Open house held on red light cameras


A handful of residents examined city Department of Transportation data at an open house on the decommissioning of red light cameras on the Northwest Side held on Aug. 26 at Mayfair Community Church, 5020 N. Pulaski Road, and officials heralded the move as beneficial to the community.

The workshop was held by the department officials and local aldermen to inform residents that the red light cameras have been turned off and are being removed at the intersections of Foster and Elston avenues and Montrose and Pulaski avenues.

The move comes as part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s initiative to remove cameras where right-angle crashes have been reduced to zero over a 1-year period. Emanuel announced last year that the city would remove cameras from intersections that were considered "safe" and where the cameras are not needed.

The red light camera program has been criticized as a way for the city to make money instead of for safety reasons. Critics have said that the city places cameras at intersections with high traffic volumes and expectations of a large number of violations, but city officials said at the meeting that the city places cameras based on crash data.

When asked if the cameras could be re-installed if the number of crashes increases, Department of Transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld responded, "We get official data from IDOT on an annual basis, and the only removals were performed under the Emanuel Administration. We took out 32 cameras in the beginning of 2014, so you don’t actually have that data yet."

The primary criterion for removal of cameras is the number of right-angle crashes. The number of violations is used as a secondary criterion for removal.

For a camera to be considered for a removal, the number of right-angle crashes at an intersection has to have been at or less than one for 12 consecutive months or the total crash rate has to be below one, according to officials. The crash rate is calculated by multiplying the total number of crashes by 1,000,000 and dividing by the average daily traffic times 365 days.

Right-angle crashes at the intersection of Foster and Elston have been recorded at one in 2013 and 2012, zero in 2011, two in 2010, zero in 2009, three in 2008, seven in 2007, two in 2006 and three in 2005. The crash rate for that intersection is 0.66.

There were a total of 11 crashes at that intersection in 2013, compared to 29 in 2012, 16 in 2011, 33 in 2010 and 2009, 26 in 2008, 33 in 2007, 19 in 2006 and 22 in 2005.

Right-angle crashes at the intersection of Montrose and Pulaski have been recorded at zero in 2013, two in 2012 and 2011, four in 2010, two in 2009, four in 2008, seven in 2007, three in 2006 and seven in 2005.

There were a total of 21 crashes in 2013, 22 in 2012, 27 in 2011, 31 in 2010 and 2009, 34 in 2008, 42 in 2007, and 32 in 2006 and 2005. The crash rate for that intersection is 1.25.

"Just like we look at crashes citywide for monitoring traffic safety issues throughout the city, these intersections will continue to be monitored and the data will be reviewed," Scheinfeld said. "If the trend reverses, then it’s a conversation that we can have along with looking at other issues at that location. The red light camera system is just one tool in the toolbox that we use to address traffic safety issues in the city, particularly reducing those right-angle crashes that are most likely to result in serious injury or death."

Aldermen Margaret Laurino (39th) and John Arena (45th) said at the workshop that removing the cameras shows accountability on the part of the city.

"The commissioner gets some ideas when she actually talks to the people who are interested in this project," Laurino said. "Remarkably, we had people here tonight asking, if you’re taking this camera down, are you putting another one up somewhere, and what about safety issues at that location and what’s going to happen to the funds that we are collecting."

Laurino said that the cameras at the intersections were decommissioned in March and that the "No Turn on Red" restriction would continue to be enforced.

"This is in response to concerns that people had about the system and how it is functioning," Arena said. "We’re being responsive to the data that says that it made an affect on safety, so let’s decommission them and keep monitoring it and see what happens from here. This is the way the program is supposed to be working."

"It shouldn’t be looked at as revenue stream," Arena said. "They generate revenue just like a speeding ticket does, but the revenue is secondary to the safety issues in my mind, and that’s the way the program should be functioning.

"The revenue helps to fund the program itself and that’s fine, it helps to fund the city when we get it, but it’s a penalty for the actions. If those actions don’t happen then the revenue goes down for that site anyway."

Arena said that he was concerned about the accountability of the system that did not exist prior to Emanuel’s administration and the way that the system was being implemented.

"The history of the camera program is ‘colorful’ if you want to use an adjective, and that’s what the administration is being responsive to," Arena said. "I’m looking for accountability, making sure that there is data behind the reason why we should put one in and there is data when we need to take one out."

Laurino said that the amount of data that the city is collecting is better. "We collect so much more data than before, and that makes a big difference," she said.

Red light camera vendor Xerox reviews violations that are recorded, and then they are reviewed by the city Department of Finance for an official determination of a violation, which carries a fine of $100, according to the department.

From 2005 to 2013 at the 174 intersections in the city with cameras, there were 95 fewer angle crashes resulting in injury or a fatality, a decrease of 38 percent, according to the transportation department. There are 80,000 crashes in the city each year, and 200,000 result in injuries and about 130 result in fatalities, according to the department.