Emanuel making changes to speed-camera plan

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10-9-07 LaSalle st. & Kinzie st., Chicago Traffic light camera at the intersection of LaSalle nad Kinzie. [Keith hale/Sun-Times]

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has insisted his plan to bring speed cameras to Chicago is all about improving safety around schools and parks.

But, with the mayor set to unveil his proposed speed-camera ordinance to the City Council on Wednesday, several aldermen are questioning whether the camera push is really more about creating a new revenue stream for City Hall and benefitting some of Emanuel’s political allies.

Emanuel aides on Tuesday backed off earlier statements that speed cameras eventually would be deployed at 79 Chicago intersections that already have red-light cameras and fall within school and park “safety zones” set by state law.

Late Tuesday, Emanuel appeared to be scaling back the proposed hours cameras would operate around schools in hopes of winning aldermanic support.

He originally proposed speed cameras would run on school days between 6 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 9 p.m. on Friday. His revised proposal would scale back those hours to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., as well as create a panel that would include aldermen who would decide where cameras should go.

Speed cameras would operate in park safety zones during hours when parks are open, typically 6 a.m. until 11 p.m.

Last fall, mayoral aides said the 79 intersections with red-light cameras would take priority for speed-camera installation because their red-light cameras could be retrofitted to also measure vehicles’ speed at a relatively low cost.

But that’s raised speculation that city’s exclusive red-light camera vendor – Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. – would have an inside track to win all speed-camera business citywide. The city owns the camera equipment, but Redflex installed it, operates proprietary software and mails out the $100 tickets for alleged red-light running.

Redflex’s Illinois lobbying team includes Michael J. Kasper, a lawyer who defended Emanuel in efforts to knock him off the mayoral ballot. The firm’s city lobbyists include former Ald. Mark Fary (12th), husband of Rosmarie S. Andolino, Emanuel’s aviation commissioner.

Another Emanuel ally, public affairs consultant Greg Goldner, also has worked for Redflex, the Chicago Tribune revealed Tuesday. Goldner told the Chicago Sun-Times he played no role in Emanuel’s decision to try to bring speed cameras to Chicago.

Emanuel is insisting that Redflex would not have an advantage over other bidders. “We’re gonna run this in a very open, very transparent, very competitive way,” he said. “And we’re gonna make sure it achieves the goal, which is to keep our kids safe near schools and parks.”

Emanuel aides say generating money for the city has nothing to do with the camera push. The mayor has refused to even acknowledge a revenue boost.

But a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of the 79 intersections originally targeted by the mayor’s office for cameras – as well as state data about the most crash-prone intersections in Chicago – shows speed cameras could prove lucrative.

Emanuel aides said Tuesday that speed cameras first would be installed at only “a handful” of dangerous intersections within an eighth of a mile of schools and parks. Speed-camera sites slowly would expand in the coming years, capping out at no more than 360 locations.

Drivers caught speeding between six and 10 miles an hour near schools and parks would face $50 fines and an additional $50 if the payment were late. The fine would rise to $100 for motorists caught going more than 10 mph over the limit.

It’s possible drivers who speed through red lights could be hit with fines for both red-light running and speeding. “I don’t think there is anything in the current state statute that would prohibit that,” said Scott Kubly of the Chicago Department of Transportation.

There already are red-light cameras at two of the most crash-prone intersections in Chicago: 79th and Pulaski and Cicero and Fullerton, according to state data. These and other high-traffic areas that fall within school and park safety zones could become speed-catching havens, aldermen say.

“It doesn’t add up to their premise, which is child safety first,” said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).

Said Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), who heads the City Council’s black caucus: “It’s going to take a lot of convincing, a lot of transparency and a lot of ingenuity . . . to make sure the public doesn’t believe it’s all about money – and is all about safety.”

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