Mayoral candidates promising to shut down Chicago’s red light and speed cameras are making a “cheap” and uninformed political play that would likely result in the death of even more pedestrians, a top mayoral aide warned Friday.
“It’s a cheap political thing … It’s an easy kind of reflexive thing. But that’s coming from an uninformed perspective,” Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“A lot of people have sort of a knee-jerk reaction to them and aren’t actually familiarizing themselves with the facts. Speed cameras, red light cameras are proven to improve safety … This is saving lives today.”
Scheinfeld openly acknowledged that red light and speed cameras are a political piñata.
Motorists despise them because they churn out $100 tickets in a process that has, at times, denied them due process.
Candidates currying favor with those motorists hate them, too. Which is why they are united in promising to yank them out without saying how the city will make up the tens of millions in annual revenue.
But Scheinfeld is throwing up the political and governmental equivalent of a stop sign.
She warned all of the candidates vying to replace her boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to beware of the potential safety ramifications.
“More people would die,” she said.
Earlier this year, the Active Transportation Alliance blamed a “very troubling” increase in pedestrian fatalities on “more cars and more driving” tied to lower gas prices and an improving economy, and on an epidemic of both distracted walking and distracted driving.
But instead of fining pedestrians with their heads buried in their cellphones, as some aldermen have proposed, Executive Director Ron Burke argued that Chicago needs more speed cameras, lower speed limits and a $20 million-a-year fund to redesign local streets.
Burke acknowledged the subject of photo enforcement is “highly-charged and controversial” and that there is “not a huge appetite to re-open that conversation” in an Illinois General Assembly that has limited speed cameras to near parks and schools.
But he said it’s worth opening that can of worms after a “comprehensive assessment” of where speed-related crashes and pedestrian fatalities are occurring.
“All around the world and in the United States, all of the research shows that when speed cameras are deployed properly and used to really improve safety and not just to create revenue, they work,” he said.
Since then, the pedestrian and cyclist death rate has eased somewhat.
Through Nov. 30, 41 pedestrians and five cyclists died on the streets of Chicago. That’s down slightly from 44 pedestrian deaths and five cyclists during the same period last year.
On Friday, Scheinfeld noted speed cameras were installed around five more Chicago schools and parks last summer to get speeding motorists endangering children to slow down.
That expanded the city’s network to 162 speed cameras in 68 different zones.
“We’ve continued to make adjustments … I think we should continue to roll out automated enforcement in locations where we expect it will be effective and where there is support for those,” Scheinfeld said.
In the run-up to Chicago’s historic municipal election on Feb. 26, veteran Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman goes one-on-one with Chicago newsmakers each Monday.