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Chicago has the largest photo enforcement of red light cameras and speed cameras than any other city in America, according to Executive Director of Citizens to Abolish Red-light Cameras, Mark J. Wallace in an interview with Chicago Leader. Red light cameras make “a few people very very wealthy on the backs of people who can least afford it.”
The city of Chicago has received a whopping $30 million in fines within a 10-month period in 2021 from traffic cameras. That is $30 million more than the previous three years at the cost of those who can barely afford the payments.
There are 69 “safety zones” that hold a total of 162 “race-neutral” cameras. New research conducted by the University of Illinois-Chicago reveals that Black, Latino, and low-income residents are harmed financially by automated traffic cameras. They were intended to reduce fatal accidents, yet they have fallen short with front-end collisions decreasing by 15% while rear-end collisions increased by 22%. This statistic indicates that accidents have actually increased at red light camera intersections.
The study also discovered nearly half of tickets received by low-income recipients incur late fees and additional penalties before they are paid. For example, a $35 ticket can bump up to $85 and a $100 ticket to $244 whereas upper-income drivers only see 17% in additional penalties.
The two professors that conducted the study in the UIC Department of Urban Planning and Policy are asking city leaders and officials to revamp the current inequitable system.
The traffic system unjustifiably hurts minority and low-income Chicagoans and needs to be reformed. Roughly $14.4 million in tickets from the predominantly impoverished South Side, in the first 10 months of 2021, equates to nearly 20% of the total take.
Additionally, on March 1, 2021, Mayor Lori Lightfoot decreased the 10 mph tolerance to 6 mph. This has contributed to a tremendous spike in tickets.
Low-income individuals have less money to focus on paying debts, which is why African Americans and Latinos are more affected by tickets. “The consequences have been especially punishing in Black neighborhoods, which have been hit with more than a half of one billion dollars in penalties over the last 15 years, contributing to thousands of vehicle impoundments, driver’s license suspensions, and bankruptcies,” according to a ProPublica analysis.
The City of Chicago is aggressively ticketing to boost revenue. This tactic affects minorities disproportionately compared to other races, according to the UIC study. It also creates more business for law firms.
Drivers who have to get back behind the wheel for economic advancement and education only have two choices: either get on a city payment plan that they cannot afford, or file bankruptcy with its myriad of negative consequences.
In his plan to aggressively step up collection of fees and fines, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated in 2011: “If you owe a parking ticket, you owe a bill. You have to pay. That’s true, first of all, for anybody. The free ride is over for everybody.”
“There hasn’t been anything more than lip-service” from the Aldermen and other elected officials representing the Black and Latino communities, explains Wallace. “We have had conversations with Alderman, offline, who say something appeasing to our ears but it doesn’t translate into something substantive.”
Ald. Anthony Beale (Ward 9) “made a veiled attempt to get Mayor Lightfoot to change the threshold between amber and red lights back from three to six seconds. That has gone nowhere,” Wallace asserts.
Ald. Michelle Harris (Ward 8) once stated, “well, you know, Black folks drive really badly, they are reckless drivers.”
“This is a Black woman saying this about her Black constituents,” Wallace points out.
Speed and red light camera companies have been funneling a lot of money to representative’s campaigns, anywhere from $2,500 to $15,000. “In the 2015 election, we had more than 274 candidates sign a pledge to abolish the traffic cameras if they were elected. Eight were elected. One reversed the decision and the others did nothing,” Wallace asserts.
In January, 2020, “Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza called on communities to reconsider their red-light camera programs. She said her office would no longer assist municipalities in collecting unpaid tickets,” according to the non-profit Illinois Policy Institute.
Senator Mattie Hunter, a strong opponent of red light cameras, drafted a bill that was supposed to enact a statewide ban on photo enforcement of red light cameras and speed cameras. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit causing the bipartisan bill to stall.
From its inception, the entire red light camera system was to be put in place under the guise of safety and placed at intersections that had the highest rates of traffic. However, a Texas A&M study, in conjunction with the Chicago Tribune, found that approximately 50% of those cameras should never have been installed because half of those intersections had only experienced one traffic crash over a 12-month period. This evidence suggests that safety may have disguised the primary objective in the placement of these red light cameras.
Given the fact that the city of Chicago has collected more than $30 million in fines over the last 10 months suggests that revenue was the reason for red light cameras all along. This is why Wallace and his coalition are demanding the city to do “the right and just thing; to eliminate this system and find another way to generate revenue that the municipalities need in terms of balancing their budgets and managing their governments. We should not be implementing unjust policies [masquerading] as safety…, purely because they generate a lot of money.” And to generate money on the backs of Chicago’s poor Black and Brown residents is even more reason red light cameras should be discontinued, Wallace concludes.
Written by Lionel Carter and TNS Staff
Interview: Mark J. Wallace Executive Director Citizens to Abolish Red-Light Cameras on Jan. 17, 2022
ProPublica: Chicago’s “Race-Neutral” Traffic Cameras Ticket Black and Latino Drivers the Most; by Emily Hopkins and Melissa Sanchez
ProPublica Illinois: How Chicago Ticket Debt Sends Black Motorists Into Bankruptcy; by Melissa Sanchez and Sandhya Kambhampati
Illinois Policy: Lightfoot Admits Speed Cameras Hurt Low-Income Chicagoans More; by Patrick Andriesen
ABC News: Emanuel says ‘free ride’ over
Chicago Tribune: Yellow lights shorter in Chicago; by Bob Secter, Erika Slife and John Owens and Tribune reporters
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of michael kooiman’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
First Inset Image Zoom Meeting Interview Screenshot – Mark J. Wallace
Second Insert Image Courtesy of Ambernectar 13’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License