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Speed camera crackdown to start slowly — with 44-day grace period

Motorists caught driving 6 mph to 10 mph over the posted speed limit will begin getting warning notices on Jan. 15. The grace period will continue until March 1, when they’ll start receiving $35 tickets.

A red-light camera on Chicago’s North Side.
Beginning March 1, drivers caught going 6 mph to 10 mph over the posted speed limit will start receiving $35 tickets in the mail — but if they have no prior history of speeding, they will get an additional warning notice.
Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is not abandoning her controversial plan to lower the threshold for speed camera tickets. But she’s lowering the boom slowly — with a 44-day warning period.

The crackdown that became a focal point for aldermanic critics of the mayor’s $12.8 billion budget begins Jan. 15.

That’s when warning notices start going out to motorists caught driving 6 mph to 10 mph over the posted speed limit. The grace period lasts until March 1.

Only then will speeders start receiving $35 tickets in the mail — but with an additional warning notice for those motorists if they have no prior history of speeding.

Lightfoot’s bad news budget assumes $68 million in additional revenue in 2021 from “enhanced fine enforcement initiatives.”

Chief among them is the mayor’s decision to do what the City Council authorized former Mayor Rahm Emanuel to do, but the city never did.

That is: have Chicago’s 88 active speed cameras strategically positioned around schools and parks churn out $35 tickets to motorists caught driving 6 mph to 10 mph over the posted speed limit. Motorists caught driving 11 mph or more over the speed limit are slapped with $100 tickets.

The mayor has defended that decision as imperative to “keep communities safe,” even though it contradicts her campaign promise to unwind the city’s addiction to fines and fees on the backs of low-income people.

Through the end of November, Chicago had 120 traffic fatalities. That’s 31 more than the same period in 2019 — a 35% increase. Looking just at fatal crashes involving people in motor vehicles, fatalities are up 78%, from 45 to 80. These deaths have occurred with fewer cars on the road and city traffic data showing drivers going 8% faster, on average, than at the same time last year.

“We’ve seen, unfortunately over the course of this year ... speed-related accidents and deaths go up exponentially. And we can’t ignore that reality. The hope is that, by being more aggressive in citing people for speeding around schools, around parks, that we’re gonna actually lower the amount of traffic-related accidents and fatalities,” Lightfoot told reporters last fall.

“Unlike fines for non-moving violations that did fall disproportionately on Black and Brown Chicagoans and drove people into bankruptcy, people have control over whether they speed or not. The signs are very well marked. And it’s my hope that people will take this as an opportunity to check their speed because we can’t afford to have more people injured and more lives lost.”

Chicago has 161 speed cameras, though 73 have been “disabled” since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic because they’re near shuttered schools and playlots. That leaves 88 in operation.

With Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi on the hot seat at City Council budget hearings in October, aldermen demanded to know why the city was endangering pedestrians and motorists and leaving sorely needed revenue on the table by failing to position cameras around schools and parks in both directions.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former longtime chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, noted on that day that Chicago currently has roughly 50 speed camera locations that are “covered by a camera facing in only one direction.”

That literally means that only those motorists with front plates can be captured on camera and automatically mailed speedcam tickets along with photographic evidence of the violation.

Beale said he’s been told that in 2019 alone, Chicago’s top 15 speed camera locations had “over 83,000 speeding vehicles” that did not have a front plate and, therefore, those motorists got away without being ticketed.

If the city installed speed cameras in both directions, there would be no need to “nickel and dime” motorists by ticketing drivers going 6 mph to 9 mph over the speed limit around schools and parks, Beale said.

Biagi said then she would “have to check that number” and get back to Beale.

But she defended the crackdown.

“What we know from the data is that folks who get a ticket, 80% of ‘em don’t get another ticket for another year. Meaning it’s working,” Biagi said.

“That’s the idea. We want to lower speeds. It’s focused on safety. We feel that this is a way to really reduce those speeds and reduce fatalities.”

Lightfoot’s budget also adds 750 metered parking spaces in the Loop at $7 an hour and the Central Business Districts at $4.50 an hour. Rates in the $2-an-hour zone increased to $2.25 on Jan. 2. Rates in the $4.50- and $7-an-hour zones remain unchanged.