Chicago aldermen fail to repeal Lightfoot’s $80-million speed camera policy
Chicago aldermen lacked the votes to repeal Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s lower speed camera ticketing threshold responsible for nearly $80 million in fines.
The Chicago City Council voted 18 “for” to 26 “against” repealing Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s lower ticketing threshold for Chicago speed cameras, which have been responsible for 3.8 million tickets and $79.5 million in fines – but failed to show safety improvements.
The council referendum July 20 to repeal Lightfoot’s policy of issuing $35 tickets to drivers caught going 6-10 mph over the speed limit failed. She and her allies for months made political maneuvers to keep the highly lucrative policy in place.
City Council members led by Ald. Anthony Beale tried to raise the speed camera ticketing threshold back to 10 mph, citing an original Illinois Policy Institute investigation showing despite millions of tickets, the city saw a record 72 traffic deaths in the first half of 2022. The city during that time issued the equivalent of 1.4 tickets for every resident in the nation’s third-largest city.
“The data shows it’s not about safety,” Beale told his fellow aldermen. “It’s 1,000% about revenue.”
Speed cameras collected nearly as much ticket revenue in the 16 months after March 1, 2021, when Lightfoot lowered the limit, as the city generated in the three years before her ordinance was implemented. Numerous studies showed the deaths continued to climb despite $207,000 a day in fines.
Reports from Axios and CBS Chicago found traffic deaths around speed cameras increased by as much as 114% compared the pre-policy period, and 44% in areas not under surveillance.
Further UIC research commissioned by the city concluded there was “little relationship between the number of tickets issued and the safety impact of cameras.” Moreover, they found 3 in 10 cameras did not improve safety – in fact, 16 cameras were found to cause a “marked” increase in collisions.
The researchers also determined the economic burden of camera tickets followed a stark racial pattern. Black and Latino households received a disproportionate number of tickets compared to the rest of the city.
A corroborating report from ProPublica found Black and Latino residents historically receive speed and red-light camera tickets at about twice the rate of white residents.
These speed cameras hurt low-income Chicagoans more than higher-income drivers. The UIC report found nearly half of tickets received by low-income residents incur late fees and penalties more than doubling ticket prices before they are paid. That compares to just 17% for upper-income drivers.
The city council decision to keep Lightfoot’s lower speed ticketing policy shows aldermen are willing for Chicagoans to continue sacrificing their income, and the well-being of the city’s most vulnerable, for polices that fail to improve the lives of residents.
Instead of nickel-and-diming Chicagoans with speed camera tickets and property tax hikes, Lightfoot needs to address the city’s $46 billion in perpetually growing pension debt.
Getting state lawmakers to back a constitutional amendment allowing the state, Chicago and the rest of Illinois’ nearly 9,000 government units to control the future growth of pensions would be far more effective in curbing budget deficits than a ticket.