Black voters are questioning whether the recent removal of 50 red-light cameras from 25 intersections before the April 7 runoff election is an attempt by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to win their support.
“He can forget it. I have no plans on voting for the man,” said Paige Dorchester, a 61-year-old grandmother in the city’s Roseland neighborhood. “Unless he plans to reopen the 50 schools he closed he should not count on the black vote this time around.”
When Emanuel first ran for mayor in 2011 he received more than 50 percent of the black vote.
“Yeah but that was because we (blacks) thought he would take care of us since he worked for President Obama,” said Lester Collins, a 54-year-old North Lawndale resident. “Now that black folks know what he is about no one plans on voting for him.”
Voters must decide between Emanuel or Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia when they go to the polls next month. Garcia, would become the city’s first Hispanic mayor if elected, said he wants to suspend all red light cameras immediately until further research can be done to determine its effectiveness.
The city has more than 300 red light cameras mainly in minority neighborhoods and Emanuel said as of Friday 50 cameras were discontinued due to a significant reduction of serious crashes.
“Red light cameras help reduce the most dangerous crashes and allow police officers to concentrate on fighting crime, not writing traffic violations, and public trust is vital for this program to be effective,” Emanuel said at a Sunday news conference with 13 aldermen whose wards had one red light camera removed. “Since taking office, I have instituted a number of reforms to the program, including firing the original vendor, removing 82 cameras at 41 intersections, working with the Inspector General to review the program, strengthening oversight, using improved technology and adding more public transparency. The reforms we are announcing today build on this work to allow for increased community input, enhanced public safety and improved transparency.
Intersections that no longer have red light cameras are Ashland and 47th; Ashland and 63rd; Ashland and Archer; Ashland and Diversey; Ashland and Garfield; California and 31st; Central and Madison; Cicero and Stevenson Expressway; Cornell and 57th; Cottage Grove and 95th; Damen and Blue Island; Elston and Foster; Halsted and 63rd; Halsted and 83rd; Harlem and Northwest Highway; Jeffrey and 79th; Kimball, McCormick and Lincoln; Narragansett, 55th and Archer; Osceola and Touhy; Pulaski and Montrose; Stony Island and 83rd; Vincennes and 111th; Western Ave and 51st; Western, Armitage and Milwaukee; and Western and Pratt.
Red light camera critics contend that the city uses the cameras to generate revenue and not to prevent accidents.
In 2012 alone, red light cameras generated $61 million including $8 million from five intersections, according to the city’s inspector general. Since its 2003 inception, red light cameras have raised more than $500 million.
A red light camera in the Chatham neighborhood at the intersection of 87th Street and Lafayette Avenue produced 15,226 tickets in 2012 alone hauled in $1.5 million in fines. During the same year at the intersection of 79th and State streets a red light camera recorded 8,769 tickets for a total of $876,900 in fines. Another red light camera in the South Deering neighborhood at 95th Street and Stony Island Avenue recorded 11,449 tickets and generated $1.1 million in fines. And down the street at 89th Street and Stony Island Avenue 9,644 tickets were issued in 2012, which racked up $964,400 in fines.
In 2013, the Chicago Department of Transportation conducted a review of crash data from the Illinois Department of Transportation to determine a list of intersections recommended for removal. Last year, 32 cameras were removed from 16 intersections, which was the first-time cameras had been removed in the program’s 12-year history. And all of the cameras were installed prior to 2011 before Emanuel was sworn into office.
After reviewing the IDOT data, which is the most recent available, the city decided to remove 50 cameras at intersections that have seen a significant reduction in angle crashes. Like the cameras removed in 2014, these 25 intersections experienced either no right angle crashes, according to Rebekah Scheinfeld, commissioner for the CDOT.
“Traffic safety is a top priority for CDOT, and the red light camera enforcement program is an important piece of our overall efforts to improve public safety. Studies have consistently shown that these cameras help reduce dangerous right angle crashes, which are likely to cause serious injury or death,” explained Scheinfeld. “These benefits have also been recognized by residents, and that’s why we will be seeking additional public input on these recommended removals this year, as last year, some communities asked to keep cameras that were recommended for removal.”
Joining the mayor at Sunday’s announcement was Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who is chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, and said red light cameras is hot issue in his ward and is not likely to go away with no timer soon. Twelve other aldermen also joined Beale and the mayor is announcing reforms planned for the red light cameras that slaps motorists with a $100 fine, which doubles if the fine is not paid within three months. Instead of fining first-time offenders, a proposed ordinance co-sponsored by Beale would give motorists the option of enrolling in an online traffic safety class opposed to paying a fine if found guilty.
Other proposed reforms include requiring a public community meeting before red light cameras are removed, moved or added; and outlining an accelerated installation of pedestrian countdown timers at all remaining red light camera intersections without timers, finishing by June 1. Out of the 174 intersections with red light cameras, only 42 do not yet have pedestrian countdown timers, according to Scheinfeld.