Friday, October 21, 2011

Traffic cameras to curtail speeding? Yes, please

You may have read recently that Mayor Emanuel is proposing using cameras at intersections to measure speeding and issue $100 citations, similar to the “red light cameras” already in place in the city. As reported in this Sun Times article and elsewhere, he proposes that they be installed near schools and parks, as a way to protect children from speeding vehicles.

So who could be against that? Don’t we all want to protect children from speeding vehicles? Getting people to drive the speed limit by penalizing violations of the law seems to be a legitimate traffic-calming measure to us.
The posted speed limit on Lincoln Avenue is 25 mph. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
Apparently not everyone sees it that way. The arguments from the public against the proposal are numerous, but the main one seems to be: This is not about safety; it’s just a money grab by the city to increase revenue.

First, this is indeed about safety, of kids near those schools and parks, and in fact all users of the road.  Speeding is a crime, and not a victimless crime. There are serious crashes involving motor vehicles and causing injuries or death every day in Chicago, and it’s only common sense to believe that driving faster than the speed limit, or faster than conditions allow, plays a role in an enormous number of them. The faster a vehicle travels, the less time that the driver and other road user have to respond in the critical milliseconds before a potential collision occurs. Also, when drivers speed, they are less likely to stop when approaching a yellow light, and therefore more likely to run a red light, just as pedestrians enter a crosswalk. The higher the speeds are at the time of collision, the more severe the injury to people involved, especially pedestrians, who are not protected by the metal shell and air bags that the driver is afforded.

Second, OK, maybe it will have the added benefit of increasing revenue (a positive externality for the city, in economic terms), and what’s wrong with that? It’s probably not news to you that we need the money. And it will be very, very easy to make money with these cameras.

In September 2011, CDOT measured speeds in a 24-hour period of motor vehicles on Elston at Blackhawk (just south of North Avenue).  See the stats on this PDF. Of the 14,467 vehicles that drove past that day, 60% were driving at speeds over the 30 mph limit. A full 714 of them were going 40 mph or higher. So let’s see, even if only those speeding at more than 10 mph were ticketed, that’s $71,400 potentially collectible. At one intersection, in one day. And that’s just supplementing the main benefit of calmed traffic, and safer conditions for all users, including other motorists. It makes a lot of sense to us.

However, for anyone who finds this to be outrageous and opposes the new measure, there’s good news: Unlike many of the taxes and fees we MUST pay in Chicago, this one is completely voluntary. You can easily opt in, or opt out. If you’re against using speed cameras to “fleece” the public of their hard-earned money, then you should take a very strong stance, and refuse to take part in this new scheme.

How? When you drive, stay within the speed limit. It’s that easy.

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