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.”

  • RW

    Chicago residents seem to have an amazing aversion to just following the laws as written…

  • JKM13

    Dave Johnson, Real Man of Genius.

  • R.A. Stewart

    Outshone only by the alderman who represents him.

  • skyrefuge

    From the initial article, I knew that the camera was west of the park. I assumed that it was pointed east (ticketing eastbound traffic), because that’s the way it would face if the idea was to ensure traffic was slowed as it went past the park (and as it approached the intersection with Ashland).

    But in fact the camera is pointed WEST?! Or can a single camera cover both directions of traffic? If not, that makes the placement even more stupid. It will only ticket cars traveling westbound, after they are already well past the park. Worse, it’s placed right where a 30mph sign existed ’til at least August 2014 (according to StreetView). That sign, which allowed a return to the default 30mph limit from the 25mph limit that exists through the Ashland intersection, was apparently removed when the camera was put in. If that’s not a ‘trap’, I don’t know what is. I’m actually starting to think this camera was conspiratorially placed by someone in CDOT who *wants* to undermine the program! That’s the only way it makes any sense to me.

    In terms of safety, it looks like approximately 5 of the 214 referenced crashes in the area occurred in the area that this camera covers. The nearest crossing point for pedestrians in that direction (Archer/Wood) is well outside of the park zone, and is a fully-signalized intersection.

  • CL

    “The park is actually easy to spot from Archer and Robinson.” I had to stare at that photo for a few seconds before I realized those blue lines were from a swing set. Okay, you can see the park if you’re looking for it, but this camera is hardly protecting the park.

    25 mph seems too slow for that street. Most motorists will probably instinctively drive about 30 (plus or minus a few) making it pretty easy to get a ticket — especially when they lower the threshold to 6 mph so that 31 mph means a ticket.

    I also didn’t realize that the street is normally 30 mph. This really does just seem like a speed trap.

  • Basically, all of the trees visible in that photo are within the park boundaries.

  • Pat

    “Again, the Mulberry camera will only issue tickets to people going 35 or above.”

    So 31 does not mean a ticket.

  • Adam

    Anyone visually challenged to the degree that they cannot see the playground shouldn’t be operating a motor vehicle.

  • CL

    My understanding is that currently, speed cameras in Chicago only issue tickets when people are going 10+ mph over, but the plan is to gradually lower the threshold to 6+ mph over as they are legally authorized to do. Is this no longer the plan?

  • That is the plan.

  • I love that first photo, John, showing citizens who apparently want their neighborhood street to be safer and are asking people to slow down.

  • The “speed limit [is] photo enforced” warning signs appear hundreds of feet prior to the speed camera’s location (and the 30 mph speed limit sign). The 25 mph speed limit sign has been in place since at least 2011 (it’s northeast of here, northeast of Archer/Ashland).

  • In theory, but who knows if the city will ever decide that it’s politically feasible to do so.

  • duppie

    Who is Pete DeMay (see sign in photo 1)? Is he running against Cardenas? Could that have anything to do with Cardenas’ sudden resistance against speed cams?

  • Yep, I mentioned him in the article.

  • skyrefuge

    Oh, yeah, I was aware that they added the new (and fairly visible) 25mph sign; I guess I should have said that *I* wouldn’t call it a ‘speed trap’, but I’m certainly sympathetic to people who would use that term, particularly if they *have* been law-abiding drivers, and have a daily-commuting muscle-memory that tells them they’ve always been allowed to increase speed at the point where the camera now sits. Though hopefully the grace-period would be long enough to retrain such people. Again, I’m not saying anyone speeding should have their tickets overturned, I’m just saying that this camera placement was a dumb move by CDOT, since it provides legitimate reasons for people to try to overturn a program that already had shaky political support. The speed limit is reduced when a camera goes in. How the hell did they think people wouldn’t immediately cry ‘money-grab’?

    Any idea if there’s any public database/map of city speed limits? All I could find was a poorly-searchable history of ordinances from City Council minutes that change the limit for a particular location (which seems like a dumb and inconsistent way to define speed limits anyway), but not a “here’s what the limits currently are”. I failed to find anything in the last 4 years that changed the limit on that part of Archer from 30mph to 25mph, which makes me wonder: was the previous 30mph sign an error, or is the current 25mph limit illegal?

  • CL

    I would be a lot less opposed if they kept the threshold at 10+ forever, mostly because I would be confident that I’m never going to get a ticket. My main complaint has always been the small margin of error when the program is fully implemented, especially because of 31 in a 25 situations.

    However, I suspect they are just waiting until after the next municipal election to lower the threshold and make more money.

  • Bruce

    Pete DeMay is a labor organizer who is running against cardenas. Cardenas is opposed to the cameras, after voting for them, because of organized community resistance not just because of pete demay.

  • skyrefuge

    And the city would have more political capital available to go through with such a reduction if they weren’t making that capital evaporate by choosing dumb camera placements like this one.

    The situation is just crying out for compromise. CDOT should just say “yeah, while we want people to drive safely everywhere, this location was poorly chosen for that goal, so we’re moving the camera to another location where the safety/revenue balance is tipped more obviously towards safety”.

  • One thing I probably should’ve mentioned in the article is that CDOT has agreed to raise the speed limit to 30 at this location, pending approval from City Council.

  • CL

    That will help the situation a lot — it removes the 25/30 confusion. If they keep the threshold at 10, the cameras will ticket people going 40, which is very hard to do by accident. Those people will deserve it. They will clearly know they are speeding at the time.

  • PhotoRadarscam

    The protest isn’t against enforcement of speed limits. The protest is against the use of automated ticketing machines for which the only purpose is MAKING MONEY.

  • ThisManIsRight

    Would you be happier with a few cops posted there all day enforcing the law?

  • Twofooted

    Instead of speed cams, Chicago should just hire these people to stand at every intersection in the city, smack in the middle of the road, with signs asking people to slow down. Could be very effective.

  • qrt145

    The people who told you that they though a reasonable speed limit would be 30-35 mph probably meant that they would like to drive at 40-45 mph.

  • Steven Leitner

    The camera is at Paulina not Robinson. If they were truly concerned with safety and not money it would be on Robinson across from the park. If the camera was in that location you took that pic in it would make more sense.

  • PhotoRadarscam

    That would be perfectly fine.

  • slow down!

    Why not just slow down. Not only cars but bikes too! I have been almost hit by bikers while walking on the sidewalks on Archer. Some are going faster than cars. I think they should be ticket by a camera as well….too bad there is no license plate to distinguish who they are.

  • As I’ve written before, it appears that the Emanuel administration felt they couldn’t get the speed camera legislation passed in Springfield unless it was sold as something to keep kids safe, rather than keep all Chicagoans safe. The city really should be allowed to put the cams wherever there is a speeding problem, not just by parks and schools.

    This may be a case where the city wanted to address the high crash rate at Archer/Ashland by forcing drivers to slow down before they reach that intersection. The presence of the park legally allows them to place the camera within the safety zone, although the park itself may not be the main motivation for the cam.

    That’s the downside of the legislation: when the city simply wants to reduce speeding on a street for the safety of all road users, not just park users, people get suspicious.

  • anna

    They should install speed cameras all along archer and ticket people from 9pm to 5am. Ticket all the assholes that speed all night, especially the clowns that “race” on the weekends.

  • denise b

    There is not a ten mile grace period it is only 6 should get the story straight. After 10 is when $100 fine is imposed but after 6 you will get fined. I have lived in that neighborhood for 38 yrs. That park is used by drunks and drug addicts to to get high. They urinate and who knows what, I would never let a child of mine in that park. I should be shout done. It can not been seen from the street. It would be a good place for a child abduction. The park is in poor condition. We have a very nice park on 33rd PL and Ashland.

  • Sorry, you’re mistaken: The most recent CDOT press release says ,”The City is currently only issuing tickets for speeders going 10 or more miles per hour over the posted speed limit. That ticket threshold will gradually be lowered going forward.” They’ve been saying that for many months now, but they’ve been getting so much backlash for simply asking people not to break the speed limit by 10 MPH, it seems unlikely the threshold will be lowered anytime soon.


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