The City of Chicago will remove 50 red light cameras situated at 25 intersections, most of them on the city’s South and West Sides. Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the measure at a press conference held at La Follette Park field house, 1333 N. Laramie Avenue, in Austin on March 8.
The move comes one month from the April 7 runoff between Emanuel and his challenger, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
According to a statement from the mayor’s office, the decision to remove the cameras was based on Illinois Department of Transportation data. In 2014, the mayor removed 32 cameras from 16 intersections, which was the program’s first reduction since its implementation in 2013.
Although, as of press time, the 50 cameras hadn’t been removed, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the cameras had stopped ticketing drivers at midnight on Friday, March 7. After this most recent reduction in red light cameras, which have been a source of consternation among Chicago drivers, there remain more than 300 positioned at 150 intersections throughout the city.
In addition to the reduction, the mayor also implemented several reforms to the system. They include the requirement that community meetings be held before red light cameras are removed, moved or added; installing pedestrian timers at red light intersections that don’t have them; and allowing first-time offenders an opportunity to take safety courses, instead of pay the $100 fine.
In a statement, Mayor Emanuel said the cameras “help reduce the most dangerous crashes and allow police officers to concentrate on fighting crime, not writing traffic violations, and public trust is vital for this program to be effective.”
“Since taking office, I have instituted a number of reforms to the program, including firing the original vendor, removing 82 cameras at 41 intersections, working with the Inspector General to review the program, strengthening oversight, using improved technology and adding more public transparency,” he said.
Commissioner Garcia, however, slammed the Mayor’s move, citing a Chicago Sun-Times article that said, “The timing of the announcement — as speed cameras were about to start churning out $35 and $100 tickets — made it look like Emanuel was throwing drivers a bone. Now, Emanuel’s timing looks even more political.”
“Today, the countdown clock officially began on the red light program in Chicago. In less than a month, voters will have the chance to end Rahm Emanuel’s red light rip off,” Garcia said.
“Garcia and Emanuel differ sharply over the future of the red light program,” Garcia’s statement notes. “Chuy Garcia will end the red light camera program on his first day in office. Mayor Emanuel will continue the program. The mayor is addicted to the revenue the program produces and is personally conflicted by the fact that his former campaign manager was a lobbyist for the red light company the mayor chose.”
“This new move by Mayor Emanuel is too little, too late,” Garcia said. “I am confident voters will see this announcement today for what it is — pure politics. It’s time for a change.”
But that same Sun-Times article demonstrates that the red light camera program, which was implemented under Mayor Richard Daley in 2003, may have been more complicated than a simple pay-to-play explanation affords.
“The mayor fired the Arizona contractor at the center of a $2 million bribery scandal and replaced Redflex Traffic Systems with Xerox State & Local Solutions Traffic Solutions,” according to the article.
“When a Chicago Tribune investigation questioned the legitimacy of thousands of $100 tickets, Emanuel asked Inspector General Joe Ferguson to conduct an exhaustive review of the program. Last fall, Ferguson faulted the Chicago Department of Transportation for exercising “benign neglect” in its oversight of Redflex, allowing suspicious ticketing spikes and equipment failures that may have cost the city millions to go unnoticed.
“The inspector general said he found no evidence of “willful manipulation” by the city or Redflex to ratchet up the number of tickets. To the contrary, he found the city’s failure to exercise its legal obligation to oversee the now-fired contractor might have cost the city money,” the Sun-Times report noted.
The 25 intersections where the 50 red light cameras will be removed include: Ashland and 47th, 63rd, Archer, Diversey and Garfield; California and 31st; Central and Madison; Cicero and the Stevenson Expressway.; Cornell and 57th; Cottage Grove and 95th; Damen and Blue Island; Elston and Foster; Halsted and 63rd and 83rd; Harlem and Northwest Hwy.; Jeffery and 79th; Osceola and Touhy; Pulaski and Montrose; Stony Island and 83rd; Vincennes and 111th; Western and 51st and Pratt; Kimball, McCormick and Lincoln; Narragansett, 55th and Archer; and Western, Armitage and Milwaukee.