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Gov. Quinn signs bill to allow speed cameras near schools, parks

Red light camera at W. Roosevelt & S. Canel in Chicago Monday, February 6, 2012 . | John H. White~Sun-Times.

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday ended months of deliberation and signed into law a measure allowing Chicago to install speed-enforcement cameras near schools and parks.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel had been pushing for the measure for months.

The new speed-enforcement law, which Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed reported Sunday Quinn would sign, promises to pump a massive infusion of new cash into Emanuel’s city government, ensnaring drivers in a sprawling anti-speeding dragnet that soon will cover any neighborhood with a school or park.

Quinn had until Monday to sign or veto the legislation, or it would have automatically taken effect.

He appeared to have been wary of the potential backlash the new state law might unleash among city voters. Quinn’s office had received an overwhelmingly negative public reaction to the measure, which will take effect July 1. Of 224 phone calls, letters or online communications, more than 91 percent opposed the measure, the governor’s office said.

“Reducing speed around schools and parks where children are present is a good policy for Illinois, and I’ve signed the legislation because I think it does have an impact on safety,” Quinn told reporters.

Quinn also disputed the idea that the bill’s primary purpose was as a revenue generator for the city.

“I thought safety was the No. 1 consideration. I think that’s the only way to go,” he said. “If we can save lives, children’s lives in particular, I think that’s a worthy goal.”

The bill that state lawmakers approved last fall would permit speed-enforcement cameras to be mounted within one-eighth of a mile of city parks and schools and authorize fines of between $50 and $100, depending on how fast the driver was going over the speed limit.

The hours of operation around schools would be on school days only and span from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, but hours would lengthen Friday, to 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Around parks, the cameras would function between one hour before the park opens to an hour after it closes.

Companion legislation that Quinn signed Monday also established that drivers caught speeding between six and 10 miles an hour in the camera-enforcement zones would face $50 fines and an additional $50, if late.

Fines of $100 would be allowed when drivers are caught going more than 10 miles an hour over the limit.

The tickets wouldn’t be considered a moving violation.

The only roads that are exempted under the law are Lake Shore Drive and any “controlled access highway with eight or more lanes of traffic,” such as expressways.

Pete Scales, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation, said the initial wave of cameras will involve retrofitting existing red-light cameras that already are positioned around schools and parks. Of 191 intersections that now have those cameras, 79 are located in areas with schools or parks, he said.

Scales said the city has not yet determined the placement of the new cameras authorized under the law.

The law authorizes mobile speed vans and retrofitting red-light cameras for speed purposes, and there is a month-long warning period before tickets will count.

Emanuel pushed for the cameras, saying they’re needed to protect pedestrians.

Between 2005 and 2009, the city reported 7,700 pedestrian crashes within one-eighth of a mile of a school or park. That amount accounted for 44 percent of all crashes involving pedestrians during that span.

Also, the city noted that an analysis of data from seven red-light locations all within a one-eighth mile radius of a school or park showed 25 percent of all vehicles driving when school was in session were traveling above the posted 30-mph speed limit.

Opponents of the measure argued that the cameras, though being big revenue generators for local governments, don’t improve safety.

The mayor’s lobbying at the Statehouse was particularly effective among city lawmakers. Only two – Sen. Annazette Collins (D-Chicago) and Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) – bucked the mayor’s wishes on the bill.

Collins said she opposed the plan because backers of it didn’t have statistics to back up claims children were being hit and killed around schools and that it will pose a major hardship to poor people.

“I want them to just say they’re doing speed cameras to raise money, not to say it because our kids were more safe,” Collins told the Chicago Sun-Times. “The city is broke and needs to raise revenues. But I don’t think they need to do it off the backs of poor people, and the cameras always come to the black communities first.”

The push here to install speed-enforcement cameras adds to a hodgepodge of laws across the country concerning their use. Laws concerning red-light and speeding cameras range from outright bans to explicit permission for cities to zap violators with the snap of a photo.

“There are a lot of different laws,” said Anne Teigen, a specialist on traffic safety for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Unlike Illinois, where municipalities will mail tickets to those caught on camera, Maine, Mississippi and West Virginia ban all “automated enforcement” systems. Nevada does, too, unless it’s held in an officer’s hand or mounted on a police vehicle.

In 2000, just 25 cities had permanent red-light cameras. In the past decade, that number has surged – to 550 in 2011.

Maine state Rep. Rich Cebra, sponsor of that state’s all-out ban passed in 2009, said concerns about personal freedom and skepticism about cities’ motivations dominated the debate there.

“I look at traffic cameras as a real intrusion and a push against our civil liberties,” Cebra said.

Public safety is the key argument law enforcement and city officials make in support of cameras.

“The question is, can I save lives?” Emanuel told reporters last week.

Contributing: AP, Gannett News Service