreal. Now, 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas is calling for demolishing the park to get rid of the cam.

On September 4, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed the speed cam at Archer Avenue and Paulina Street, about 500 feet northwest of the park. 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,” some drivers in the ward demanded that it be removed. Cardenas, who voted for Chicago’s speed camera ordinance, told 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.

The park is actually easy to spot from Archer and Robinson. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT spokesman Pete Scales 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. Speeding was a factor 68 of these collisions, and 47 of the crashes involved children.

Cardenas recently launched an online survey asking constituents 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. Apparently, the alderman thought it would be a good idea to let a small sampling of 12th Ward residents — largely drivers who’ve complained about getting speeding tickets — dictate where the speed cam should go. Unsurprisingly, 67 percent of the respondents said the camera should be removed, with 23 percent saying it should be relocated to Ashland.

Emboldened, Cardenas came up with an even wackier idea for getting the Mulberry camera removed. In a letter to constituents, he said he wants to “rezone” the park, take down the playground equipment, and eventually demolish the green space. In theory, that would require CDOT to remove the cam. "I think that makes a lot more sense to me than having a playlot nobody uses and nobody can find," he said.

Kids enjoying the swingset at Mulberry Park. Photo: John Greenfield

That wasn’t the case when I stopped by the park Last Thursday afternoon. When I arrived, I saw three young boys were having fun on the swing set and jungle gym while a couple of well-dressed older men, perhaps relatives of the kids, watched from a bench.

Afterwards, I dropped by a rush-hour demonstration against the camera organized by the group Citizens to Abolish Red-Light Cameras and Pete DeMay, a 12th Ward aldermanic candidate who is exploiting Cardenas’ pro-red light vote as a campaign issue. The protestors chanted slogans like “Photo enforcement is a scam,” and held signs with messages reading, “Abolish red light cameras” and “Vote them out.”

I asked a few of the protestors what they thought is a safe speed for city streets. Interestingly, they all told me that 30 or 35 miles per hour is a reasonable speed limit. Again, the Mulberry camera will only issue tickets to people going 35 or above. Speed cameras located in zones where the limit is 30 mph, Chicago's default speed limit, won’t ticket anyone going below 40.

Lupe Castillo. Photo: John Greenfield

Castillo, standing in the middle of Archer waving a “Blame Rahm” placard, told me she hadn't heard about the 10 mph grace. She argued that the city hadn’t done a good enough job of publicizing this info. Actually, CDOT has included the info about the grace in a dozen or so press releases, and virtually all the major local news outlets have reported it.

Dave Johnson, a community radio DJ who lives nearby, told me he has had several close calls while crossing Archer on foot, due to motorists who were speeding and failed to yield while making turns onto Archer. Last July, he was riding his bike nearby on Ashland when a hit-and-run driver struck him, which put him in the hospital for several days. Still, he said he’s opposed to speed cameras. “Their real agenda is making money,” he insisted.

However, nearby resident Tony Adams, passing by on his bicycle, said he’s a big fan of the Mulberry cam. He rides by it twice a day on his commute to and from work. “This particular stretch of Archer is four-to-six lanes,” he said. “People go very, very fast, or they used to until the speed camera came in. It’s become a safe place to walk and ride, and it wasn’t before. The camera’s totally working.”

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