Red Light Cameras Draw Scrutiny in Chicago

They are the little flashes of light that are bringing in big bucks for the city, 352 red light cameras at Chicago intersections, some bringing in more than $1 million each year.

The cameras, which have long been a source of controversy in the city, are drawing new scrutiny after it was learned that some yellow lights at those intersections were set to less than the 3 seconds required under federal law.

“I have found that even though the city claims these lights meet minimum federal requirements and state requirements, they do not,” said Barnet Fagel, a forensic video expert. “They are usually off by two tenths to three tenths of a second short of what they should be.”

On Tuesday, one group, citing a lack of confidence in the system, demanded the cameras be taken down.

“There is widespread evidence that this is about revenue for private interests and not public safety,” said Mark Wallace with Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras.

Aldermen too are taking a closer look at the cameras, calling in the City's Inspector General to explain a report critical of the system.

“119th and Halsted, which CDOT found and we confirmed had a low trigger speed for almost two months, which resulted in more than 1,600 violations that would not have been issued,” said Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

But the city says the cameras are doing what they are supposed to do--reducing crashes involving pedestrians and crashes involving injuries or fatalities by more than 20 percent.

“No doubt there have been some operational and management problems with the red light camera program, but on the whole, what we see is, despite those issue, an improvement in traffic safety,” said Ron Burke with Active Transportation Alliance.

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