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Speed cameras to start churning out $35 tickets Monday under lower threshold

City Hall says the decision to start ticketing motorists caught driving 6 mph to 10 mph over the posted speed limit was triggered by a 45% surge in traffic fatalities, but Ald. Anthony Beale doesn’t buy it. It’s about generating more revenue for the city, he said.

Cameras at 63rd Street and Western Avenue on Wednesday, April 18, 2012.
Motorists used to be able to avoid speeding tickets if they weren’t going too much over the posted limit. But now, starting Monday, those city cameras will start nabbing drivers even if they’re just 6 mph to 10 mph over the limit.
Sun-Times file

Starting Monday, Motorists nailed by speed cameras driving 6 mph to 10 mph over the posted speed limit will receive $35 tickets in the mail, under a crackdown triggered by a 45% surge in traffic deaths.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot chose to lower the boom slowly — with a 44-day warning period — after her decision to lower the threshold for speed camera tickets became a focal point for aldermanic critics of her $12.8 billion budget.

The longer-than-usual grace period ends Monday, when the city starts playing for keeps.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former longtime chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, predicted the public reaction would be fast and furious.

“We’re still in a pandemic. People are not working. Crime is up. Restaurants are closing. Hotels are closing. And we’re gonna continue to set people back by ticketing them more. That is the wrong approach,” said Beale, one of Lightfoot’s most outspoken City Council critics.

Lightfoot infuriated aldermen by doing what the City Council authorized former Mayor Rahm Emanuel to do, but the city never did.

That is to have Chicago’s 88 active speed cameras, which are 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,” despite her campaign promise to unwind the city’s addiction to fines and fees on the backs of low-income people.

As evidence, City Hall points to a pandemic-related surge in speeding, reckless driving and fatalities tied to reduced traffic volumes.

With more people working from home and fewer vehicles on the road, 139 people died last year in Chicago traffic crashes, a 45% increase over the year before. New York City reported a similar increase.

Beale doesn’t buy it.

“I don’t believe this is about public safety. I don’t think it’s about vehicle safety. I think this is all about revenue,” he said.

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.

Beale noted then that Chicago has roughly 50 speed camera locations that are “covered by a camera facing in only one direction.”

As a result, only those motorists with front plates can be captured on camera and automatically mailed speedcam tickets along with photographic evidence of the violation.

Beale argued then that 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 lowering the threshold, he said.

The warning about Monday’s start of ticketing tied to the lower speed threshold was buried in a Chicago Department of Transportation release touting $49 million in traffic safety improvements included in Lightfoot’s $3.7 billion capital plan.

This spring, CDOT plans to launch a “community engagement” process in Englewood, West Englewood, Grand Boulevard and Washington Park on the South Side, and in Belmont-Cragin, Humboldt Park and West Town on the West and Northwest Side.

The goal is pinpointing intersections needing “traffic-calming” improvements, such as lower speed limits and fewer lanes for motor vehicles. They also could include pedestrian islands and “bump-outs” that extend the sidewalk into the intersection; both shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians.