An automated speed camera monitors traffic on West Ogden Avenue near Douglass Park in Chicago. Credit: Anjali Pinto for ProPublica

CHICAGO — A controversial ordinance that would nix speed camera fines for people going 6-10 mph over the limit is expected to go to a vote at Wednesday’s City Council meeting — and residents, advocates and city leaders are furiously lobbying to support or kill the measure.

The ordinance, proposed by Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), has faced fierce debate — which led to a tense back-and-forth between Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who opposes the change, and Beale during last month’s City Council meeting.

It was under Lightfoot that the city in 2021 started fining drivers for going 6-10 mph over the speed limit. Under the proposed ordinance, the city would end those fines, though drivers would get $35 tickets if they went 11 mph over the limit, while those going quicker would get a $100 fine.

Some critics of the proposed ordinance have said it’s critical to keep a safeguard in place to slow down drivers during a year that’s seen drivers kill numerous pedestrians and bicyclists.

2021 study on the speed cameras CDOT commissioned from University of Illinois Chicago showed a 12 percent reduction in injury-causing crashes over a three-year period where the cameras are located.

Others have pointed to research showing traffic cameras disproportionately target Black and Latino Chicagoans.

But proponents have said the speed cameras are nickel and diming Chicagoans during a tough financial time for many people. And a report this week from conservative think tank Illinois Policy Institute concluded speed camera tickets have not helped prevent fatal crashes.

Citing the Illinois Policy Institute report, Beale said he’s “encouraged” and he hopes his “colleagues will do the right thing by the people of this great city of Chicago” in supporting the ordinance Wednesday.

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Lightfoot, who has argued to keep the current speed limit fines in place, has hinted she’d veto the ordinance if the City Council approves it. It would take 34 aldermen to reverse the veto.

Beale acknowledged it’s within the mayor’s power to veto an ordinance — but said it’d be wrong of Lightfoot to do that.

“If we get the votes, then the majority of the City Council has spoken, and to veto it will be going against the majority of the people of this city,” Beale said.

Hoping to persuade council members to vote no, local bicycle and street safety groups have taken to social media to oppose the ordinance and push residents to reach out to their alderpeople. 

People “are right to raise questions” about the speed cameras and “the disproportionately negative impact fines can have on low-income and working class people, particularly in Black and Brown communities” — but the cameras still serve a safety purpose, according to bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group Better Streets Chicago.

“We agree that the city should not be deploying traffic cameras as a means of raising revenue rather than focusing on public safety benefits, but we do not agree that the solution is to raise the threshold at which tickets begin being issued to speeding drivers,” the group said in a statement.

Courtney Cobbs, a co-founder Better Streets, said the city should use revenue from the tickets to “create safer streets” that would “theoretically lead to less speeding overall.” 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot campaigned on ending the city’s reliance on ticketing to balance its budget. Then she backed a policy to ticket drivers who exceed the speed limit by more than 6 miles per hour. Credit: Stephanie Lulay/DNAinfo

The city should also lobby the state to change where the speed cameras can go, and officials should include residents in conversations on where cameras could be best located, Cobbs said. Currently, the city can only place cameras near schools and parks due to a state law.

Fees could also be based on a person’s income rather than be flat, Cobbs said.

“We need to place the cameras where we are seeing a high number of crashes,” Cobbs said. “Unfortunately, with the way the law is currently written, we can’t do that.” 

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) held a small meeting Saturday with residents to devise a plan to sway undecided alderpeople to vote no on the proposed ordinance.

Christina Whitehouse, the founder of Bike Lane Uprising, attended Vasquez’s meeting and published a call to action on the group’s website, asking advocates and residents to tell their alderpeople to vote no.

“This will be a close vote that could go either way. An all-time record high of cyclists and pedestrians have been killed in Chicago the past few years. Raising the speed threshold will likely raise the death toll,” Whitehouse wrote. 

Some alderpeople were undecided as of Tuesday.

“As I shared with a constituent who called my office today, I am undecided, and it is my understanding there may be a compromise in the works. I’m continuing to research the matter and weigh all options that promote pedestrian and traffic safety while ensuring equity and fairness,” Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) wrote on Twitter.

Whitehouse said it’s “disheartening” and “really frustrating” some alderpeople “don’t have a decision this close to the vote.”

“This is about safety,” Whitehouse said. “So many alders just don’t know how they feel about safety.”

Whitehouse said she contacted the families of people killed by drivers in Chicago, urging them to sign up for public comment ahead of the vote. Among those expected to speak is Ben Hogue, the father of Broderick Adé Hogue, who was killed in November while riding his bike Downtown.

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