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IG Report Questions Locations of Chicago Red-Light Cameras

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Chicago Department of Transportation can't substantiate claims that red light cameras were placed at "intersections with the highest angle crash rates in order to increase safety," report states. Mary Ann Ahern reports.

    A new report from Chicago's inspector general finds safety might not be the city's main goal when picking the locations of red light cameras. In some cases, the report finds, it's not clear why certain spots were chosen.

    The report, released Tuesday by Inspector General Joe Ferguson, says the Chicago Department of Transportation couldn't substantiate claims that red light cameras were placed at "intersections with the highest angle crash rates in order to increase safety."

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    Some camera-protected intersections, the report finds, have no recent angle crashes and the cameras haven't been moved to reflect that. Since the program started in 2003, the city relocated 10 cameras from five intersections out of a total of 384 cameras at 190 locations, according to the report.

    “The city cannot effectively manage its programs unless it measures its programs,” Ferguson said in a statement. “In addition to finding that the City cannot prove [red-light camera] installation locations are based on safety considerations, we discovered a striking lack of basic recordkeeping and analysis for this $70 million program.” 

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    According to the report, the program made $61 million in 2012. The most tickets, 19,805, were issued at Cicero and I-55 for a total ticket value of $1.9 million. Other heavily ticketed intersections include Lake Shore Drive and Belmont (16,273), LaFayette and 87th (15,226) and Van Buren and Western (15,090).

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    The report calls on Chicago to establish clear criteria about locating and moving the cameras and to retain records and documentation of the process for each location.

    In response, CDOT said it is committed to the effective management of the program and noted a majority of the locations were chosen five or more years ago, during the previous administration when none of the current CDOT leadership was in place.

    In response to several questions about the program, CDOT said analysis of traffic crashes is more complicated than it seems.

    "Traffic in general, and traffic crashes in particular, are not deterministic but are highly variable," CDOT said in a statement response included in the report. "Thus all analysis of traffic crashes reflects a specific combination of these factors, which may or may not be duplicated in an audit."

    CDOT also noted the city is the process of choosing a new red-light camera vendor and said it will work with the vendor to review current camera locations.

    “I support these stated intentions," Ferguson said in response, "and look forward to the results of the analyses, which the IGO will assess in a future audit of the program."

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel extended Chicago’s contract with current vender, Redflex, for a second time last month in hopes of ending the relationship for good in the near future.

    Emanuel removed Redflex Traffic Systems Inc.'s bid for the city's speed camera contract after an investigation turned up ethics issues. The violations included paying a $910 hotel bill for a city official who oversaw the program and failing to inform the city about it in a timely manner.