The full Chicago City Council today is set to vote on two major ordinances that affect drivers on city streets: One would crack down on illegal street racing, and the other would change the threshold for camera tickets.
The votes come just one day after Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced an organized event set to take place in 2023, that, in fact, involves both street racing and fast cars: A 2.2-mile, 12-turn NASCAR street race through the heart of downtown Chicago, taking over parts of Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue.
Here's a breakdown of each proposed ordinance, what city leaders are saying, and what may come next.
Proposed Ordinance to Crack Down on Illegal Street Racing
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A proposed ordinance, put forth by Alds. Quinn of the 13th Ward, Reilly of the 42nd Ward and Curtis of the 18th Ward -- whose neighborhoods span from West Lawn southwest of the city, to the Loop, Streeterville and River North downtown -- say that "reckless" drag racing has "tormented" residents in their Ward, as well as other neighborhoods. According to a release, the ordinance would permit the Chicago Police to "immediately impound a car involved in drag racing" and establish fines between $5,000 - $10,000 per offense.
Additionally, according to the proposal, the owner of the vehicle could face a $500 fine.
Video from a street racing incident around 2 a.m. Monday in the West Loop near the intersection of Monroe Street and Clinton Street shows drivers doing donuts, surrounded by a crowd of people and cars. Chicago Police say they received calls about the incident, and that they arrested a 17-year-old who, during the event, allegedly injured an officer after throwing a firework towards them.
"We worked a lot with Ald. Reilly, who was the chief sponsor of that ordinance, to make sure that we had one that was in compliance with the city laws, and it really gave the police department an opportunity to be successful in shutting these things down," Lightfoot said. "As you know, unfortunately, drag racing and drifting had been a thing in our city for decades. I live not too far from Fullerton Avenue and it's an issue.
"One of those cars spins out of control, a whole crowd can be taken out," Lightfoot said. "So what we want to encourage is people to be smart about how they're using vehicles."
Proposed Changes to Speed Camera Ticketing
Currently, speed cameras can capture and ticket drivers who go 6-9 miles-per-hour over the speed limit -- a change that was implemented by Lightfoot in 2021. But some city leaders want to repeal that ordinance and change that threshold back to 10-miles-per-hour, arguing that speed cameras don't deter drivers, and fines disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities.
"The majority of that money is off the backs who can least afford it in the Black and Brown communities,” 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale.
A ticket for going 6-9 miles-per-hour over the speed limit will run a drive $35.
While Mayor Lightfoot has said that speed cameras improve safety, statistics from the Illinois Policy Institute show there have been more fatal vehicle crashes so far this year over last.
The city of Chicago has so far generated $36 million from speed camera tickets in 2022 alone, and Lightfoot says that money has helped to improve infrastructure around schools and parks.
Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza says that there is a camera in her ward on Indianapolis Boulevard that has raised thousands of dollars alone.
“That one camera generates over a million dollars a year and it’s not going down,” she said. “If it was changing people’s driving habits, we would see that revenue go down.”
The vote is expected to be close.
NASCAR Chicago Street Race
Lightfoot on Tuesday announced a new partnership between the city of Chicago and NASCAR, kicking off with a 2.2-mile street race in July of 2023 through Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive.
The news was met with excitement in some circles, but several members of the City Council that represent wards impacted by the race have said that they were not given the opportunity to weigh in on any of those plans.
“No member of the City Council has been engaged with any conversations about NASCAR,” Ald. Brendan Reilly said.
“There has been no communication with the impacted aldermen, even though the city has been negotiating this for months,” Ald. Pat Dowell added.
Ald. Brian Hopkins says that the mayor’s office has not provided impacted alderpersons with materials about the event, and emphasized that he just learned about the race’s proposed routing on Tuesday morning.
“They really didn’t even inform us,” he said. “I just found out about it this morning. I’ve been given no briefing material, no background information. She’s been doing this unilaterally.”
The mayor’s office says that NASCAR officials will meet with City Council members prior to the race, but it is unclear whether any changes will be made to the routing, or the timing, of the event, with the green flag set to drop in less than a year.