Once Again, Alderman Maldonado Calls Automated Enforcement a Money Grab

Maldonado's recent email to constituents.
Maldonado's recent email to constituents.

It’s commendable that 26th Ward alderman Roberto Maldonado recently offered to help his constituents navigate the potentially confusing process of contesting their red light camera tickets. But, for the second time in recent memory, the alderman is also trying to come off as a populist by characterizing automated enforcement, which has been proven to save lives in cities around the word, as a scheme to rip off hardworking Chicagoans.

About a year ago, Maldonado argued that the installation of speed cameras, which in Chicago can only be placed near parks and schools, near Keystone Park in his ward was uncalled for because the cams were out of eyeshot of the green space. “To justify the installation of those speed cameras on the basis of safety of kids, it just doesn’t fly,” he told DNAinfo. “It’s a money grab.”

However, according to a Chicago Department of Transportation analysis. There were 228 crashes within Keystone’s eighth-mile “safety zone” between 2009 and 2012, including five collisions with serious or fatal injuries; speeding was factor in 27 percent of the crashes. The Keystone zone was ranked the 156th most dangerous out of the city’s 1,570 safety zones, putting it in the top 10 percent. In other words, while the cams weren’t placed there solely to protect kids walking to the park, they’re still badly needed at that location.

Last week Maldonado emailed residents with an offer to assist people who recently received letter from the city notifying them that they have a second chance to contest old red light camera tickets. “Our office is ready to help constituents confused by the letters they have received from the city,” he wrote on a web page the email linked to. “As their representative, it’s my duty to cut through the confusion and help constituents return the money that may be owed to them.”

That’s completely reasonable. The city mailed out those letters in the wake of a court ruling that allowed for the continuation of a lawsuit that hopes to declare hundreds of thousands of Chicago red light tickets invalid because the city only gave the motorists 22 days to challenge the tickets, rather than the 25 days required by state law. The lawsuit also alleges that the city failed to mail second notices, which are also required by the law, to people who didn’t respond.

It also must be noted that there appear to be bugs with the city website that’s supposed to allow drivers to review their old tickets. The Chicago Department of Transportation says they only recently were made aware of the problem, they immediately contacted the camera vendor to fix it, and they’ve moved back the deadline for contesting the tickets by two weeks in response to the glitch.

Still, Maldonado went too far when he wrote, “Going forward, the City of Chicago simply cannot continue to reach further into the pockets of working Chicagoans to finance decades of economic irresponsibility and then nickel-and-diming Chicago drivers.”

Rules are rules, and if the city originally failed to follow the letter of the law when issuing notifications about the tickets, those ticket holders are entitled to a refund. But the fact is that most of these people deserved to be ticketed because they ran a red, potentially endangering other road users. Just because a technicality entitles them to a refund doesn’t mean they weren’t driving recklessly in the first place. If you choose to blow a red, putting other people’s lives at risk, you can’t claim you’re an innocent taxpayer having your pockets picked by greedy city officials when you get caught.

  • Runthered

    His much more evidence do you need that this is a corrupt program, greedy money grab. If it wasn’t, they wound t have these issues. I hope the city if forced to refund millions.

  • skelter weeks

    Wednesday Journal had a report last week that suburbs along Harlem Avenue have raked in millions from red light cameras for illegal right turns on red, even though there are very few such accidents at these intersections. Those types of red light cameras are clearly a money grab.

  • Anne A

    Yes, there is corruption in the program. However, that doesn’t erase the fact that we have a serious citywide problem with red light running, which does cause injuries and fatalities. How do we change the culture of speeding, red light running and disregard for others that has such a such impact on street safety for all types of road users? Effective enforcement can make a big difference.

  • FPJ

    I am very familiar with the area discussed in the article and cannot agree with this interpretation. These are intersections with high levels of motor vehicle traffic. However, these are largely urbanized suburbs that have a lot of pedestrian traffic as well — particularly Lake/Harlem in Oak Park and River Forest. These overly-wide intersections feel dangerous and inhospitable from a pedestrian’s perspective. Anything that can be done to better control dangerous car movements should be supported.

  • roadgeek80

    As long as it supports corruption it should never be supported. But clearly you have no clue what your talking about. Lake and Harlem is also used by over 20k cars. The intersection you speak of is not unhospitable to pedestrians. You have a minute to cross. Plenty of time and Lake and Harlem are small for that amount of traffic. Also Lake is great for pedestrians. What this intersection is not good for is drivers. I doubt movements are dangerous at all until the end of rush hour. https://www.google.com/maps/place/N+Harlem+Ave+%26+Lake+St,+River+Forest,+IL+60301/@41.8903138,-87.8061122,20z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x880e34c55971fe03:0xb1a695d5f5c7852

  • roadgeek80

    That is why we need to effectively enforce the laws for all users as well, not just drivers. Red light cameras can be used effectively where dangerous intersections exist, but clearly that was not the goal of the program. When Bernie Stone, I believe says that all intersections should have a camera he just lets you know he is sees it as a revenue generator.

  • planetshwoop

    Yeah, Bernie Stone unfortunately is dead. He’s not really commenting on the program now.

  • planetshwoop

    This issue is more complex than either side wishes to give credit to.

    There is a significant amount of law-breaking by road users. Speeding is common, running lights, stop signs, etc. The enormous costs of this: deaths, collisions, damage to cars, to buildings etc. is huge and accepted uncritically. This is terrible. The anti-camera crowd does not have a credible answer for how to change this behavior.

    Enforcement, automated or done by police, is unpopular and frequently unfairly administered. The taint of corruption always gives an out to illegal and dangerous behaviors on the road. What’s worse, a growing part of the city’s budget is paid for via fines, which gives perverse incentives to create fines to pay for pensions. These fines create real hardships because they tend to cascade if unpaid. And most of us are at least somewhat concerned about the unintended consequences of increased camera usage around the region.

    We can’t get to better driving through enforcement by the city. It won’t work. It has to come through other means: design, or pressure from citizens about the terror of someone speeding in a 4000 lb vehicle.

    I don’t have an easy answer. But I think the increased penalties lead us down the wrong path.

  • planetshwoop

    Ptiy the poor driver! There are wide lines in both directions, giant parking lots on 2 of the corners (and a garage very nearby on the 3rd). It stinks to be a pedestrian at Lake and Harlem because the landscape is oriented around the automobile. Yes, Lake Street is walk-able in sections, but this intersection is a giant parking lot and the light reflects that.

  • planetshwoop

    Right turns on red are unnecessary. They should be eliminated. They create significant danger for pedestrians and drivers. They are no longer needed.

  • roadgeek80

    Thanks for a real retort! Enjoy your endorsement of corruption.

  • roadgeek80

    “There is a significant amount of law breaking by road users.”

    Yes and drivers are the only mode subject to the cities draconian, corrupt enforcement tool. I will gladly pay for camera fines if that money could go to something useful. Problem is it just goes into the general fund as a tax. That tax than becomes another tax and so on. Soda anyone?
    “The anti-camera crowd does not have a credible answer for how to change this behavior.”
    Yes we do. Police enforcement. When did you miss that? Go back to the way things were. Treat the ticket as a moving violation and not a parking ticket. Of course the anti car crowd would like to assume that the anti camera crowd does not want enforcement at all. This is wrong. What we have a problem with is the tone cameras give to the city. Revenue first people second. No improvement to any mode just plain old revenue into the GF

  • roadgeek80

    Drivers subsidize the road. They are the largest user of the road. So in terms of whos pays for what. Of course peds and bikes get the last bits as indirect subsidiaries. Drivers pay the most in user fees and subsidize the road through other taxes more heavily. With that being said pedestrians can cross anywhere. No, the landscape is not oriented around the auto, you goof. Have you ever walked Lake down Harlem to Oak Park? Man you should look at a map before passing judgment.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “Drivers are the only mode subject to the city’s… enforcement tool.” Yep, because drivers are the only road users who are killing other people in Chicago.

  • planetshwoop

    Please be polite. I did not insult you. We can disagree, but no name calling.

    We all pay property taxes, which pay for roads. Gas taxes indeed pay for some roads, but drivers (esp. trucks) cause more damage. So it’s not that cars get priority because of they supposedly pay more; they are for the benefit of all.

    I believe the intersection of Lake and Harlem is auto-oriented. THere is a massive parking lot behind the Gap. There is a giant parking lot behind the Noodles and company. It is not especially friendly to walk to visit many of the businesses as you have to deal with curb cuts.

    Lake Street east of Harlem is more pedestrian oriented, but I was referrinig to the specific intersection.

  • planetshwoop

    1) Police enforcement does not and has not worked. It has not meaningfully made the roads more safe.

    2) Police time is likely better spent on other crimes in Chicago than enforcing speed limits. Especially as there are well documented cases of bias in who is pulled over, given tickets, etc. Automated cameras are less likely to escalate into confrontations during traffic stops.

    Would you support higher taxes if the cameras went away? If it truly is about revenue, as you say, would you support a higher vehicle tax to make up for the revenue lost?

  • rduke

    The “short yellow” red-light camera scandal has made many many people in this city rightfully suspicious of automated enforcement, for better or for worse.

    It’s what makes me so goddamn mad about that. Red light cameras save lives. Speed cameras save lives. But when we do it incorrectly, we taint that improvement with the stink of corruption, and for a very long time it won’t go away unless city government can pull a miracle and make people trust them over it.

  • jcwconsult

    Chicago runs all of their ticket camera programs as government-run money-grab rackets. They produce obscene profits ONLY because the posted speed limits and traffic lights are deliberately mis-engineered for less safety and more tickets. The programs are nothing short of highway robbery, issuing most tickets to safe drivers who endangered no one.

    NO ONE should support having for-profit ticket camera companies involved in traffic enforcement because it guarantees corrupt enforcement for profits. And enforcement for profits is 100% wrong, 100% of the time. Chicago is a serial offender in these rackets.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    The high red light violation rate is due entirely to deliberately mis-engineered traffic lights with yellow intervals deliberately set too short for the ACTUAL perception/reaction times and approach speeds of at least 85% of the drivers. This is the safest timing method and virtually none of Chicago’s camera intersections are engineered for safety. They are engineered to give most tickets to safe drivers for profits – a total perversion of the purpose for enforcement.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    Federal research shows that right on red turns, with or without a full stop, are involved in only six one-hundredths of one percent (0.06% or 0.0006) of crashes with injuries or fatalities. Almost every right on red camera ticket robs a safe driver who endangered absolutely no one. It is a racket.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Folks please keep the discussion civil. Thanks.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    There’s no question that people who don’t drive on highways on a regular basis are subsidizing them for those who do. Yes, we all rely on highway for the transportation of products, and other uses that serve the common good, so in that sense the playing field is level, and it’s true that drivers pay gas taxes and tolls.

    But but nowadays these these “user fees” don’t even come close to covering the costs of highways. While gas tax used to cover the federal Highway Trust Fund, nowadays that’s not the case. That’s largely due to the fact that the federal gas tax has been stuck at about 18 cents a gallon since 1993, and the revenue generated has less buying power with every passing year. Similarly, the Illinois gas tax has been frozen at $0.19/gallon since 1991. More on the subject:

    Thus drivers and non-drivers alike share the cost of the huge public subsidies required to pay the remaining costs of building and maintain car infrastructure. And then there are all the public costs associated with tax subsidies for drivers, car crashes, air pollution health impacts, congestion, and sprawl, which non-drivers also help underwrite via sales, income, and property taxes.

    Yes, transit and bike infrastructure are subsidized as well, but these modes basically have the opposite effect on the aforementioned public costs — they make our streets safer, improve health outcomes, reduce congestion, and encourage density (and its property tax revenue benefits for municipalities). And bike infrastructure is dirt cheap. It’s been calculated that all the bike infrastructure built in Portland between 1993 and 2010 cost about the same as a mile of urban freeway: http://www.politifact.com/oregon/statements/2011/mar/19/sam-adams/portland-mayor-sam-adams-says-portlands-spent-its-/

  • johnaustingreenfield

    There’s a common misconception that the city shortened yellow light times in an effort to get more ticket revenue. Actually, they changed their ticketing standard to allow tickets after yellows that were a microsecond below three seconds, without making an announcement about the policy change. That was legal, but it was a bad decision because it raised transparency issues. More on this: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2014/10/17/inspector-general-issues-a-reality-check-on-tribs-red-light-cam-spin/

  • FPJ

    Yes, I do know that intersection. I am specifically referring to the very long right turn lane on Harlem coming from the North (to turn West on Lake). The road design there encourages fast right turns that conflict with pedestrians crossing both East-West on Lake and North-South on Harlem. And, that is exactly the movement controlled by the traffic camera.

    In fact, I have received a ticket for a rolling right turn onto Lake from Harlem. And, I still support automated enforcement.

    The (traffic) law is the law. Since the police in Northern Illinois seem to have abandoned the idea of enforcing the traffic law, automated enforcement it is.

  • planetshwoop

    Hmm. Sometimes even %0.06 is unacceptable: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2015/11/30/tour-bus-driver-fatally-struck-professor-who-was-walking-to-an-art-exhibit/

    The counter argument to your statistic is that “accidents” are leading cause of death in the United states according to the CDC. The broad category of “accidents” surely includes poor choices: speeding, illegal turns, not following signals.

    I think all of us have either personally been harmed or know someone who has been injured by driver collisions. Right turns on red are unnecessary and a contributor to this harm.

  • jcwconsult

    With respect, NHTSA and the FHWA disagree and consider right on red turns to be both important and almost always safe.

    The USA has a perverse fetish for unnecessary full stops. Many European countries use Yield or Give Way protocols wherever possible to prevent unnecessary full stops that waste time and fuel, along with increasing air and noise pollution.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Lakeview Guy

    If police made traffic stops, it would help with other crimes. Think of how many unlicensed, uninsured, intoxicated, people with guns, etc. they would find, that would make the roads far more safe. To say their time is “better spent on other crimes” is false. And to think that “automated ticketing” somehow relieves the police of this duty, is also false. get a clue.

  • roadgeek80

    You forgot corruption……The main thing is safety was never the reason they were installed. And you are right
    drivers cant be special snowflakes like you….


  • roadgeek80

    “There’s no question that people who don’t drive on highways on a regular basis are subsidizing them for those who do”

    Actually, no one asked this question or eluded to drivers subsidizing other drivers. My point was that drivers pay the freight in user fees and (sales, property, income)subsidies that pay for all roads. It is farely easy to take the percentage of the driving public and figure out they are paying for their own road improvements. 80-85% in the suburbs drive, 65-70% of people in the city drive. Thus, subsidy plus user fees equals the full cost of the road.

    You never addressed tolls as a user fee. Those definitely are paying for the Illinois tollway. Toll roads cant receive any federal funding or subsidies, unless voted on by the public. Which is how roads end up SUBSIDIZED in the first place.

    “Non-drivers and drivers alike share the cost of huge public subsidies.. for car infrastructure.”

    Do non-drivers not benefit from use of a highway or a street?

    Truth is there is no such thing as a non user. Indirect user, yes but not, a non user. Those who don’t drive also indirectly use the road whether by bike, transit, a friend with a car or cab. With that being said users(drivers) pay for indirect users(non drivers). Simply because there are a lot more drivers than all other users.

    “Yes, transit and bike infrastructure are subsidized as well, but these modes basically have the opposite effect on the aforementioned public costs.”

    This is true they create less drivers. Which drives down my costs, theoretically speaking. That is not true they create other public costs like transit infrastructure and bike infrastructure. All subsidized by the driver.

  • roadgeek80

    “Please be polite. I did not insult you.”
    Well, I would feel insulted too if I did not actually look at the intersection in question. I recall a smart retort about Bernie Stone, now your playing victim. That strategy is old as the hills.
    “We all pay property taxes”
    Are you sure? I don’t agree, directly(property owners) and indirectly(renters). we all pay property tax. Property owners likely own a car or many cars. So, definitely contributing greatly to subsidies derived from property tax and the road fund of any governing body.
    Lake and Harlem is auto oriented in that it used more heavily by cars. However, it very hostile to the car. Pedestrians low speed limits, vibrancy, 11 foot lanes, only 50 or so feet to cross, with 1 minute walk signals. Should I go on.
    One thing I want to make clear it does not have to restrict traffic and basically be a pedestrian mall to be friendly to pedestrians. Anyone with legs can walk and see how friendly it is. I went to school over there and did not own a car. The area is very vibrant even without all trappings of the anti car movement. This neighborhood demonstrates that you don’t have to restrict traffic to maintain street life and business.

  • roadgeek80

    I hope so too. It would be great to see when the Northwestern study is done. Then Rahmbo can spin how “safe” the scameras are. Remember don’t let a crisis go to waste. You know why? Because it is for the children.

  • roadgeek80

    “The road design there encourages fast right turns”
    “The(traffic) law is the law”
    Well, when you were turning did you forget to follow the speed limit.
    “automated enforcement it is”

    If you read my post I have no problem with automated enforcement. As long as a study is done to justify. The speed limits are not changed to milk drivers for money because today it was 30. tomorrow it is 25. All because drivers conformed. That is not because of the law is the law. That is because money talks and bullshit walks.

  • FPJ

    Most of this response was incomprehensible, but I take from this that your position is: “I don’t like speed/red light cameras, so they must be illegal.” The thing is, the city did follow the (state) law when placing them.

    And if you think that “all … drivers conformed” to the traffic code anywhere in Northeastern Illinois, I don’t know what to tell you. We have very different versions of reality.

  • roadgeek80

    It is fairly easy to read, and fun too. Just demonstrates that there is much more, than your basic, “law is the law”. I am sorry you could not comprehend that.

    ” I don’t like speed cameras…”

    Did you read the part of me saying I am all for automated enforcement in the beginning of my post? Either you did not read it or you where stammering to find something to post in response. And this line you did not read either.

    “All Drivers conformed”

    I said “drivers conformed”. Much different than “all” but I see you have a problem with comprehension and now strawmen.

    “I don’t know what to tell you. we have very different versions of reality.”

    Of course, (This^) we do. No need to get your panties in a bunch. But I will tell you, I live in the real world. Where I see a good thing(the law, automated enforcement) being corrupted. YOU, live in a world where you want to bullshit yourself because it fits into your ideology.

  • roadgeek80


  • LinuxGuy

    I think Chicago should worry more about their violence problem and less about ticketing safe drivers. They also showed that strict gun laws are a total flop. Only the bad guns have guns then!