CHICAGO (CBS) — You might not know it yet, but coming soon to a street corner near you could be traffic speed traps – maybe a lot more of them than Mayor Rahm Emanuel discussed last week.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports that legislation working its way through the General Assembly would give the city authority to install automated speed cameras in locations that would cover nearly half the city, rather than limiting them to existing red light cameras near schools and parks.
The Illinois Senate has approved the legislation with a 32-24 vote on Wednesday. The measure now goes to the House for consideration.
Right now, the city has red light cameras in 79 locations within an eighth of a mile of a school or park. Emanuel has said he wants to modify those cameras to catch speeders to. The existing cameras cover about 3 percent of the city.
But a Chicago Tribune analysis of the proposed legislation to allow speed cameras in the city shows the legislation would allow at least 47 percent of the city to be covered by the cameras – not including areas around colleges and universities.
It includes the busy intersection at Division Street and Western Avenue where Clemente High School students dodge speeders every day. Right now, there are no red light cameras at this corner.
“It’s all about safety and protecting our children,” Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) said at a Wednesday news conference to support the push for speed cameras.
Emanuel has said his request for the cameras is not about increasing the output from red light cameras that are already cash cows for a cash-starved city, last year bringing in $58 million in fines.
Ald. James Balcer (11th), who chairs the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, said, “It’s not to collect revenue, but the safety of the children.”
Amendments to the bill are expected limit the hours of enforcement to the times children are on their way to and from schools and parks.
But in Springfield, where the proposed legislation is on a fast track to passage, some felt that’s not enough to limit use of the cameras.
Even though the legislation would be limited to Chicago only and not the suburbs or downstate, State Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) said, “Once a concept like this gets a foothold, it can be difficult to stop it from spreading as others see an opportunity for revenue.”
Meantime, a taxpayer watchdog group said the plan is nothing but a hidden tax on motorists.
Jim Tobin, President of Tax Payers United, says if the purpose was school safety, then the automatic speed cams would be limited to school area speed zones and cover no more than 10 percent of city streets.
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Tobin says the argument that the cams are designed to protect children is “just b.s.”
He says the money will funnel into the city’s general fund to pay continuing outlays for massive pension and salary obligations.
But the mayor insisted last week this is not about money.
“I hope I get no revenue out of this,” he said last Thursday.
He also said he plans no new cameras, but there’s nothing in the new law to stop it.
Even though the law would allow cameras over nearly half the city, Balcer said, he doubts that would happen.
“Right now, we don’t have the money. I don’t even know how it can be done.”
Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) said, “If this isn’t something that the constituents, at the end of the day, feel is not saving lives and protecting children, I don’t think we’re gonna be pushing to do it.”
But Moreno said if constituents do feel the measure would save lives and wouldn’t be too intrusive, then expanding use of traffic cameras would be appropriate.
Any motorist busted by a camera would be sent a ticket in the mail. Sponsors said the tickets would be sent to the owner of the car caught speeding. The cameras would only take photos of the speeding car’s license plate, not the driver.
The owner would be subject to a $100 fine and five unpaid fines would result in the loss of the owner’s driver’s license.
Another possibility raised last week was using mobile cameras to catch speeders nears schools that don’t have those red light cameras nearby. But again, the mayor said that’s not what he has in mind.
But Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and some aldermen have said this is just a start.