Friday, April 13, 2012

Still in favor of speed enforcement cameras

by Michelle Stenzel

The city council will be voting next week on the speed enforcement camera ordinance. In support of the measure, my husband and I submitted to Alderman Michele Smith the statement below.

Grid Chicago has provided detailed coverage of this week's committee-level hearing with lots of information about the proposed measure, which you can read in three parts starting with this one

I encourage you to share your own opinions with Alderman Smith before the vote on Wednesday, April 18, as she is actively seeking her constituents’ input. You can call her office at 773-358-9400 or e-mail her at

We’re writing today to express strong support for the speed camera initiative. This is on behalf of ourselves only, but our opinions and thoughts are summarized in three posts I wrote for Bike Walk Lincoln Park on the subject, which are linked below, and I invite you to read those if you haven’t already.

Speeding is breaking the law, and we have the right to take steps to discourage people from breaking the law. If driving at excessive speeds in a heavy motor vehicle were not dangerous to other people on the street – whether in cars, on bikes or on foot – then we wouldn’t need speed limit laws at all. But we as a society recognize that there are increased risks of crashes and injuries at higher speeds, so the limits on speed are set. Citizens who don’t want to be ticketed by the cameras merely need to drive within the speed limit. It’s really that easy. (Actually, I believe that the drivers will even be given a 5-mph margin, so they only need to stay within 5 mph over the posted limit.)

As is noted in the second post, we believe the city can and should undertake various measures before installing the cameras, in order to help people change their behavior of speeding: People don’t know that the default speed limit in the city is 30 mph; fund a citywide campaign to educate people on that simple but very important fact. Make sure existing speed limit signs are visible. Place machines that tell people how much they’re going over the speed limit so they can start getting a better sense of whether they’re speeding or not. The city’s goal for the initiative should be 0 tickets issued and 100% compliance with posted speed limits. That would be a fantastic result, in our opinion, because our streets would be calmer, safer and more livable.

Very importantly, and this is something I address in the third post linked below, it’s crucial as a long-term strategy for the city to redesign streets in a way that encourages drivers to stay within the speed limit. That is, clear striping on every street, narrow travel lanes, curb bump outs to visually narrow the street, putting over-built streets on a road diet by removing a lane – these and many more design features are an effective way of keeping auto traffic at safe speeds without having to ticket people.

Finally, in any debate that ensues on the topic, it’s critically important to distinguish red light cameras from speed enforcement cameras. Red light cameras provide evidence to issue a ticket for running through a red light. Speed enforcement cameras provide evidence to issue a ticket for speeding. There are separate issues involved.

Traffic cameras to curtail speeding? Yes, please / previous BWLP post is linked here.

Let’s help drivers obey speed limit laws / previous BWLP post is linked here

Intended speeds vs. design speeds of Chicago’s streets / previous BWLP post is linked here

1 comment:

  1. I emailed Alderman Smith on Wednesday in support of the cameras:

    Speeding is against the law for a good reason: it's dangerous.
    The police should enforce the law--all laws, but especially laws that threaten people's lives.
    If there were a way to automatically fine someone every time they did something in a car that threatens other peoples lives--like speeding or failing to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk--I would support it. If that makes it expensive to drive in a dangerous, threatening, irresponsible, and selfish way, I have no problem with that.

    I want our police to stop spending their time catching speeders if there's a cheap and effective way to do it. The police have much more important things to do.

    I don't care if there's an incentive to write tickets or if the city makes money writing tickets. I worry only about incentives for the police to look the other way, or to enforce the law in a biased way.

    I think an argument not to enforce the law undermines the whole concept of civil society. If you don't like the law, or the fine, then work through the democratic process to change it.