CHICAGO — Aldermen pushed back Friday against Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to ticket anyone caught going 6 mph or more past the city’s network of speed cameras.
Her plan is part of an effort to raise $38.8 million more through fines, fees and forfeitures in 2021, helping to close the $1.2 billion gap in the budget facing the city.
Lightfoot has defended the plan as primarily a public safety measure, arguing the new fines come as the city saw an uptick in speeding in 2020. The $35 citation, first reported by the Tribune, would be given to those caught speeding 6-9 mph over the speed limit for a second time — after being mailed one warning.
During a budget hearing for the Department of Transportation, aldermen said the effort would “nickel and dime” cash-strapped residents and offered alternatives to both boosting revenue and increasing public safety.
Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th) was one of several aldermen to tell Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi that many of the city’s speed cameras aren’t equipped to capture an image of both the front and rear license plate of speeders, leaving the city unable to issue tickets on those already zooming by the cameras at speeds greater than 6-9 mph.
“I think it’s critically important that we look to add cameras to get the other side of the vehicles to pick up that revenue,” she said. Nugent also suggested the city add new cameras to the network, saying the city hasn’t done so in two years.
Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) said she’s concerned about “nickeling and diming everyday Chicagoans.”
“We could just do a better job of enforcing what we’ve already chosen to enforce, that would help with revenue, that would definitely help with safety, without lowering that threshold,” she said.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), a frequent Lightfoot critic, had the harshest words for the plan, saying it went against a Lightfoot pledge to end the city’s “addiction” to boosting revenue from fines and fees.
“First we’re saying we’re gonna give forgiveness on tickets, and now we’re lowering [the speed threshold] in order to give more tickets,” he said. “This is going to be another revenue generator on the backs of the people.”
Commissioner Biagi told aldermen they’d have to take up the revenue raising portion of the plan with the city’s finance team, saying her department was concerned with public safety.
Her department is speaking with a vendor about adding cameras to capture both directions of traffic on the city’s existing network of speed cameras, she said.
Biagi argued the data shows that when people receive a speed camera ticket, “80 percent of them don’t get another ticket for another year.”
“That’s the idea, we want to lower speeds, it’s focused on safety, and we feel this is a way to really reduce those speeds and reduce fatalities,” she said.
But Biagi was non-committal on whether the city would lower the prevailing speed limit of 30 mph in the Downtown business district, as other cities, including New York City, have done to reduce pedestrian fatalities.
Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) piggybacked on the testimony of Bob Gallo, state director of the AARP, to push the city to lower the speed limit in the central business district, if not citywide, from 30 mph to 20.
“I think it’s worth taking a good hard look at. I represent … a lot of pedestrians, and our constituents are a lot of those casualties and fatalities resulting from those crashes,” he said.
Biagi was unequivocal that lowering speeds would save lives, but said no decision has been made to do so.
“if you’re going 20 mph and you hit that person, that person has a 90 percent chance of surviving, you go 30 it’s cut to 50 percent and if you go 40 it’s cut to 10 percent survival rate,” Biagi said.
“The engineering tells us that it works, the facts tell us it works, the data is telling us, so we’re definitely interested in that. Have we made a decision on that in the central business district, no,” she said.
Also on Friday, several aldermen argued if the city allows motor scooters to zoom across the city on a full-time basis, the scooters should have to be docked at stations, similar to the Divvy bike program.
The city’s second pilot program for scooters began in August. It expanded the area scooters were allowed to operate and mandated the scooters must be locked to a pole, bike rack or other fixed structure.
Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) said scooters are littered throughout her ward on the Far South Side, including residential areas where they are unwanted.
“My ward goes from 97th to 129th and I don’t think they missed a pole,” she said. “I’ve gotten more complaints about these scooters than I’ve ever had before.”
But Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd) said his ward received many complaints during the first pilot, but hasn’t received any during the second phase.
“I think it was an acculturation issue, people learning how to use them properly,” he said. “The changes we’ve made to the program in making sure they’re attached to a pole … I think was a very important change.”
The second scooter pilot ends later this year, and the city will receive a full report, including data on where the scooters were parked, and will implement what they’ve learned into any future roll out of the scooter program, Biagi said.