Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is making a public call to save one of her signature policies – ticketing drivers caught by automated speed cameras barely exceeding the 6 mph limit.
This practice – unpopular with many drivers but welcomed by many safety advocates – appeared to suffer a setback on Tuesday by aldermen who want to roll it back.
The city council’s finance committee was due to vote in the morning on Mayor Ald’s spokesperson. Anthony Beale’s proposal to reset the speed camera ticket and raise the ticket threshold to 10mph over the speed limit, as it was before.
The meeting was adjourned until the afternoon, but before the aldermen even reconvened, Lightfoot sent a statement acknowledging that Beale’s ordinance could pass out of committee and imploring council members to reject the change.
“The Finance Committee is set to allow increased speeds near schools and parks throughout the city,” Lightfoot wrote in a statement. “I urge City Council members to vote no on this dangerous ordinance, which is being pushed by Aldermen Beale, (Ed) Burke and (Raymond) Lopez.”
The mayor added that there had been an increase in traffic fatalities over the past two years and warned that passing Beale’s proposal would mean a reduction in public safety, infrastructure and health programs. crossing security of nearly $45 million.
“It is unacceptable for any member of city council to consider voting to allow a speed increase near spaces used by our children,” Lightfoot said. “…I urge all residents to call their Alderman and tell them to vote no. We are all responsible for protecting our children, pedestrians and cyclists. It’s a matter of life and death, people have to slow down.
The committee debated the plan last week, but amid much harsh criticism of the Lightfoot standards, committee chairman Ald. Scott Waguespack suspended the debates, without a vote, until Tuesday. This led supporters of the Beale ordinance to argue that Waguespack was giving the mayor time to line up the votes to defeat it.
Lightfoot lowered the minimum speeding ticket as part of its 2021 budget, arguing it would make city streets safer and saying it didn’t do it to raise more money. Although she campaigned on a pledge to end Chicago’s “dependence” on fines and fees, the mayor said safety issues, such as speeding, deserve tougher enforcement.
Nonetheless, the new standards have proven lucrative and have drawn sharp rebukes from Beale and others who argue the mayor is trying to balance Chicago’s books on the backs of poor and working-class residents who can ill afford the new $35 tickets every time they get arrested.
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The city sent out more than 1.6 million $35 speed camera tickets in 2021, even though Lightfoot’s new rules didn’t go into effect until March. In the first two months alone, the city issued fines of $11 million to those caught speeding 6 to 10 mph, according to a Tribune investigation. Nearly 900,000 warnings were also sent to drivers caught speeding by 6 to 9 mph in the month before the lower threshold began.
Drivers are also charged $35 if cameras catch them 10mph over the limit, and $100 tickets are sent to those caught 11mph or more too fast. Mayor Rahm Emanuel implemented these guidelines for speed cameras in safety zones around parks and schools, and Beale’s ordinance would return to them.
It would be rare for Lightfoot to see such a key initiative quashed, but the aldermen are up for re-election early next year – as is the mayor herself – and this vote puts them in a tough spot.
The cameras are installed around parks and schools where more walkers, cyclists and children are likely to be. And while pedestrian and bicycle safety organizations tend to support minimum 6 mph tickets on the grounds that they force motorists to slow down, many Chicago drivers want yet another example of the city darkens and aldermen complain that the cameras are often not really very close to schools or parks.
Lightfoot included the change in its massive 2021 budget, so aldermen didn’t have to vote specifically then. Now they are forced to choose sides on a contentious issue shortly before many of them face voters.
If finance passes the Beale ordinance on Tuesday, the full city council is expected to consider it on Wednesday.
Lopez is among several challengers looking to topple Lightfoot next year. Burke, the council’s most senior alderman, is awaiting trial on federal corruption charges.