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updated: 5/15/2011 9:15 AM

Carol Stream wants to add red-light cameras to county intersections

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  • Carol Stream is one of the municipalities asking DuPage County for permission to install red-light cameras at intersections such as Schmale Road and North Avenue that are under the county's jurisdiction.

      Carol Stream is one of the municipalities asking DuPage County for permission to install red-light cameras at intersections such as Schmale Road and North Avenue that are under the county's jurisdiction.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer


A silver minivan slows, but doesn't stop, as its driver makes a left turn from westbound North Avenue to southbound Gary Avenue in Carol Stream.

The elderly Bloomingdale woman behind the wheel later said she was going to a fast-food restaurant at the corner. What she didn't realize at the time was that the left-turn arrow was red.

During a hearing last week at the Carol Stream municipal center, the motorist had a hard time believing she disobeyed the traffic signal. But a red-light camera at the busy intersection caught the whole thing on video.

After pulling her motorized wheelchair up to a table and watching the video several times on a computer monitor, the woman grudgingly agreed to pay a $100 fine. "I haven't had a ticket for 56 years," she said.

The woman isn't the only person who needed to be convinced that day.

Minutes before the hearing, Carol Stream officials tried to sell several DuPage County Board members on the idea of giving municipalities the ability to put red-light cameras at county-controlled intersections. They'll find out how convincing they were on Tuesday. That's when the board's transportation committee is expected to talk about the possibility of establishing a red-light camera policy.

"There are some municipalities who don't have red-light cameras and don't have any intention to put them in at this time," said Mark Baloga, executive director of the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference. "There are a number of communities that do have them. What we would like as an organization is for municipalities to have the option to do that."

If a red-light camera policy is adopted, each proposed location would need to be reviewed and approved by the county.

County administrators are recommending cameras be allowed only at intersections where at least five "preventable" crashes occur a year. They say about 120 intersections in the county's highway system meet that standard and account for roughly 70 percent of injury accidents.

Carol Stream police Cmdr. John Jungers said the cameras are "a great tool" for law enforcement to change driver behavior and reduce injury crashes. The village already has cameras at the intersections of North and Gary avenues and North Avenue and Kuhn Road.

He said the goal isn't to issue tickets to raise money.

Responding to claims that the cameras are revenue generators, Jungers said Carol Stream has made about $300,000 profit from its cameras since November 2008. The gross revenues before expenses is $663,000.

Considering that Carol Stream's general fund -- the part of the budget that pays for day-to-day operations of the village -- is $20 million, Jungers said having an extra $300,000 for that fund is "nice," but it's "not the end-all-be-all."

While the village collected fines on roughly 6,600 tickets, Jungers stressed that only 37 percent of all the violations recorded by the cameras resulted in citations. And of the tickets that are issued, Jungers said about half are related to controversial right-turn-on-red violations.

A 2009 Daily Herald investigation found the vast majority of violations are for turning right on red without making a full stop, a maneuver considered far less dangerous than driving straight through. State lawmakers ended up prohibiting authorities from ticketing motorists who stop just beyond the white line or a crosswalk. Municipalities in the collar counties also must have current or retired police officers review possible violations before a ticket is issued.

Jungers said Carol Stream officials had similar standards in place before state law was changed because they were aware of the public perception of the cameras.

"We give people the benefit of the doubt," he said. "We don't look at it and say, 'By the law, they didn't stop. There's a ticket.' It's not worth the headache, frankly."

Meanwhile, the mere presence of the red-light cameras has helped slow traffic on North Avenue.

"Everybody knows they are there," Jungers said. "So as soon as they come into an area -- it's generally a three-mile radius around a camera -- they feel as though they are on camera. And they adjust their driving behavior because of it."

And while cameras watch an intersection, Jungers said officers are freed to do other duties. "Now we can get more time in the neighborhoods," he said.

As long as the proposed county policy includes a formal review of possible red-light camera locations, board member Jim Zay said towns should be given the opportunity to install a camera at a county-controlled intersection. "We should let municipalities go through a permit process and do what they can to prevent accidents," he said.

But board member Don Puchalski said the county shouldn't get involved with red-light cameras.

"If it's really about safety, all these municipalities wouldn't be issuing $100 tickets," said Puchalski, the county's transportation committee chairman. "It's a financial motivation."

That's why board member Jim Healy has been suggesting that DuPage collect a percentage of the revenue for the sole purpose of funding improvements that make intersections safer. He doesn't want any of that money going to the county's general fund.

"Get rid of the perception that it's about revenue," Healy said. "Throw it all into an account and use it only for roadways that have problems."