Chanting "tax Lasalle Street, not our street," a few dozen Chicagoans rallied near a speed camera in McKinley Park Thursday evening to protest what they say is an overuse of photo enforcement in the city.
"Red-light cameras and speed cameras are basically a fraud on motorists and on the citizens of Chicago,"Mark Wallace, director of Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras, said at the protest along Archer Avenue near a newly-installed speed camera. There is also a red-light camera at the corner of Archer and Ashland avenues, about a block from the new speed camera.
The city's red-light camera program began in 2003 under Mayor Richard M. Daley's administration. Automated speed cameras near schools and parks, championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, were approved by the city council in 2012. There are about 150 speed cameras across the city.
"We have the largest photo enforcement of red-light cameras anywhere in the country. With the speed cameras, it certainly propels us more than any other municipality in the country," Wallace said. "It's a regressive tax, and it's just not the way you treat motorists, and it's not the way you treat your citizens."
The protesters are upset with all council members who voted for the speed and red-light cameras. However, they specifically targeted Ald. George Cardenas, whose 12th ward includes the new Archer Avenue speed camera, which reportedly began issuing warning tickets last month. Cardenas voted for the speed camera ordinance in 2012.
"The communities that comprise the 12th Ward — Little Village, Brighton Park and McKinley Park — are working-class areas, and it just seems like Cardenas and Rahm Emanuel have tried to balance the budget on our backs for too long," said Pete DeMay, a 12th ward aldermanic candidate vying to unseat Cardenas. "It's time to tax Lasalle Street, not our streets. These speed cams don't necessarily make our streets safer. They're a cash grab."
Here's more from the protest, including comments about the speed camera from Little Village resident Lupe Castillo:
Emanuel and proponents of speed cameras say the devices enhance children’s safety.
But Chicagoans at Thursday's rally noted that the speed camera on Archer near Paulina Street is blocks away from the small Mulberry Playlot Park, at 3150 S. Robinson St. The park is not visible from Archer Avenue.
"This is basically an industrial area," Wallace said, referring to where the Archer speed camera is located.
Cardenas has received many complaints from drivers about the new Archer Avenue speed camera. And the alderman is not a fan of it either.
"There's no reason why the camera should be there," Cardenas told DNAinfo Chicago last month. "It's a stretch to call [Mulberry] a park. You know the reason behind it's nothing more than a money maker ... look, there's a need for cameras, no doubt, where people's safety is in danger, but in this case you couldn't make the argument in any sensible manner."
The alderman is trying to quash the speed camera. He recently told constituents in a letter that he's looking to "rezone" the park so it could be moved to another location in the ward. The speed camera would essentially be unnecessary if the current park closes, the alderman maintains.
In the meantime, Cardenas is working to get a proposal approved by the city council that would increase the speed limit on Archer from 25 miles per hour to 30 miles per hour, allowing motorists to travel faster without getting ticketed. There will also be a two-week "blackout period" for the Archer speed camera starting this Sunday, the alderman said, and no motorists will be ticketed during that time.
DeMay, meanwhile, said "it's time for Cardenas to own his vote."
"In 2012 he voted for speed cameras, and now he's trying to back away, trying to put toothpaste back in the tube," DeMay said. "But he's got to own it. He's taxing working-class people when they should be going after the millionaires, the bankers and the traders who got us into this economic mess in the first place."
Sidney Brooks, a CTA bus driver and an aldermanic candidate running in the city's 7th Ward, was also at the protest.
Brooks, whose drives a CTA bus on Archer, said the CTA's discipline policy for drivers who get a red-light or speed-camera ticket is "very unfair." The first ticket from an automated camera comes with a three-day, unpaid work suspension, Brooks said. Drivers are discharged if they get a second ticket.
"This camera is in the middle of nowhere ... What is this camera for, other than to make money," he asked. "And it's costing some of my co-workers their jobs, and I think that's very unfair."
The city's red-light cameras, meanwhile, were purported to reduce T-bone accidents, Wallace said.
"Well, they may have reduced T-bone accidents by some 25 or 30 percent, but they increase rear-end collisions by more than 53 percent," he stressed. "So it's a five-to-one ratio that they've actually caused more accidents than they've prevented."
The city has "generated some $600 million since the institution of red-light cameras in 2003, but there's been no real benefit in terms of safety," Wallace added. "We believe it to be an unjust, unsafe and unconstitutional measure that the city has put in place just to produce revenue."
The city recently brought on an independent third party, Grant Thornton LP, to review thousands of contested red-light tickets at intersections with strange spikes in fines, first revealed by a Chicago Tribune investigation.
Of the 3,097 disputed red-light tickets reviewed so far, just 144 were invalidated, city officials said earlier this week. The 126 motorists who paid violations for the now-nullified tickets will get their money back.
But DeMay said he's skeptical of the red-light ticket review. The public, he explained, hasn't had much confidence in the city ever since the bribery scandal with Redflex Traffic Systems, the company that once installed and ran the city of Chicago's red-light cameras.
"I wouldn't trust any survey or independent study that the city of Chicago commissions," he said.