City Council OKs more video surveillance — and more automated tickets

A new batch of cameras will be mounted on CTA buses and other public transit vehicles. Drivers caught impeding traffic flow in bus and bike lanes and loading zones will be fined automatically after one warning.

SHARE City Council OKs more video surveillance — and more automated tickets
The Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday, March 15, 2023.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall Wednesday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Surveillance cameras that Chicago motorists love to hate will soon be spewing out another avalanche of tickets that arrive by mail — this time targeting drivers who block bus lanes, bike lanes, crosswalks and loading zones.

Nearly 20 years after a CTA experiment with bus surveillance cameras failed miserably, the City Council agreed to try it again — and then some.

A whole new batch of ticket-generating cameras will be mounted on CTA buses and other public transit vehicles, as well as on city vehicles, light poles and other property pinpointed by City Hall.

Motorists caught impeding traffic flow by blocking bus lanes, bike lanes, crosswalks and loading zones will automatically be fined for those offenses — after one warning. Citations will hit mailboxes no sooner than 30 days after the system is installed.

Spearheaded by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and downtown 2nd Ward Ald. Brian Hopkins and 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly, the crackdown was approved by the Council Wednesday without a word of debate.

It calls for creating a pair of two-year pilot programs in zones that stretch from Lake Michigan to Ashland Avenue and North Avenue to Roosevelt Road.

The first would authorize the city to ticket registered vehicle owners by mail for parking in bike lanes, bus lanes, crosswalks and bus stops. The other would use “license plate-reading camera technology” to more efficiently ticket drivers or companies who double-park or park too long in commercial loading zones.

The Chicago City Council has approved a video-assisted crackdown on motorists who park illegally in bike lanes, loading zones, bus lanes and crosswalks.

The City Council has approved a video-assisted crackdown on motorists who park illegally in bike lanes, loading zones, bus lanes and crosswalks.

Sun-Times file photo

First Ward Ald. Daniel La Spata has acknowledged some consider the pilot area too small, while others will call it “another revenue grab” by the city.

“I would love for this to generate no money for the city. Please, please, let us turn around two years from now and say, ‘We didn’t gain a dime from this because residents and businesses did exactly what they should — which is simply not parking in bike and bus lanes,” La Spata said.

Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi has called the ordinance an “important step” toward providing speedier, more reliable and efficient CTA bus service and making downtown streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

“It’ll discourage drivers from illegally parking in places that put our most vulnerable users at risk: folks on bikes, folks walking, folks in wheelchairs. These are the points of vulnerability. So we‘re doing everything we can to make it safe,” Biagi has said.

Christina Whitehouse, founder of the advocacy group Bike Lane Uprising, has said the cycling community welcomes any crackdown that prevents motorists from “illegally blocking and driving in bike lanes.”

But Whitehouse has contended illegal construction sites should also be part of the crackdown, and commercial vehicles should be fined more than private citizens.

“We’ve seen an all-time record high of people being killed biking,” Whitehouse said. “And it’s so bad that we don’t even talk about critical injuries anymore.”

The city of London pioneered the idea of using exterior bus cameras to nail motorists blocking bus lanes and at bus stops.

Spirited debate on asylum seekers: ‘We should have sanctuary for everybody’

The Council agreed to accept $20 million in state funding for asylum seekers after a long and racially charged debate that reduced 20th Ward Ald. Jeanette Taylor to tears. The debate featured a spirited exchange in which Taylor again accused Lightfoot of running roughshod over her and her constituents by housing asylum seekers at shuttered Wadsworth Elementary School.

“We’re picking and choosing who we take care of,” Taylor said, accusing the city of ignoring “Haitian people, Africans” and other “Black migrants.”

“Let’s not make this about us against the migrants because it’s not. We’re a sanctuary city. But we should have sanctuary for everybody. The thought that regular homeless people can’t walk up to this shelter and get in is problematic as well,” she said.

Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) speaks during the debate over accepting $20 million in state funding to help asylum seekers at the City Council meeting on Wednesday, March 15, 2023.

Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) was moved to tears during the debate over accepting $20 million in state funding to help asylum seekers. Taylor once again accused Lightfoot of running roughshod over her and her constituents by housing asylum seekers at shuttered Wadsworth Elementary School. “We’re a sanctuary city. But we should have sanctuary for everybody,” Taylor said.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the Council:

• Approved an ordinance championed by 47th Ward Ald. Matt Martin requiring the Chicago Department of Transportation to “prioritize and incorporate” bike and pedestrian and mass transit improvements whenever arterial streets are resurfaced. The ordinance was a response to the death of 2-year-old Rafi Cardenas. The toddler was hit by an SUV in a pedestrian crosswalk while riding his scooter in Lincoln Square last summer.

• Voted 32-15 to require social services providers with 20 or more employees to sign “labor peace agreements” that allow their employees to join unions in order to qualify for millions of dollars in city grants.

Critics have warned that vital social services strained by the pandemic could be diminished or eliminated entirely if unionization ultimately results in higher wages for a workforce dominated by women in general and women of color in particular.

• Lightfoot’s attempts to make a series of appointments to boards overseeing the CHA, CTA and Commission on Chicago Landmarks were buried in the Rules Committee, the Council’s traditional burial ground.

• Lightfoot proposed yet another tax increment financing subsidy — this time for $27 million — to revive the stalled $87.8 million mixed-used project that includes restoration of the historic Congress Theater in Logan Square. The Congress Theater was closed in 2013 after being cited for a string of building code violations.

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