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updated: 3/12/2012 1:29 PM

Speed cameras in the 'burbs? Not so fast, some lawmakers say

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  • Think red-light cameras are bad? Speed cameras could be next. A measure introduced in the state legislature last week would allow suburban communities to install speed cameras near schools and parks.

      Think red-light cameras are bad? Speed cameras could be next. A measure introduced in the state legislature last week would allow suburban communities to install speed cameras near schools and parks.

  • Video: Chicago speed cameras

 
 

Tightwad that I am, I take Route 83 to work mornings to avoid the higher tolls on I-355. But that means driving with extra care to avoid a $100 ticket from the ubiquitous red-light cameras along the way.

I guess I should be grateful that the new speed camera law that goes into effect in July will only affect Chicago.

Oops. Last week a bill to extend the use of speed cameras to suburban Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties raised its head in the Illinois Senate.

Now, typically, when traffic isn't crawling from red light to red light on Route 83, drivers zip along, surpassing the speed limit by 6 mph -- and more. If the bill is approved, speeding by 6 mph would trigger a $50 ticket. Going more than 10 mph above the speed limit is $100.

To clarify, the cameras could only be installed on roads near schools and parks if municipalities wish. But with thousands of schools and parks dotting the suburbs, it could be ticket-palooza. For example, Bensenville could generate enough ticket revenue from the area around Fenton High School, which borders Route 83, to hire Brian Urlacher as linebacker coach for the Bison football team.

The push to extend speed cameras comes from Sen. Tony Munoz, a Democrat from Chicago.

Several of his suburban colleagues aren't jumping on the speedwagon.

"This is something that needs to be vetted by the mayors and community members," Lake Forest Democrat Sen. Susan Garrett said. "It's not something that in one fell swoop the suburbs would want to push through."

Across the aisle, Hinsdale Republican Sen. Kirk Dillard was equally underwhelmed.

"I would not be in favor of school speed zone cameras in the suburbs ... since there is no demonstrative proof that they're needed," Dillard said. "I think suburban school zone speed cameras are facing a severe uphill battle."

I checked in with Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson, who said his town first installed red-light cameras a few years back because "we knew we had a safety concern." So far, the devices have reduced accidents, he said.

But speeding cameras? "We have not heard nor have the police brought forward a safety concern," Johnson said. "At this point, it's not on the radar." (No pun intended.)

Naperville and Schaumburg both tried red-light cameras and fired them. Neither Naperville Mayor George Pradel nor Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson warmed to the speed camera pitch.

"I'm personally not for speed cameras," said Pradel, a former Naperville police officer. "Certainly we can take a look, but cameras seemed to be something that didn't go over well with our constituents. They think it's more of a Big Brother (intrusion) ... or an attempt to (make) more money."

In a statement, Munoz said "we would all love for people to not speed in school zones and around parks where children are playing. Unfortunately, they do. Here we have a cost-effective way to utilize modern technology (to) help enforce our traffic and public safety laws."

So where do the experts stand?

Retired Lombard Deputy Police Chief Dane Cuny has more than three decades in law enforcement.

"I am dead-set against it (speed cameras)," Cuny said. "I don't believe it has anything to do with safety. It's a revenue generator." Studies in the United Kingdom indicate that red-light and speed cameras had no impact on reducing accidents, he noted.

"Driving is an art, not a science," Cuny said. "Police officers are given discretion to apply the law so you're not ticketed if you are driving a few miles over the limit."

But cameras don't allow any discretion, he said. "It's using emerging technology to allow the government to monitor its citizens. What's next? Automated parking monitors, so you get a ticket if you're one minute over?"

The jury is still out on the efficacy of speed cameras in reducing crashes, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute professor Hesham Rakha said.

"Studies show it's not the speed limit that affects crashes but more the variability of speed," said Rakha, a civil engineer who heads up the Institute's Center for Sustainable Mobility. In other words, when slower cars interact with faster cars, as they do on arterial roads, there's greater potential for crashes.

"On freeways (where speed is more constant) the crash rate is half what it is on arterial roads," Rakha said.

While cameras might force everyone to travel at the speed limit there's also the potential for people jamming on their brakes and raising the likelihood of crashes, he added.

So what do you think? Drop me a line at mpyke@dailyherald.com.

One more thing

Last week's column concerned the transportation funding bill soap opera in Congress. An earlier House version proposing $260 billion over five years dropped a dedicated stream of public transit revenue from the gas tax, prompting an outcry from Metra, Pace and the CTA.

The saga continues with an expectation that a two-year $109 billion transportation bill from the Senate could go to a vote in the House. This version is much preferable, Metra Executive Director Alex Clifford said.

"We have high hopes the economy is going to recover and we'd rather not get locked into a five-year bill that might provide flat or less revenues," he said Friday. "We'd rather be locked into a two-year bill that provides at least the same kind of capital revenues we receive today. And, if the economy recovers, we'll have the ability to go to Capitol Hill and argue for more resources."

Your voice

Here's what Laurence Mylin of Mount Prospect had to say about transit funding: As a "retired senior citizen living on a fixed income and dealing with all the increases (taxes, real estate taxes, utilities, fuel, food), we need someone to make the hard choices and cut spending to meet current revenue," he wrote. "I am sick and tired of government entities thinking they can just take more from the Illinois citizen."

Gridlock alert

IDOT beat the tollway to the punch with the first construction alert of the season last week. But the tollway makes up for its tardiness with a Tri-State/I-90 traffic beat down that starts this week. The ramp taking northbound Tri-State traffic to the westbound Jane Addams and the eastbound I-190 ramp from O'Hare to westbound I-90 will be closed through early July.

Upcoming

• Today from 7 to 8:30 p.m., you can check out an open house on the County Farm Road Transit Service Study at the Hanover Park Village Hall, 2121 Lake St. The study area includes County Farm Road from the Hanover Park Metra station to the DuPage County government center.

• Students from kindergarten up to grade 12 have until Thursday to enter Metra's Safety Poster Contest. You can either create a poster or write an essay on the theme "Lead the Way: Look, Listen and Live." Prizes include an iPad or $250 and $150 gift certificates.

For info, check out Metracontest.com.

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