You can still get a speed-camera ticket for driving 6 mph over the limit after Lightfoot’s council victory

The mayor had hinted at a veto, but it wasn’t necessary, as a vote to raise the ticketing threshold to 10 mph over the speed limit was voted down, 26-16.

SHARE You can still get a speed-camera ticket for driving 6 mph over the limit after Lightfoot’s council victory
Chicago City Hall.

At a Chicago City Council meeting Wednesday, alderpersons went along with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s wishes and maintained the threshold for speed-camera tickets.

Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday dodged an embarrassing defeat that would have set the stage for her first veto on the volatile issue of how fast motorists can drive before getting a speed-camera ticket.

By a 26-18 vote, the City Council kept the threshold to get a speed camera ticket at 6 mph over the posted speed limit. Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) lost his battle to restore the threshold to 10 mph, where it was before Lightfoot lowered it in her 2021 budget.

Lightfoot was so determined to preserve the revenue and prevent giving motorists even more license to hit the gas, she was poised to issue the first mayoral veto since Richard M. Daley snuffed out the big-box minimum wage ordinance in 2006.

Now, she can keep her veto pen in her pocket. Her safety argument prevailed.

Prior to the final vote, Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) punctuated that argument, reading aloud the names and ages of some recent victims mowed down by speeders on Chicago streets.

“I can’t stand here in good conscience and cast a vote that leads to more names on that list,” La Spata said.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) speaks during a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, July 20, 2022.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) voted in favor of keeping the threshold for speed-camera tickets at 6 mph over the posted speed limit.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Newly appointed Ald. Monique Scott (24th), sister of former Ald. Michael Scott Jr., added, “If you give someone an inch, they’ll take a mile. It’s a criminal act to speed. As a parent, as a pedestrian, I can’t support this.”

License Committee Chair Emma Mitts (37th) said she was nailed by a speed camera on Chicago Avenue once while rushing to a council meeting and refused to pay the ticket until the fine doubled.

“That $200 made me get my senses together,” Mitts said, arguing to retain the lower threshold.

“Slow down. That’s what I tell you. Slow it down. Let’s obey the law. Let’s not break the law. Let’s drive right.”

Northwest Side Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) said he voted to raise the ticketing threshold because he’s been “begging” without success for cameras at some of his ward’s most dangerous intersections.

Mayoral challenger Ray Lopez (15th) warned his colleagues not to “fall for” the mayor’s bogus safety argument.

“They’re not used for safety. They’re a cash cow of 164 cameras in very specific neighborhoods,” Lopez said.

“It’s outrageous that ... there are some neighborhoods with lots of schools and not a single camera and my community has a camera at every other school. People are paying a tax [in the form of fines] to benefit everyone else.”

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) and Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) chat during a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall on July 20, 2022.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) and Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) chat during Wednesday’s Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall. Beale (left) pushed for a higher ticketing threshold for speed cameras, and had the support of Lopez, but still fell short.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Lightfoot said from the rostrum that she finds it “surreal that we’re even having this argument,” considering the 174 traffic fatalities last year and the increased likelihood of a pedestrian being killed if struck at higher speeds.

“Increasing speeds encourages speeders to do more to destroy our residents,” the mayor said.

Beale closed the debate by reminding his colleagues that “not one of the fatalities has been around a speed camera.”

“My people can’t afford to keep paying these tickets. This is about relief. Don’t go for the okey-doke that this is about safety. This is about revenue, 1,000%,” he said.

After the Council meeting, Lightfoot told reporters there are a number of things the city must do to stop motorists from “driving like mad” and driving while distracted in a way that “would be laughable” if it didn’t have such “deadly consequences.”

One idea is reducing the speed limit citywide, as several alderpersons have repeatedly suggested.

“That’s something we have to take a look at. ... Cities across the country have done that,” the mayor said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, July 20, 2022.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot was successful in her fight to keep a lower ticket threshold for motorists caught by speed cameras.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The alderpersons joining Beale in his rebellion included Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), the mayor’s hand-picked chair of the City Council’s Budget Committee.

Dowell even had previously suggested ways to replace revenue lost to a higher ticketing threshold, including raising the maximum speed-ticket fine to $125 (from $100) and increasing permit fees for “high-impact events.” 

Last month, the Finance Committee voted 16-15 to approve the higher threshold.

Lightfoot responded by calling out those “yes” votes, challenging Chicagoans to “remember their names” at the polls in February. Six members of Lightfoot’s council leadership team joined the rare rebellion, including Dowell and Zoning Committee Chair Tom Tunney (44th).

The following day, mayoral allies used a disputed parliamentary maneuver to delay the council vote. According to Beale, the “stalling tactic” bought the mayor more time.

“If you give the administration months and months, they twist arms and convince people not to vote for it. People didn’t have the guts to stand up and do the right thing,” Beale said after the vote.

He named alderpersons Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Roberto Maldonado (26th) and Andre Vasquez (40th) as among those who supported him in committee, only to reverse their votes and uphold the lower threshold.

The lower threshold has generated an avalanche of tickets and $59 million in revenue for the city since being imposed in March 2021.

The windfall — and the fact that traffic fatalities continued to rise this year and that none of those fatalities occurred around speed cameras — exposed flaws in the mayor’s safety-only argument.

Earlier this month, Lightfoot changed her tune. She acknowledged that it was, at least partially about money after all and that a higher ticketing threshold would blow a $70 million-to-$80 million hole in the city’s budget this year and next just when the avalanche of federal stimulus money is drying up.

“I do not intend to go to the taxpayers of this city and ask them for more resources when the City Council may approve something that is absolutely antithetical to safety in our city and is as fiscally imprudent as this one is,” she said.

The Latest
The Blackhawks welcome the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft into the fold this fall. We provide details on his play, his progress and his promise in Chicago throughout the days leading up to his Oct. 10 debut.
With patience, Bedard’s chances and points will come, as was the case Tuesday. He tallied three points in a 4-2 Hawks win. But in the meantime, Luke Richardson is teaching him that “everything doesn’t have to be a highlight.”
A police spokesperson said 4 people were shot at the historically Black university, possibly in a residence hall, in an active-shooter situation. A shelter in place order has been issued.
New York’s Eric Adams will travel to Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia in a four-day trip this week. Chicago is sending a delegation to Mexico to warn migrants of the city’s winters.