Aldermen push speeding cameras

The city may soon use cameras to catch lead-footed drivers who zoom through school zones and other "high risk" areas, if aldermen have their way.

The plan, announced yesterday by Aldermen Ed Burke (D-14) and Tom Allen (D-38) would require a change in state law. Currently, Illinois municipalities are barred in most instances from using cameras to enforce speed limits.

Burke and Allen introduced a resolution before the Council urging legislators to lift that prohibition.

The use of cameras to catch speeders could eventually be extended to areas where elderly cross the street and to hospitals, says Donal Quinlan, spokesperson for Alderman Burke's office.

"There's certainly no question that they would bring in more revenue, but the motivation behind changing laws is the safety of children, the elderly and pedestrians in general," says Quinlan.

The city claims success with its red light tickets, which raked in $24.6 million for the city in 2007. That's up from $19.8 million in 2006, says Ed Walsh, spokesman for the Department of Revenue.

Red-light cameras monitor 69 intersections. The Office of Emergency Management and Communications plans to install cameras at an additional 60 intersections by the end of March.

Red-light violations have dropped 59 percent since the cameras were installed, according to OEMC.

A press release from Burke's office says 91 U.S. municipalities use speeding cameras.

But Beth Mosher, a spokeswoman for the Chicago chapter of the Automobile Association of America, says only 21  local governments around the country use them.

The association supports their use, and Mosher says the cameras have been effective in countries like Australia, the U.K., New Zealand, Norway and Canada.

Studies conducted in these countries showed significant decreases in fatalities caused by speeding.

"We really see that as an effective aid to police in enforcement," says Mosher. "We maintain that speed is involved in about 30 per cent of all crashes, and law enforcement officers will tell you that number is low."

Traffic lawyer Howard J. Wise says the use of "radar" cameras shares the same flaw as the use of cameras for stop-light violations.

"They always give it to the owner; they really don't know who the driver is," says Wise. "They're not always getting the real offender. If a guy lends his car to family, friends of family, he'll end up receiving the ticket. It can cause a problem down the line."

In other business, the City:

*Increased the real estate transfer tax by 40 percent, placing the $3 increase on the seller. Buyers will continue to pay the $7.50 portion of the tax. The additional revenue will be used to fund CTA pension and health care funds.

*Sent an ordinance that would ban miniature plastic bags widely used by drug dealers back to the health committee. Ed Smith (D-28), chair of the committee said he wanted to give concerned parties a chance to speak about it.

*Approved a $195,000 settlement that resolves a lawsuit alleging excessive force and false arrest in connection with an incident at Stateway Gardens. Lloyd Haywood alleged that he was detained by officers who physically abused him by running a chainsaw near his face and head, taunting him with racial epithets and downloading pornography onto his computer, where his 10-year-old daughter saw it. Haywood sued nine individual police officers and the City of Chicago, but subsequently dismissed all but three of the officers in the suit.

*Established two new TIF districts on the far south and northwest sides. A TIF was established at 134th and Avenue K in the Hegewisch neighborhood, bounded by 132nd and 136th Streets, the Indiana border on the east, and Burley Avenue on the west. In the Avondale neighborhood, the Kennedy/Kimball TIF District is bounded by Addison, Belmont, Drake and Kedzie Avenues.

*Expanded hardship eligibility for parking and red-light ticket payment plans. Motorists whose homes are in foreclosure may now apply for flexible payment plans. Approximately 31 percent of all payment plans in 2007 were special or hardship plans, according to the Department of Revenue. Currently, people in the military, seniors, age 65 and older, students and people receiving unemployment benefits also qualify for special terms.

*Introduced a plan that would use $13.5 million in TIF funds from various TIF districts to make capital improvements at 15 schools. The improvements will bring schools into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. CPS will contribute an additional $23 million to the project.

*Proposed a plan to establish the Ogden-Pulaski TIF district in North Lawndale. The district is bounded by Roosevelt Road and 16th Street on the north, Albany Avenue on the east; Cermak Road and 24th street on the south and Kostner Avenue on the west. The city hopes the TIF will spur residential, commercial and mixed-use development, encourage rehabilitation of buildings; promote private investment and allow for the creation of a Small Business Improvement Fund to assist local companies in making upgrades. The TIF drew opposition from some in North Lawndale, who said it would displace residents and that it did not incorporate sufficient community participation.

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