By on November 8, 2011

Sixty-one million dollars a year is a lot of money. That is the revenue Chicago’s red light camera program program generated in 2010. Based on reports from the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), a proposed speed camera enforcement program being pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) would make the city’s red light camera program look penny ante in comparison.

The Expired Meter obtained the results of three studies conducted by CDOT over the past few years which shed light on how lucrative the speed camera business could be for Chicago. Data from these reports seem to indicate that revenue from speed cameras could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in fines for a desperate, cash-strapped city.

Emanuel is pushing legislation through the Illinois General Assembly at breakneck speed, which, if passed, would allow Chicago to utilize its red light cameras to also issue $100 speeding ticket to vehicle owners accused of exceeding the speed limit by more than 5 MPH in designated “safety zones” within an eighth of a mile of schools, parks and colleges.

As the basis for the automated speed camera program, the mayor along with Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard all pointed to a study which claimed over 25 percent of all vehicles were exceeding the speed limit at seven intersections.

Mayor Emanuel says “I hope I get no revenue from this.” CDOT chief Gabe Klein claims the goal is just to get drivers to slow down. Whether or not pedestrian safety is improved and the lives of children are saved may be unanswerable questions. However, if the data from these speed enforcement studies are to be believed, one thing that can be determined is that speed cameras will generate significant revenue for the City of Chicago.

CDOT’s Spring Speed Enforcement Study

CDOT conducted a study of seven approaches at intersections with red light cameras to document the number of cars speeding through those locations over a two month period this past spring from April 1 through May 31st.

An approach by definition is just one leg of an intersection. Most intersections have four approaches, one for each direction. Although as Chicago drivers know, the city has a handful of six-approach intersections. Typically, intersections with red light camera enforcement have at least two approaches with cameras and in rare occasions three.

The study monitored the speed of vehicles only during weekdays from 6am to 11am and then from noon until 4pm. During the nine hours per day over the course of 43 days, cameras recorded 1,418,797 vehicles passing through the seven approaches.

While the city’s report said nearly 26 percent of all vehicles were exceeding the speed limit, only 9 percent — or 131,034 vehicles — exceeded it by the 5 MPH threshold. In other words, if speed cameras were enforcing during this two-month period, 131,034 drivers would have been issued tickets totaling $13.1 million in fines.

Revenue Could Reach Hundreds Of Millions

While a hefty amount of cash, the revenue picture gets even brighter for Chicago when you apply the currently proposed hours and days of enforcement to the city’s study. The current version of the speed enforcement bill would allow Chicago to have speed camera enforcement seven days a week from 6am until midnight — 18 hours a day — not the paltry nine hours during weekdays the study covered.

Extrapolating the numbers provided in CDOT’s study, based on 48 violations per hour per approach, each camera would produce 864 violations a day or 25,920 citations and potential fines of $2.6 million for the first month. All seven cameras would produce an estimated 181,440 speeding citations or $18 million for that month.

Projecting future revenues is slightly more challenging, as estimates must take into consideration the effect of camera enforcement on driver behavior. The assumption is motorists would alter behavior with the knowledge that enforcement is occurring. Of course, after a few $100 tickets in the mail, people will learn the camera locations, brake before passing them, and violations will decrease over time — but never completely disappear.

Using CDOT’s red light camera violations in 2010 as a model, monthly totals for red light running can be seen to be dropping by an average of 5.3 percent per month for the last seven months of that year after CDOT stopped adding more cameras to the program.

Applying a regression to the mean to the projected initial numbers, the first twelve months of enforcement where fines would be issued, from just these seven locations would still produce 1,503,311 speed violations or $150 million in fines — a dollar amount that far exceeds the total revenue generated by the all 382 red light cameras every year. The numbers were discounted by 6 percent every month as violations will fall over time.

As further context, the city issued 767,603 total red light camera citations in 2010, close to half of what these the seven cameras in CDOT’s study are estimated to produce. In even broader terms, CDOT confirms 79 intersections or 158 cameras would fall within a school or park “safety zone” to qualify for speed enforcement under the current bill.

Without more traffic data at the 79 intersections in question, it would be difficult to produce an accurate estimate of what kind of revenue speed cameras could produce. But based on Chicago’s own numbers, it is safe to say hundreds of millions of dollars could be generated per year by a speed enforcement program of this magnitude.

“It’s blatantly about revenue,” said camera opponent Brian Costin. “They’re using kids to generate revenue.”

Costin, who works for the Illinois Policy Institute, helped bring down suburban Schaumburg’s red light camera program a few years ago. He believes Chicago has a questionable record when it comes to traffic safety and is worried how far the program would expand.

“I am gravely concerned when the city of Chicago says they’re doing something to improve traffic safety,” says Costin. “Their track record it horrible. You can tell it’s not really about safety when you look at the hours of operation (proposed hours of enforcement) are not during just school hours but when most people drive to maximize revenue.”

2006 Study Shows Speeding Violations Would Far Outpace red light camera Tickets

CDOT did two previous studies back in 2006 and 2008 where they found that speeding violations documented by red light cameras far exceeded red light violations. In 2006, one red light camera at the intersection of Kedzie and 79th documented speeding seven days a week, 24 hours a day for a three month period from January 10th through April 9th. Over that three month period, the camera issued 398 red light camera violations, but caught 13,995 drivers exceeding the speed limit according to the report from CDOT. That breaks down to 35 speeding violations for every one red light camera violation. This report did not break down speeding incidents by how fast the vehicle exceeded the speed limit, so it is impossible to tell how many vehicles exceeded the 5 MPH threshold to earn a $100 fine.

Another study done in 2008 monitored two Southside intersections on Western Ave. with speed cameras between September 30th and October 25, documenting speeding from 6am to 6pm. This study paints an even uglier picture as 23 percent of the 85,231 vehicles detected over the course of the study, or 19,660 of drivers were driving 5 MPH over the speed limit.

While the debate on whether a speed enforcement program will improve pedestrian safety will continue, it’s safe to say Mayor Emanuel could tap a revenue stream that could speed the city out of debt. Multiple calls and emails to CDOT for comment over the past week by The Expired Meter were not returned.

Detailed coverage of Chicago motoring issues can be found at The Expired Meter.


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19 Comments on “Chicago, Illinois Speed Camera Plan Could Dwarf Red Light Revenue...”

  • avatar

    The City of Chicago recently sold all the parking meters to a private investment group for over $1B (75 year lease). I would not be surprised if they did the same for red light cameras and radar speed traps. Are Chicago residents that complacent to let this happen without a fight like they did when their gun rights were stolen?

    • 0 avatar

      You gotta live in or near Chicago to see the deep, deep roots of shadiness firsthand. It spreads to the suburbs. Jersey ain’t got nothing on Chicago. I am never moving back. The awesomeness of a few neighborhoods wasn’t worth the endless drivetime and near lack of any outdoor beauty. Maybe I’ll visit but I’ll never live there again.

      • 0 avatar

        I lived there for 8 years, and have the same opinion. Corruption pervades everything there, even the common folk. I will never live there again.

        As I was packing up my apartment to leave on my last day in Illinois, the FOP called called up asking for a donation. I told them I was moving out of state, and the lovely officer said “Well f*** you, and get the f*** out of our state!” “With pleasure” I replied, and was out of there in an hour. That incident left a lasting impression, and has colored my impression of that lovely place.

      • 0 avatar

        I left the Chicago suburbs 12 years ago and couldn’t agree more. The corruption goes all the way to the statehouse. In general, the whole area is really overcrowded (what the heck happened to Naperville?), overpriced and not pretty to look at.

      • 0 avatar

        > Jersey ain’t got nothing on Chicago. I am never moving back.

        Maybe so, but that will never compel me to move back to Jersey….

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think it’ll be as egregious as parking meter deal was; that was one of Daley’s last gasps to keep things afloat without making cuts. Cuts are coming, and as you would expect they’re not going to be affecting the well off as much as the poor. It would be nice if some were a targeted at obvious waste, and I’ll say it looks more likely now without Daley and more particularly Stroger making decisions.

      This morning I heard an article about re-purposing the city’s red light cameras to double as speed cameras. Enter an intersection that turns yellow and it’s a choice between getting a red light ticket or a speeding ticket trying to get clear. There are enough schools, libraries, hospitals and halfway houses around that no part of downtown would be off limits.

      I wouldn’t be so worried if the speed limits around town weren’t so low. Lake Shore Drive’s been 40 mph for years after the city got tired of raising it every summer. But almost no one drives that slowly on it, and there are few hiding spots for cruisers so 60 is pretty regular outside of rush hour. Depending on the time some of the highways that run through downtown move pretty quickly, as well.

      And I’ve seen some pretty sick behavior at the local level in all areas, urban and rural. Chicago’s got it’s problems but so does everyone, and if you have to live in the Midwest there aren’t many other options half as nice.

      • 0 avatar

        My bitter comment was also regrettably made, as all my family is still there and gritty corrupt cities tend to attract great art. I’m just forced to visit them instead of live near them. I remember watching corruption scandals on TV 25 years ago when I was growing up and it there’s just no end in sight. There seems to be a sort of pride that one of the “greatest” cities in the world can’t seem to change.

        In the Midwest I found Minneapolis and haven’t looked back. Sure, there’s only one comedy club and the hipsters are taking over, but there’s a deep sense of right and wrong. Minnesotans are really proud of it, and it’s easy to fight for justice here. Plus the parks will change your life, the winters are actually sunnier than Chicago, and it only takes 40 minutes to cross the metro on a good day.

        And we shut down our red light camera system. It just wasn’t very Minnesota Nice.

      • 0 avatar

        “Cuts are coming, and as you would expect they’re not going to be affecting the well off as much as the poor.”

        There’s the Chicago mindset in a nutshell — screw whoever you have to to keep the gravy train flowing, as long as it’s not me.

      • 0 avatar

        Don’t these politicians realize that the money comes from somewhere? They aren’t picking it off a tree. They think that they can pull $160M out of their community without impacting the economy? F’ing morons.

        This reminds me of the Atlanta HOT Lane fiasco – out of touch politicians thinking that free money will fall from the sky. They didn’t think that $7 each way would be a heinous burden on the citizens that rely on the I85 corridor to get to work (I live in that corridor). Surprise, surprise, most of us can’t afford to pay an extra $300 a month in taxes just to get to work. Hence, traffic jam.

  • avatar

    “Mayor Emanuel says “I hope I get no revenue from this.” CDOT chief Gabe Klein claims the goal is just to get drivers to slow down. ”

    No. Stop. Please. Don’t make me do this. My God, what will we do if billions of dollars flow into the coffers.

    Don’t forget to vote for me again, after all they drug me kicking and screaming into this.

  • avatar

    Visitors and tourists will go elsewhere. This costs of this money-grab will be borne by the residents and those unfortunate enough to have to work there. How’s that gonna work for the Chicago economy long-term? “Gee, Mr. Employer, I’d love to accept your job offer, if only it wasn’t in Chicago. I’ll have to pass”.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      Visitors and tourists will go elsewhere because of speed cameras? Sorry, but tourists have an odd fascination with Chicago corruption and crime. Buy a bus and offer tours of these intersections and it will be packed with people that want to take a picture next to the camera pole.

  • avatar

    Hold onto your wallets, boys and girls: the motorist is an easy target because, other than the AAA there really is no collective voice.
    I don’t understand why the individual States don’t get in on the action and just up the gasoline tax by a few pennies, or even a dime. Earmark the extra revenue for roads and traffic. Or give it to the cities to spend.
    The U.S. could pay off its national debt in a few years by hiking the gasoline tax to anywhere near where the rest of the world is.
    Hey, it might have the added benefit of causing people to get out of their SUVs and into more efficient vehicles and stop your reliance on 3rd World nations that hate your guts.
    Oh, well, just a weird fantasy that I have…..

    • 0 avatar

      “causing people to get out of their SUVs”

      Interestingly, vehicle ownership rates in “the rest of the world” (by which I assume you mean Western Europe) are pretty similar to the US, despite the punishing taxes and better developed public transit. Somehow, I think your argument’s more than a little disingenuous.

      “stop your reliance on 3rd World nations that hate your guts”

      Places like our top two sources of foreign oil, Canada and Mexico? Pro tip: if you want to successfully pull off the affectation of enlightened snobbery, you at least need to get your basic facts right.

      • 0 avatar

        Wow, sensitive much? Vehicle ownership? Who mentioned anything about vehicle ownership rates? Of course Euros drive vehicles, as do Brazilians and the rest of the developed world, but you don’t see many SUVs on the road anywhere BUT the U.S…. or perhaps Saudi Arabia. Sheesh, take a chill pill. Some people get so sensitive when someone merely mentions that IF gas prices rose 10 cents a gallon it might help pay off your bankrupt States. Go ahead, pay extortionist tickets for red lights. Doesn’t bother me in the least.
        And you conveniently left out the #3 oil exporter to the U.S., the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (averaging 1.145 million barrels of oil per day in 2011) and Venezuela at #4 with almost a million barrels of oil per day to the U.S. Chavez is such a great friend to America these days. LOL Iraq is #6, BTW: another bastion of stability and warmth toward the West. But then you knew that, didn’t you?
        ‘Disingenuous,’ you say. Indeed.

        If you think the U.S. could do without a million barrels of oil a day when one of those capricious states decides NOT to export to the U.S. (and even a lot of Canadians are crying out to call Washington’s bluff and build a pipleline through British Columbia to the coast to feed China), then you’d better get ready for $8 a gallon gas. I really don’t want to get into a debate about geopolitics facing the West today, but a lot of countries are cozying up to China for trade these days. Your guarantee of oil is not, well, guaranteed. I’d be buying a Volt if I lived south of the border. Real quick.
        Relax. It’s a discussion, not a competition.

      • 0 avatar

        Ah, that explains it. A factually incorrect argument, delivered with condescension, and backed up with tweenage girl levels of histronics? Must be a butthurt Canadian.

        Carry on.

  • avatar

    Chicago is broke.

    This is what happens when everyone with a productive role in a city leaves behind everyone without a productive role in a city.

    When I was a kid, it was “The City That Worked”.
    Not anymore.

  • avatar

    My first reaction is to laugh at Chicago. You really do get the government you deserve. Then I remember that we let one out of the pig trough.

    • 0 avatar

      > You really do get the government you deserve. Then I remember that we let one out of the pig trough.

      If you’re a registered Democrat or Republican – I’d suggest looking in the mirror for the source of the problem.

      Democrats and Republicans – first-world prosperity for themselves, third-world prosperity for the taxpayer…

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