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City to add speed cams around five more schools and parks

A pedestrian crosses LaSalle St. outside City Hall. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Speed cameras will be installed around five more Chicago schools and parks to convince speeding motorists endangering children to slow down.

City Hall announced the expansion to 162 speed cameras in 68 different zones across the city, as most Chicagoans hurried home or hustled out of town to celebrate the July 4th holiday.

The new cameras will be installed in mid-July at:

• Hiawatha Park, 8029 W. Forest Preserve Avenue, with enforcement onthe 8000 block of W. Forest Preserve Avenue and the 8000 block of W. Addison Street.

• Kosciuszko Park, 2732 N. Avers Avenue, with enforcement on the 3800 block of W. Diversey Avenue.

Before the start of the new school year, cameras will also be installed at:

• Acero Schools, including Major Hector P. Garcia MD High School, 4248 W. 47th Street (Formerly Uno Schools), with enforcementon the 4200 block of W. 47th Street.

• Near North Montessori School, 1434 W. Division Street, with enforcementon the 1400 block of W. Division Street.

• Gary Comer College Prep High School, 7131 S. South Chicago Avenue, with enforcement on the 7100 block of S. South Chicago Avenue and on the 800 block of E. 71st Street.

All of the cameras were requested by local aldermen and community leaders to curb speeding near schools and parks that endangers children, according to City Hall.

A press release issued by the Chicago Department of Transportation included quotes from local Aldermen Brian Hopkins (2nd), Ariel Reboyras (30th), Milly Santiago (31st) and Nick Sposato (38th) welcoming the expansion.

Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld hailed speed cameras as a “proven deterrent to speeding, and one of the most effective tools in our toolbox for reducing speeding and saving lives.”

“These additional speed cameras that we are installing are responsive to local requests. They will make these communities safer and support our Vision Zero Chicago Action Plan” tailor-made to eliminate deaths and serious injuries from traffic crashes by 2026.

Last month, the Active Transportation Alliance argued that Chicago needs more speed cameras, lower speed limits and a $20 million-a-year fund to redesign local streets to combat a “very troubling” surge in pedestrian fatalities.

Motorists driving on the streets of Chicago struck and killed 18 pedestrians during the first four months of this year, nine of them in April alone. Many of the victims were either senior citizens or children.

That’s up from just seven pedestrian fatalities during the same four-month period in 2012, 13 pedestrian deaths in 2014 and 14 walking deaths last year. Three more Chicago pedestrians were mowed down in May.

Even more troubling was the fact that all nine of the April 2018 pedestrian fatalities involved speeding motorists who apparently lost control and mowed down people standing on sidewalks, according to Streetsblog Chicago.

Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, blamed the “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, Burke is proposing lower speed limits, more speed cameras and a $20 million-a-year fund to bankroll street improvements included in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ambitious plan to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2026.

Those improvements include: better-lit crosswalks and countdown timers; pedestrian-refuge islands on wider streets; narrowing streets and re-striping the width of lanes to force motorists to slow down and installing bump-out curbs that force turning vehicles to go slower and make wider turns.

Burke acknowledged that 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 argued that 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. They really do work. They save lives,” Burke said, refusing to say how many more speed cameras he would like to see than the current complement of 151.

If Burke has his way, the same citywide assessment to pinpoint the location of speed-related crashes that mow down pedestrians will lead to reduced speed limits and increased enforcement of them.

“There are a lot of streets in Chicago where the speed limit should be lowered … from 30-to-25 [miles-per-hour] and from 25 to 20,” he said.

“The odds of somebody being significantly injured in a traffic crash — whether they’re inside a car and especially if they’re not. If they’re walking or biking — goes up dramatically when the vehicle speed is above 30 miles-an-hour.”

More recently, Emanuel was urged to go easier on parking and vehicle ticket scofflaws after a new report showed the city’s get-tough enforcement policies were having a disproportionate impact on low-income and minority communities.

In a report appropriately called “The Debt Spiral,” the Woodstock Institute examined 3.6 million vehicle-related tickets issued by the city in 2017.

Those tickets included: 273,000 issued by red-light cameras; 250,000 by speed cameras; 187,000 sticker violations; 175,000 tickets for expired meters; 162,000 for expired license plates or temporary registrations, and 144,000 for street cleaning violations.