CDOT boss sloughs off speeding alderman’s demand for more signs

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Newly-appointed Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld on Monday sloughed off a speeding alderman’s demand for more and better signage to alert motorists to slow down while approaching speed cameras installed around schools and parks.

“We have a lot of signage out there. There’s always an opportunity to improve efforts. [But] again, it’s about changing behavior. That’s what our intention is: to slow people down in those areas,” Scheinfeld said.

The new commissioner was asked whether Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) was justified in demanding more and better signs.

“We actually have a lot of signs. We have a comprehensive signage plan where every speed camera is installed that meets the goals of that [City Council] resolution,” she said.

“We’re going to continue to expand that this spring when the season opens in terms of construction. We’re going to be doing additional [pavement] striping. [But] we do have signage in all school and park areas in addition to those where there are speed cameras reminding drivers to slow down for children and other people crossing the street.”

After getting two warning notices for speeding around schools and parks in unfamiliar neighborhoods, Hairston introduced a City Council resolution last week co-signed by a dozen colleagues.

The resolution demands that the Chicago Department of Transportation install “clear distinctive signs and/or striping that indicates that a motorist is approaching a school or park safety zone.”

It claims what signs there are alerting motorists a “photo-enforced speed camera” lies ahead are “similar to existing speed limit signs” while signs warning motorists approaching a red-light camera are “uniquely designed with a traffic signal illustration.”

Hairston voted against the speed cameras around schools and parks that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is counting on to raise $70 million for children’s programs in 2014.

The alderman acknowledged that she was alerted to the sign shortage and sign confusion after receiving two recent warning notices of her own.

“It’s hard to know the difference between a school zone and speed zone signage. They’re almost identical. I’m having problems, just as any motorist would who is not given notice that they’re in violation of a law or that there is a law that applies,” she said.

“This is still the United States of America. We, as citizens, have rights. There are certain things that must be given to motorist. It cannot just be one way. A motorist has to have rights. They have to be given notice of what the law is in order to follow it.”

Before hammering motorists with $100 and $35 tickets, Hairston argued that the Emanuel administration has an obligation to install distinctive signs —and plenty of them.

“I didn’t even know I was in a zone. There were no signs at all. If I’m driving in an unfamiliar neighborhood, then I’m entitled to notice to be able to comply with the law to be a safe drive in a school zone by reducing my speed. It is not fair for a driver not to have a posted sign allowing them to adjust their speed. That’s why we have speed limits posted — so you know how fast you’re legally allowed to go. They need to explain how a motorist is supposed to know how many feet to the [speed] camera. All Chicagoans would love to know,” she said.

Emanuel has insisted that his plan to install 50 speed cameras around schools and parks by Dec. 31 and as many as 300 over time is about saving lives, not raising sorely-needed revenue.

But  after 204,743 warning notices were issued in just 40 days during a trial period around three parks — enough to generate $12.2 million in fines — there appeared to be a windfall in the works, no matter what the mayor’s motives.

To win approval from a reluctant City Council, Emanuel agreed to cap the number of speed camera locations at 300 and reduced the lesser fine from $50-to-$35.

The mayor also agreed to two-tiers of warnings and to roll back the hours cameras would operate around schools from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Even after the warning period ends, the first ticket issued to each motorist is a freebie.

So far, the city has been giving motorists a break by issuing $35 tickets, only to drivers caught on camera going 10 miles over the speed limit and $100 tickets to those going 11 miles over or more. There has been no word yet on when ticketing at the $35 level will begin for those caught going six miles over the limit.

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