Red light cameras have been a thorn in the side of thousands or perhaps millions of American motorists. One of the cities with the most red light cameras in use- Chicago- is now looking into whether they are used to improve safety or to maximize revenue for the city.
Not surprisingly, the only reason Chicago is now evaluating the program is thanks to corruption, which, like moniker the Windy City, is a staple of the largest inland U.S. city.
The Expired Meter, a Chicago area motorist blog, Chicago’s red light camera program is the nation’s largest with 384 cameras at 191 intersections, generating tens of millions of dollars in revenue every year.
The article goes on to say that at last Wednesday’s monthly City Council meeting, Aldermen John Arena (45th), Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) introduced a resolution calling for hearings questioning whether red light cameras are being installed to improve safety or to maximize revenue for the city. A total of 24 aldermen signed onto the resolution.
While the program is entering its 10th year, it’s faced little scrutiny or oversight since it’s inception in 2003. When the program was started and then expanded under former Mayor Richard Daley, there was little if any opposition.
But the recent revelations that the city’s RLC vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems, had routinely provided free hotel accommodations and tickets to sporting events to the former Chicago Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner in charge of the program, have energized alderman to get some answers.
Alderman Arena, who penned the resolution says the recent move by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to block Redflex from bidding on the RLC and speed camera contracts was instrumental in moving him to hold hearings.
“It’s a pretty aggressive move for Chicago,” said Arena of what Mayor Emanuel did. “In that regard I’ll compliment the Mayor. But what are we going to do going forward? We want the hearings to assuage the fears of citizens who feel that it’s all about revenue.”
“I don’t think I had much trust in the red light camera program to begin with, but when we saw CDOT employees caught in a corrupt scandal to benefit from the program, we said let’s go back and have a full blown hearing on every aspect of the program,” said Waugespack. “We want a complete hearing on what’s been going on with this program and the data that’s gone into determining what intersections get cameras.”
According to city budgets every penny of revenue generated by this program goes into the city’s general fund, without being specifically earmarked for traffic safety or even general transportation spending.
“That’s always been bothersome,” said Waguespack.
Further fueling questions regarding RLC site selection is eye brow raising revenue data on the city’s top ten money producing intersections in the city.
These intersections include 99th & Halsted, Belmont & Kedzie, Lake Shore Drive & Belmont, Kostner & North, Hollywood & Sheridan, California & Diversey, 87th & Vincennes, Van Buren & Western, Peterson & Western and Cortland & Ashland.
Just through 2011, these ten intersections collectively generated over $58 million since 2003. These intersections, while representing only 5% of the city’s total RLC locations brought in 19% of the program’s total revenue.
The resolution has been assigned to the Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Both Arena and Waguespack hopes to have hearings in April or May but are awaiting independent audits from the Mayor’s Office and the Inspector General’s Office on these issues.