Silly Tribune, Speed Cameras Aren’t Just for Kids — They Make Everyone Safer

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Illustration: Rachal Duggan, Chicago Reader

[Today the Chicago Reader launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership will allow Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We’ll be syndicating a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

There’s a mountain of evidence from around the world that automated traffic enforcement saves lives. For example, a 2012 study in the Journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention credited the widespread use of speed cameras in France with saving more than 15,000 lives over a seven-year period.

However, Chicago’s traffic cameras have been highly contentious. Not only do drivers hate getting tickets, but starting in 2012 a Chicago Tribune seriesuncovered a number of issues with the red light camera program, mostly under the last Mayor Daley. These ranged from dubious cam locations to a bribery scheme by the vendor, Redflex.

Current mayor Rahm Emanuel’s speed camera program, which launched in October 2013 and has installed 150 cameras in 63 “Children’s Safety Zones” around schools and parks, has been less controversial so far. But last week, Trib reporters David Kidwell, who spearheaded the red light coverage, and Abraham Epton went nuclear on the speed cameras.

In four long, mind-numbingly detailed articles, covering the better part of eight pages of newsprint, the reporters described how the cameras have issued roughly $2.4 million in questionable tickets. That represents about 2.6 percent of the roughly $81 million in tickets produced over the last two years.

They quoted a dozen or so drivers who complained that the tickets they received were unfair because they were issued while parks were closed, children weren’t present in school zones, or warning signs were missing, contrary to state law and city ordinance.

“It’s a sneaky thing to do,” north sider Alissa Friedman told the paper.

Kidwell and Epton also attacked the locations of the cameras, which state law dictates can only be installed within eighth-mile zones around schools and parks.

“While it was pitched by the mayor as a way to protect youngsters walking near parks and schools, the most prolific cameras in the two-year-old ‘Children’s Safety Zone’ initiative can be found along major roadways, where crash data shows child pedestrians are least likely to be struck by speeders,” they wrote. They also noted that some of the cams on busy streets are justified by their proximity to small parks with limited foot traffic.

But, as with the paper’s red light coverage, the speed camera articles show a strong bias against automated enforcement in general. Once again, the paper largely ignored the safety benefits of the cams, even though they’re widely documented.

The reporters also chose not to discuss the reasons speed enforcement is crucial, not just for the safety of children, but for everybody. The city’s default speed limit is 30 mph, and for good reason: studies show that pedestrians who are struck at this speed usually survive, while those struck at 40 almost always die.

Read the rest of the story on the Chicago Reader website.

Streetsblog Chicago will resume publication on Monday. Have a great Thanksgiving!


  • johnaustingreenfield

    “Our transportation needs would also be better served and financed if Congress (and many states) had the gonadal courage to reset the fuel taxes to account for inflation since the 1990s when the rates per gallon were set.” At least we agree on something!

  • jcwconsult

    I have testified for the NMA at least 6 times in Michigan to reset fuel taxes for 20 years worth of inflation. If that were done, then some General Fund monies that now go to make up the lost fuel tax needs could go to transit – assuming the legislators could agree.
    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • JacobEPeters

    Freedom is choice, if the only way to get choice is to have no choice in transportation, then it is not choice, and it is not freedom. Cars are not the greatest freedom that we have, they are one of the greatest burdens if we live in a place that is otherwise walkable, but has no transit options to get us too and from far away parts of the region for work or play.

    Amtrak service to Chicago is useful if your destination is within a cab ride, or CTA ride of Union station. It is useful if you don’t have a car, and it is useful if you’re connecting to Metra.

    No one is trying to take away your choice, but you are demanding that your choice be the only one that transportation funds are spent on. You wrote a letter as such to the Michigan General Assembly. Do not hide behind this false claim of caring about safety when you only care about yourself and your ability to speed about without thinking of the impacts that such speedways have on others who want to freedom to live without a car. Share this country, your beliefs are not the only valid definitions of freedom.

  • jcwconsult

    Given the geography of America, providing realistic transit options per your first paragraph for most areas beyond large cities isn’t practical and won’t happen.

    Amtrak is OK, provided common 2 or 3 hour delays are OK. Since I can drive it in about 3.5 hours, those delays plus the costs in time and money for the local transport in Chicago make it a bad choice for me.

    I want roads paid for ENTIRELY by fuel and registration taxes and have testified that way many times. I strongly object to having automotive fuel taxes stolen to pay for transit systems that most car drivers never use. It is theft.

    And, again, I have no problem with people that choose to live and work in urban areas where their use of cars is minimal enough that something like occasional Zip car use works for them. That may well be their choice of freedom. It is not mine.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • JacobEPeters

    Transit systems are good at certain volumes of trips. At those levels they are more efficient in space and travel time than if we were to handle the same number of trips by road alone.

    This is why fuel taxes are diverted to funding transit. Because without transit, we could not build our way out of carmageddon. We need a strong road network, along with a strong rail network with adequate funding so that passengers are not delayed behind freight. Imagine if you couldn’t reliably take the highway because you would have to wait for a semi-trailer to grant you right of way. We also need transportation funding that provides options along high volume corridors, both in big cities and on the highest volume corridors in small cities like Ann Arbor.

    This entire discussion started because you made the false claim that speed cameras are about profit rather than enforcing safe driving speeds. if we were to increase the speed limits on large city streets in Chicago then we would be removing the freedom to walk around these neighborhoods since these high speed corridors would act as barriers discouraging pedestrians from being able to access other parts of their neighborhood across these streets.

    Cars embody selfishness when they are placed above humans who are not in cars. You do not have the freedom to go as fast as you’d like. Because that “freedom” comes at the expense of others, and therefore it is not a desire for a freedom, but rather a desire to have privilege over all others.

    We need to provide choice, and spending only on highways is not choice, it is imposed on all of us who pay taxes, but who see that parts of the street are only for those who own cars.

  • jcwconsult

    Speed cameras ARE about profits, not safety. They are costly, typically $3,000+ per camera per month. Cities don’t use them without profits and they produce profits because they have almost no effect on the actual travel speeds. Chicago depends upon their inability to reduce the actual speeds and therefore the continuing flow of ticket revenue. Raising the posted limits on the main collectors in Chicago would make the streets safer overall for ALL users by making the flows smoother and more predictable – with little or no change in the actual travel speeds.
    Taking gas taxes to pay for transit is theft. Suppose that 20% of all train and bus fares were taken to build roads, would that be OK with you? I doubt it.
    Thanks for a good debate, but I think we are at points of impasse.
    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • JacobEPeters

    We need to fund our infrastructure through a mix of user fees (like tickets and tolls) and dedicated funding sources that are not the gas tax. But if the gas tax is being collected, then a portion should go to the alternatives to driving, because the CTA Blue Line carries more people than adding an equivalent width of lanes to the Kennedy. That means that the train is causing there to be less congestion than if the train didn’t exist, meaning that drivers are reaping the benefits of people choosing to take transit. That is why it is not stealing.

    We are at an impasse due to your dogma of cars solving all problems, when you ignore the dangers that they have created through overuse and an overreliance on them. Cars dominate our urban fabric to the detriment of many other aspects of life. And for your claim that increasing speed limits would save lives. Increased speed limits mean that cars speed up to get to red lights, or speed up to get to the next bottleneck in traffic. While they are traveling at these higher speeds the safety of anyone they come into contact with evaporates.

    Speed Kills

    It is also rare for someone to get multiple tickets from a speed camera, because people learn their lesson and do not speed through the same area again. Stop demanding that cars get more rights than anyone else on the road.

  • jcwconsult

    Sorry, the riders of the CTA Blue Line or the General Fund taxes should pay for it, not the car drivers that don’t use it. Using car fuel taxes is theft.
    I said increased speed limits, NOT increased speeds, because the limits have very little effect on speeds. Limits should be set at the 85th percentile speeds of free flowing traffic under good conditions. If 85% of the cars NOW are at 40 mph or less, then 40 is the best limit for all users. Posting 30 facilitates speed traps and promotes many bad behaviors like tailgating, more passing, lane shopping, and speed variance which increases crashes. It also lies to pedestrians that car are coming at up to about 30, when the truth is many are coming at up to 40.
    Drivers do learn where the Reverse ATMs are located, the machines that take money from their wallets to fund other government programs. They slow for the 100 yards to avoid having their wallets pilfered, then return to normal speeds. Note that a recent British study showed safety problems with sharp braking near speed cameras, enough to call the systems into question for safety.
    Again, thanks, but it is clear we are at a no-budge impasse.
    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • JacobEPeters

    Increased speed limits is increased speed. If the speed limit was 45, then drivers would be going 50. Your “advocacy” organization advocates against street designs that encourage safe traveling speeds.

    The problems you describe are because tailgating other vehicles at above the posted speed limit has become “normal”. This is a culture of reckless disregard for law and for safety.

    We are not at an impasse, you are simply delusional.

  • jcwconsult

    The belief that higher posted limits = higher actual travel speeds has been proven false many times over. Thanks again for a good debate, but the actual unbiased scientific research forms my beliefs, not the emotional arguments that are false.
    Best example: Texas Highway 130 posted 85 with actual 85th percentile speeds of 86. Another: Ann Arbor on Washtenaw, formerly posted 35 now posted 45, with actual 85th percentile speeds of 47 before and after the change. The science and the unbiased research is on my side – but it is impossible to debate emotionalism.
    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • City Resident

    maybe he’s on the Koch Brothers payroll?