A speed camera warning on Archer Avenue. Credit: Casey Cora/DNAinfo

CHICAGO — The City Council voted Wednesday to continue speed camera fines for drivers going 6-10 mph over the limit.

The deeply controversial vote came after months of debate among residents, advocates and officials. Proponents of the ordinance said the fines are a cash-grab that have disproportionately targeted Black and Latino Chicagoans; critics, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot, said the fines make roads safer during a time when the city has seen an increase in drivers killing pedestrians.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) proposed the ordinance, saying the speed camera fines do little to protect Chicagoans and unfairly burden Black and Brown residents. But he faced staunch opposition from Lightfoot, who hinted she’d veto it if it passed and delayed a vote on it during a tense council meeting in June.

City Council remained divided on the issue during Wednesday’s meeting, voting 26-18 to kill the measure. Six alderpeople were absent.

Later, Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) tweeted that she refused to cast a vote on the measure, calling it a “false choice” between unfairly burdening nonwhite communities with fines or improving city infrastructure to make it safer.

“We’ve spent the last few months being told that our only choice is traffic violence or uneven, inequitable enforcement,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said. “It’s time to stop with the petty parliamentary games and actually make the critical investments in infrastructure everyone knows we need.”

Critics of the ordinance said they worried nixing fines for lower speeds would lead to people speeding, creating a hazard for pedestrians.

“The speed limits are the speed limits; and, to me, once you go over them, you have broken the speed limits,” Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), who voted “no” on the ordinance, said during Wednesday’s meeting. “I think that there’s an accommodation. I think we’ve accommodated enough. I think the law is the law. … I can’t support something that is going to artificially increase the speed that people are going to be able to drive down our streets.

“We have to have some tools in the toolbox to keep our streets safe from people who don’t want to abide by the law.”

Supporters of the ordinance pointed to research showing traffic cameras disproportionately target Black and Latino Chicagoans. Beale said officials have talked about reducing fines and fees for people who are least able to afford them — but then use the speed cameras to fine drivers of color.

“A majority of that income is coming out of the Black and Brown community,” Beale said. “There’s not one person in this council that disagrees that trying to do something to better the traffic flow in this city is at the forefront of what we’re trying to do. Nobody wants fatalities. Nobody. We all want safety in our communities. But, at the same time, this is affecting the Black and Brown community more than anything else.

“… The money is staggering on how it’s affecting our community.”

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Beale also said the cameras have done little to make Chicago’s streets safer for pedestrians. A report this week from conservative think tank Illinois Policy Institute concluded speed camera tickets have not helped prevent fatal crashes.

“It’s not about safety,” Beale said. “Not one fatality has been around a speed camera. Not one fatality has been around a speed camera.”

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) said the cameras are “targeting specific neighborhoods.”

“I agree that if you don’t speed, you don’t get a ticket. But you know what? People speed in every neighborhood,” Lopez said.

Lopez said if people in Lincoln Park or other largely white neighborhoods want cameras, they can have them — but they shouldn’t be targeting Black and Latino Chicagoans.

Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) said his Far Northwest Side ward has seen three people killed on Touhy Avenue, a bustling road, in recent months, and a driver just went into a home. He’s asked for more speed cameras, he said — though he ultimately voted for the proposed ordinance.

“I can’t lose another resident. I can’t,” he said.

But even several supporters of the fines and cameras said there need to be changes to ultimately make Chicago safer.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), an avid bicyclist, read a partial list of pedestrians and bicyclists killed by drivers this year in Chicago, saying more than a dozen names. The cameras alone won’t prevent future deaths, he said — better, safer infrastructure and more education is needed for that.

“But it’s also about enforcement. That is also a piece of it,” La Spata said. “I can’t stand here in good conscience and cast a vote that I know leads to more names on that list. More people losing their lives.”

But the City Council does need to ensure cameras are more equitably distributed, La Spata said.

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) said his ward has seen at least four people — including two children, who were 2 and 3 — killed by drivers in the past two months. He was worried the cameras were just a cash-grab, he said, but the recent crashes have shown him the city needs to rethink how it goes about making the roads safer for everyone.

“I think it’s an opportunity for us to adjust the way we look at our infrastructure and roads, period,” Vasquez said.

Protected bicycle lanes and slower roads are needed, among other measures, alderpeople said. Alds. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Michael Rodriguez (22nd) suggested lowering speed limits citywide.

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