Beale wants speed camera threshold raised back to 10 mph over limit

Motorists caught on speed cameras driving 6 mph to 9 mph over the speed limit would no longer be socked with $35 tickets under a plan proposed Wednesday by Ald. Anthony Beale. He wants the 10 mph threshold restored.

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Cameras at 63rd Street and Western Avenue on Wednesday, April 18, 2012.

The threshold for getting a speeding ticket when caught on a city camera was lowered to 6 mph over the speed limit. Ald. Anthony Beale wants it set back to 10 mph over the speed limit.

Sun-Times file

Motorists caught on camera driving from 6 mph to 9 mph over the speed limit would no longer be socked with $35 tickets under a plan proposed Wednesday to kill a crackdown in the name of safety that one alderman called a “cash cow.”

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), one of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s most outspoken City Council critics, wants to raise the threshold for receiving speed camera tickets back to 10 mph, where it was under Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Since March 1, motorists caught driving as few as 6 mph over the speed limit have been receiving $35 tickets in the mail. The mayor’s office said the crackdown is aimed at reversing a 45% surge in traffic deaths.

As evidence, City Hall has pointed 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.

Beale doesn’t buy it.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, the former longtime chairman of the council’s Transportation Committee introduced an ordinance that would ticket only those motorists caught going at least 10 mph over the posted speed limit — though the fine would be $100, up from $35.

When two committees were called, the ordinance was sent to the Rules Committee, the traditional burial ground for legislation opposed by the mayor.

Lowering the threshold for speeding tickets “is definitely a money grab. And it is attacking people who can least afford it. It is once again targeting communities that are struggling,” Beale said.

“We just can’t afford to continue to hit people upside the head with fines and fees when we’re struggling to get the economy back going again.”

Beale argued speed cameras confined to Chicago neighborhoods are churning out one ticket every twelve seconds and generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.

To ensure a more equitable crackdown, he plans to introduce a companion ordinance next month authorizing speed cameras on Lake Shore Drive.

“If it’s truly about safety, the amount of speeders going up and down the expressways is where the real problems are. I know we need jurisdiction from the state to do the expressways, but we have jurisdiction over Lake Shore Drive,” he said.

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

The lower-threshold speed-camera tickets are chief among them. The council also had authorized Mayor Rahm Emanuel to take that action but it didn’t happen.

Those speed cameras, strategically positioned around schools and parks, issue $35 tickets to motorists caught driving 6 mph to 9 mph over the speed limit, and $100 tickets above that.

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

“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,” Lightfoot told reporters last fall.

“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.”

Two months ago, Beale got the go-ahead to turn a home on a crime-plagued block in Roseland into a privately-funded mecca for community policing over Lightfoot’s strenuous objections.

What are his chances of defying the mayor again—by raising the speed camera threshold?

“Well, I don’t know. We’re gonna work it and try and convince 26 aldermen to do the right thing,” Beale said.

The mayor’s office and Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey had no immediate comment on Beale’s proposal.

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