Lightfoot says higher ticket threshold for speed cameras would cost city $80 million this year and next

“I haven’t heard anybody who thinks it’s a good idea to increase the speeds talking about what they’re gonna do in an election-year budget to find the revenues ... necessary to replace the revenue stream. That is now front-and-center on peoples’ minds,” the mayor said.

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Chicago City Hall

Chicago City Hall. Increasing the speeding threshold for cameras to issue tickets would cost the city tens of millions of dollars a year, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday she’s confident the City Council will maintain her 6-mph-over-the-limit threshold for speed camera tickets in Chicago because the alternative is a pre-election property tax increase to make up for tens of millions in lost revenue.

Last month, Lightfoot used a disputed parliamentary maneuver to preserve the lower threshold and prevent Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) from spearheading a move to raise the threshold to 10 mph over the posted speed limit.

She resorted to that stalling tactic because she lacked the votes to maintain the lower threshold, which has generated an avalanche of tickets and $59 million in revenue for the city since imposed in March 2021.

The day before the mayor’s forces exercised their right to defer consideration of the higher threshold until the July 20 City Council meeting, the Finance Committee had voted 16-15 to raise the ticket threshold.

Lightfoot discussed the cost of a higher speeding threshold after cutting the ribbon on a newly-completed, $11 million streetscape project along Michigan Avenue between Cermak Road and 24th Place.

That historic stretch, known as “Motor Row,” was put on what transportation planners like to call a “road diet” — changes intended to slow motorists down.

They include reducing the number of lanes from four to three, and extending sidewalks in some areas to reduce the street-crossing distance for pedestrians.

The project also includes wider sidewalks, to encourage walking and give pedestrians more room to maneuver; new crosswalks; and new lights, including LED “smart” lighting.

Lightfoot used the opportunity to reiterate the same argument she made about the speed camera threshold.

With an “epidemic” of speeding and traffic fatalities across the city that began when streets were empty at the start of the pandemic, drivers need to slow down — not speed up.

“We’re gonna continue to work to educate members of the City Council. I don’t think that this is the time for us to be increasing speeds when we’re seeing the number of traffic fatalities and injuries,” the mayor said.

Lightfoot has spent months arguing the lower ticketing threshold is about safety — not revenue. On Wednesday she changed her tune again in her strongest argument yet on the revenue front.

“Agreeing with Alderman Beale is about an $80 million proposition when you combine the loss for this year and next year,” the mayor said.

“I haven’t heard anybody who thinks it’s a good idea to increase the speeds talking about what they’re gonna do in an election-year budget to find the revenues that are gonna be necessary to replace the revenue stream. That is now front-and-center on peoples’ minds. And we’ll see what happens” on July 20 — the date of the next City Council meeting.

The council can “find the money” to replace the lost revenue, Beale said, “from the same programs that she’s using to give out gas cards and Ring doorbells and all of her pet projects that she’s attempting to use during an election year to buy votes.”

Beale once again accused Lightfoot of using “illegal tactics and not abiding by” Roberts Rules of Order, which govern how the City Council conducts its business, to “buy herself time to twist arms. We’ll see. Hopefully, my colleagues will see it for what it is,” Beale said.

“The fact that she’s throwing out these exorbitant numbers” for the projected revenue loss shows we can’t get the truth out of her or the departments about what the real effect is.”

The mayor also did not ignore the safety factor.

She noted 174 people were killed in traffic crashes across the city in 2021.

“That’s a stunning number that has flown under the radar. ... That’s one fatality every two days and a 15% increase since 2020.”

“In this [3rd] Ward alone in 2021, there were 486 injury-producing crashes. That’s more than 1.33 a day, and 60 were serious crashes. And unfortunately, we lost five people to traffic-related fatalities in this ward,” she said.

“We also know that a few miles-an-hour can mean the difference between literally life and death in such instances.”

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