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City Council Approves Speed Camera Plan

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Speed Cameras

This red light camera at the intersection of Peterson and California avenues could become a speed camera too if the City Council approves Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 04/18/12 – 7:14 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Leadfoots look out, speed cameras are coming to Chicago this summer.

The City Council has voted 33-14 to approve Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to mount speed cameras near schools and parks all around the city.

Enforcement by the cameras cannot legally go into effect until July 1, so we all have a reprieve until then. But any intersection within 1/8 of a mile, or one city block, around schools and parks will be a candidate to receive a camera.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

RELATED: Mayor Emanuel Defers Vote On Infrastructure Plan

Prior to the vote, Mayor Emanuel scaled back his far more draconian earlier plan.

As CBS 2′s Derrick Blakley reports, under the proposal approved Wednesday, first-time offenders will only receive warnings for speeding violations, and nobody will receive more than a warning for the first 30 days after the cameras were turned on.

The hours for the cameras have also been scaled back. The approved proposal limits the camera use around schools to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, while an earlier plan had called for activation from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The bill passed Wednesday will also only allow the cameras to be used when parks are open — generally 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week.

The total number of cameras will also be limited to 300, rather than the original plan for a limit of 360. The cameras will be deployed in six different zones in the city, with no fewer than 10 percent of the cameras in any single zone.

As Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) has repeatedly pointed out, there could have been about 1,800 cameras, if the city had decided to mount them at each and every school and park.

The City Council Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety voted in favor of the plan last week, sending it to the full City Council to approve it Wednesday.

Still, after the City Council meeting began Wednesday, demonstrators flocked to City Hall to protest the cameras.

CBS 2′s Mike Puccinelli reports the group the Grassroots Collaborative held signs as they gathered outside Council Chambers and chanted, “Chicago’s not for sale!”

“If this was really about having safety for children, we would be putting speed bumps everywhere – not speed light cameras that are politically there; that are with a firm that’s politically connected to the mayor, because that’s a big problem,” said Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative. “This is about money.”

But some aldermen insisted that safety is, in fact, the motivation.

“There’s no doubt that if you get a ticket, you’re going to say it’s about money,” said Ald. Richard Mell (33rd).

“If you drive fast in a school zone, you’re going to pay,” added Ald. George Cardenas (12th).

There were only a few votes against the plan when it passed out of committee last week.

But the vote didn’t come without its share of tough questions, given that the aldermen did not receive the official changes from the mayor’s office until seconds before debate on the speed camera plan was set to begin.

“Will the aldermen be able to veto a camera installation?” Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) asked. The answer was no.

The aim, according to the Emanuel administration, is to stop speeding in school zones and to save lives. But some officials aren’t buying that explanation.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) says he believe the goal is to generate revenue.

“Yes I do, absolutely do,” he told CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine. “I think that if we’re talking about safety, let’s talk about safety without the revenue first.

Many aldermen also complained that the plan is being rushed through.

But the administration says the cameras will be phased in slowly to gauge the reaction from constituents and skeptical alderman.

The administration envisions a handful of cameras by this fall, perhaps 50 by next year. Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein told aldermen last week that he doesn’t believe the city will ever reach the 300 camera limit.

And while warnings will be issued first, afterward, scofflaws could be hit with the boot and license revocations.

Ald. Mell said he ran a red light and received a ticket for it at Peterson and California avenues, close to Mather High School and adjacent to Mather Park. He said he has never run that light again.

For that reason, Mell said, the cameras may be the only way to get people to ease up on the accelerator.

“Some of our neighborhoods, you know, really, really desperately need something to slow people down,” Mell said, “and if the only way we can get their attention is in their pocket, so be it.”

Due to the uproar over the plan, the mayor also reduced the fine for going 6 to 10 mph over the speed limit to $35, down from $50. But anyone caught going 11 mph or more over the speed limit will face a fine of $100 – the same as for running a red light.

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