Ex­tended ‘ grace pe­riod’ for driv­ers who run red lights could re­duce citations by nearly a third

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY FRAN SPIEL­MAN City Hall Re­porter Email: fspiel­man@ sun­times. com Twit­ter: @ fspiel­man

Chicago mo­torists caught on cam­era blow­ing through red lights will have triple the “grace pe­riod” be­fore be­ing slapped with $ 100 tick­ets, un­der a change made Mon­day that could re­duce the num­ber of tick­ets is­sued by nearly a third.

Last year, the city is­sued 586,415 red- light tick­ets— and about 29 per­cent of those went to mo­torists who en­tered the in­ter­sec­tion be­tween one- tenth and three- tenths of a sec­ond after the light had turned red.

By tripling the “grace pe­riod” to three- tenths of a sec­ond — as sug­gested by the North­west­ern Univer­sity Traf­fic Cen­ter— the city is likely to is­sue 29 per­cent fewer tick­ets, ac­cord­ing to city Trans­porta­tion Com­mis­sioner Re­bekah Sche­in­feld.

That could cost the city $ 17 mil­lion in an­nual rev­enue from red­light cam­era tick­ets.

At North­west­ern’s suggestion, Sche­in­feld said the city has also agreed to be­gin the process to move red- light cam­eras from six ex­ist­ing in­ter­sec­tions and place them at five new lo­ca­tions where the study shows red- light cam­eras would have a greater im­pact on safety.

Tar­geted for re­moval are red­light cam­eras at: 95th and Stony Is­land; 71st and West­ern; Per­sh­ing Road and West­ern Av­enue; Grand and Oak Park av­enues; Irv­ing Park Road and Kedzie, and Peter­son and Pu­laski.

Those in­ter­sec­tions have two cam­eras each. Eight of those cam­eras would then be moved to four in­ter­sec­tions: Lake and Wacker; Michi­gan and Jack­son; Grand and Dearborn, and Per­sh­ing Road and Martin Luther King Drive. The re­main­ing four cam­eras would be moved to the area where Cen­tral, Fos­ter, North­west High­way and Mil­wau­kee come to­gether.

“The lo­ca­tions where they’re rec­om­mend­ing re­moval are those where we’re still see­ing a high num­ber of vi­o­la­tions, but not a com­men­su­rate re­duc­tion in traf­fic crashes. They’re say­ing the cam­eras are not re­al­iz­ing their in­tended ben­e­fit there and would be bet­ter uti­lized in other in­ter­sec­tions,” Sche­in­feld said.

Pub­lic hear­ings must be held be­fore the cam­eras are re­moved from old in­ter­sec­tions and in­stalled at new ones.

North­west­ern was paid $ 311,778 to study red- light cam­era en­force­ment and chart a path for­ward for a de­spised pro­gram built on a $ 2 mil­lion bribery scan­dal that paid a con­victed bu­reau­crat $ 2,000 for every ad­di­tional in­ter­sec­tion.

The 105- page study rec­om­mended that the pro­gram con­tinue be­cause of the “sig­nif­i­cant safety ben­e­fits” it has pro­vided. Those ben­e­fits in­clude a 19 per­cent re­duc­tion in “se­ri­ous side- an­gle and turn­ing crashes”; a 10 per­cent re­duc­tion in “in­jury- pro­duc­ing” crashes, and a “mea­sur­able spillover ef­fect” that im­proved safety, even at in­ter­sec­tions with­out red- light cam­eras.

But the study also rec­om­mended that the “grace pe­riod for call­ing it a ticket” be made longer, with the study rec­om­mend­ing stretch­ing that out to three- tenths or even four- tenths of a sec­ond.

“That seemed more con­sis­tent with prac­tices across the coun­try. … From a safety stand­point, it did not ap­pear that would make a dif­fer­ence,” Dr. Hani S. Mah­mas­sani, di­rec­tor of the North­west­ern Univer­sity Traf­fic Cen­ter, said.

Sche­in­feld wasted no time in tripling the grace pe­riod. “It gives the ben­e­fit of the doubt to well- in­ten­tioned driv­ers while re­main­ing fo­cused on the most reck­less be­hav­iors,” she said.

Two years ago, hop­ing to put out a po­lit­i­cal fire that had threat­ened to burn him in Chicago’s first- ever may­oral runoff, Rahm Emanuel re­moved 50 red- light cam­eras at 25 Chicago in­ter­sec­tions where ac­ci­dents had been re­duced.

That left Chicago with 306 red­light cam­eras at 151 in­ter­sec­tions — a 20 per­cent re­duc­tion in the na­tion’s largest red- light cam­era pro­gram, which had been in­stalled by for­mer Mayor Richard M. Da­ley.

To re­store pub­lic con­fi­dence in the scan­dal- scarred pro­gram, Emanuel also sped up the timetable for in­stalling count­down clocks at 42 red- light cam­era in­ter­sec­tions. He also em­braced red- light cam­era re­forms cham­pi­oned by a pair of in­flu­en­tial al­der­men.

After the elec­tion, the re­forms sought by Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee Chair­man An­thony Beale ( 9th) and then- Eco­nomic, Cap­i­tal and Tech­nol­ogy Devel­op­ment Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tom Tun­ney ( 44th) were wa­tered down. Beale and Tun­ney had wanted yel­low lights at red- light in­ter­sec­tions to be “no less than 3.2 sec­onds or the rec­og­nized na­tional stan­dards, plus one ad­di­tional sec­ond, which­ever is greater” but set­tled for no change.

And in­stead of man­dat­ing City Coun­cil ap­proval be­fore new red­light cam­eras are “re­moved, moved or added,” the al­der­men set­tled for neigh­bor­hood hear­ings and pay­ment- plan re­forms. CDOT also promised to or­der the “com­pre­hen­sive re­view” that was de­liv­ered Mon­day.

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