Speed camera plan advances

Local GovernmentHealthRahm EmanuelRoderick T. SawyerJames CapplemanChicago MayorJason C. Ervin

Mayor Rahm Emanuel made a slight tweak to his controversial speed-camera ticketing plan Wednesday, unveiling a version with a lower fine just before a City Council committee considered the measure and recommended approval.

A ticket for driving six to 10 mph over the limit in a speed camera zone was reduced from $50 to $35. The fine for going 11 mph or more over the limit will stay at $100.

It was Emanuel's second concession to opponents on one of his signature initiatives in as many days. On Tuesday, Emanuel said he would support a seven-hour day for students in the city's public elementary schools, a step back from the 71/2-hour day he has been pushing since last fall. The change came after parents groups said 71/2 hours is too long for young children to be in school, and after threats of a strike by the Chicago Teachers Union.

The mayor already had made changes to the camera plan as he tries to build support among aldermen leery of voting for a package that many of their constituents view as a cash grab by the city. Emanuel previously cut back the hours the city could operate cameras near schools and parks to fewer hours than allowed by the state law, which he pushed through the Capitol last fall.

Wednesday's council committee vote was applauded by the Traffic Safety Coalition, a group pushing for the speed cameras that is run by close Emanuel political ally Greg Goldner and funded by Redflex Traffic Systems, the city's red-light camera vendor. "The City Council vote today will help address speeding in Chicago, a problem that causes concern across the country," a news release states.

The mayor's administration made other tweaks to the camera plan Wednesday, hoping the full council passes the plan next week.

Aldermen will be notified where the cameras will go in their wards but won't be able to block them. Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said there will "always be a back-and-forth, a respectful dialogue" with aldermen about the location of the cameras. But when pressed by Ald. Thomas Tunney, 44th, Klein acknowledged aldermen will not be able to stop the city from installing cameras in particular spots.

During the hearing, aldermen blanched at the idea of giving up local control. They have long enjoyed wide latitude to approve or deny projects within their wards.

Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th, pointed out she already has speed bumps and other speed control devices like cul de sacs around most of the schools in her Far South Side ward.

Austin welcomed cameras near a handful of schools on arterial streets. "Other than that, community schools, I don't see (cameras) in there, because I've already put precautions in place," she said.

The city has changed its estimate on the number of zones where cameras could be placed, Klein testified. The Emanuel administration said for months it would put cameras in no more than 360 zones within a one-eighth-mile radius of a park or school around the city.

But Klein said the number of zones has been lowered to 300 because the administration has come to the conclusion more of the zones overlap than they initially thought. More than one camera could be placed in a single zone, however, Klein said.

The revised ordinance proposes geographic standards designed to make sure the cameras are distributed around the city. Klein said the Chicago Department of Transportation will split the city into six regions, and at least 10 percent of the cameras will be installed in each region. That means a single geographic region could hold as much as 50 percent of the total.

Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th, questioned why the cameras will be ticketing drivers at all during school hours if children's safety is the focus. "At 10 a.m., you don't see too many kids outside," he said. Ervin voted against the plan.

He was joined by Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th, who said after the hearing that speed cameras seem better suited to raising money for the city than preventing kids from being hit by cars.

Another "no" vote came from Ald. James Cappleman, 46th, who said he was troubled by how little time aldermen got to consider the plan before the vote and cited concerns from residents of his North Side ward.

"I think the sense I'm getting from community residents is they are open to having cameras, but only in those areas where there is known incidences or problems where children are getting hurt due to speeding cars," Cappleman said. "I think that would make it more palatable."

But the measure advanced on a 7-3 voice vote. The plan heads to the full council, where Emanuel will need 26 votes to pass it at next Wednesday's meeting.

jebyrne@tribune.com

Twitter @_johnbyrne

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