Nabbed twice by speed cameras, alderman demands better signage

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A South Side alderman who got two warning notices recently after speeding around schools and parks is demanding that City Hall put up more and better signs to alert motorists to slow down.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) introduced a resolution at this week’s City Council meeting co-signed by a dozen colleagues.

Signs alerting motorists to an upcoming speed camera are “similar to existing speed limit signs,” the resolution states. By contrast, signs warning motorists approaching a red-light camera are “uniquely designed with a traffic signal illustration,” according to the resolution.

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.”

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. She was caught on camera speeding around schools and parks in unfamiliar neighborhoods.

“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,” Hairston said.

“This is still the United States of America. We, as citizens, have rights. There are certain things that must be given to [a] 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 — the higher fine for going 11 mph over the speed limit, the lower fine for going between 6 and 10 mph over the limit — 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,” she said.

“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 driver 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.”

Newly appointed Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said the sign resolution was “just introduced” and she was still studying it.

Emanuel has insisted that his plan to install speed cameras 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 only $100 tickets. There has been no word yet on when ticketing at the $35 level will begin.

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