Mayor, Council Allies Propose Reforms to Red Light Enforcement Program

City currently has 149 intersections with a total of 302 cameras, spokeswoman says

During his re-election campaign, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he would support a peace offering of sorts for angry motorists: forgiveness for first time red light camera violators. Instead of the $100 fine, he said he liked the idea of allowing those drivers to take an online safety course.

He called it "giving them a mulligan." Emanuel’s comments came March 8, as he attempted to respond to what challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia called the mayor’s "red light ripoff."

The administration on Tuesday rolled out an ordinance with his proposed reforms. There was no mulligan.

Instead, the mayor and his council allies proposed payment plan revisions that lower down payment requirements and allow "greater flexibility for motorists who are experiencing financial hardship."

Asked what happened to the idea of forgiveness for first-time offenders, CDOT spokesman Michael Claffey suggested it wasn’t ready.

"We are continuing to work on the details of this element of the reforms," he said, "which requires more development before it can be implemented."

Among the measures which were introduced, the administration promised neighborhood meetings before any red light cameras are removed, moved, or added. But CDOT commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said no such changes are anticipated any time soon.

"There are 149 intersections with a total of 302 cameras," she said. "At this time, we do not have any current plans to remove more cameras."

During a City Council hearing, Scheinfeld said there are no plans to add cameras either. And she insisted that the program has been a plus for Chicago motorists.

"We think that this program saves lives," she said. "Right angle crashes have reduced in this city, and those are the types of crashes that are most likely to result in serious injury or fatality."

Scheinfeld said the city planned to accelerate installation of countdown timers at intersections with red light cameras. Currently, there are only nine such intersections where the timers have not been installed.

"So in essence, we’re going to make sure that everywhere there’s a red light camera, we’re going to have a timer," she said. But the commissioner said there were no plans to increase yellow-light times, as some alderman have advocated.

"We do continue to believe that our current methodology is most appropriate," she said. "It’s our perspective that we do not want to encourage speeding."

Created during the Daley administration, the much maligned program was mired in scandal when it was alleged that the initial vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems, had engaged in a multi-million dollar bribery scheme to land and maintain the contract. Emanuel fired Redflex and has removed 82 cameras, about 20 percent of the entire system.

Last December, the Chicago Tribune identified 73 camera-equipped intersections that had fewer than four injury crashes per year before the cameras were installed. That study concluded that the cameras offered no benefit at those intersections and might even be more susceptible to rear-end crashes.

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