Village Board Approves Red Light Camera Ordinance

With a 4 to 1 vote on August 15, 2011, the River Forest Village Board approved an ordinance to authorize red light cameras and postponed a vote on the agreement with Safe Speed LLC to establish them on the River Forest side of the intersections at Lake and Harlem and at North Avenue and Harlem. Trustee Susan Conti was the only vote against the proposals. Trustee Catherine Adduci — who has privately said she would vote against any red light cameras in River Forest because we don’t need them — abstained due to the possible appearance of a conflict of interest because her husband is a lobbbyist for a different red light camera company. (Legally she probably does not have a conflict of interest as long as the firm for which her husband lobbies is not at all involved — and it is not involved.)

Testimony from four citizens against the proposals was presented. No citizens spoke in favor of the proposals.

Before the vote, Conti moved to refer the proposed ordinance and contract to the village’s Traffic and Safety Commission for proper study. If a proposal for a stop sign needs to go through the Traffic and Safety Commission, why shouldn’t this more complex and costly proposal be reviewed by the Commission? Conti and Adduci (voting on procedure, not the ordinances) were the only trustees to vote to refer. The Village Board then adopted the ordinance and postponed until September voting on the contract authorization with Safe Speed.

Cost to Operate the Cameras

 Over 691 tickets would have to be paid the first year for the village to cover the $41,508 first year cost. These costs consist of the price to upgrade the traffic signals to LED Traffic Signals ($22,908) and the $18,600 in annual costs to the village ($500/month per each of the three approaches plus $50/month additional electricity). Unfortunately nobody knows how many paid tickets these cameras will generate because nobody knows how many cars currently run the red lights at these intersections. (The village will get $60 of each $100 ticket paid.)

Refering the proposals to the Traffic and Safety Commission would have allowed for proper study to be completed before launching this invasive project. So much data is missing to make a properly informed decision. With the Village Board voting to proceed, any research will be conducted by Safe Speed which has a blatant conflict of interest. Can you imagine them coming back and actually reporting there is no need for these red light cameras? It’s a pretty safe bet that Safe Speed’s primary interest is making a profit (which isn’t anything wrong in the sense that it is a private sector for–profit business,but does undermine their objectivity). At least one top village official feels it’s great that the research will be free to the village.

Safe Speed’s representative reported that 70 to 80% of the violations would be failure to stop for right turn on red ($100 fine; River Forest gets $60 of that). He asserted that the red light cameras would reduce accidents by 20 to 30%. Given that there have been five accidents causing bodily injury during the past three years at Harlem and Lake, and three at North and Harlem, the red light cameras will result in less than one fewer injuries a year between the two intersections. Given that over 60,000 cars a day traverse these intersections with so few accidents that cause bodily injury over a three year period, safety is remarkably good at both intersection. (To be fair, Safe Speed reported that there were 16 accidents total — including those with no bodily injury — at Harlem and North in 2009 and 20 in 2010. But Safe Speed could not say how many of those involved the River Forest approaches on the two roads.)

The cameras will cover two approaches in River Forest at Harlem & Lake (southbound Harlem and eastbound Lake) and one in River Forest at Harlem & North Avenue (eastbound North Avenue — all the other red lights are in other cities). So the planned cameras will cover only 3 approaches to these two intersections, further reducing their impact on the number of accidents and the number of tickets that can be issued. Obviously, River Forest cannot issue tickets to vehicles whose drivers run a red light that is actually located in Oak Park, Chicago, or Elmwood Park.

Is this not a solution in search of a problem?

The cameras will stream live video of the intersection to River Forest village hall 24/7 in addition to snapping photos of possible traffic light violators. The authorization for the contract says, “With this, [the] village will be able to monitor any activity within camera range.” Do we really need another constant spy in the sky? (See pages 33 and 18 of the document).

Click here for full details from the village board’s ordinance, proposed authorization of the agreement with Safe Speed, LLC,  and supporting material.

Speed Safe could offer no concrete data regarding the intersections such as the number of red lights run by motorists now.  Since Monday’s meeting President Rigas has produced a newspaper article from 2009 with figures on the number of accidents at these intersections. Why was this information not provided to the public prior to Monday night’s meeting? Why didn’t Speed Safe have this data at its fingertips for its presentation Monday night? Why is it so hard to get proper studies conducted before the village board acts?

With so much to learn, why not allow proper research to be conducted before approving this ordinance and authorizing this agreement?

And why didn’t the Village Board ever refer this ordinance and agreement to the Traffic and Safety Commission in the first place — where they deal with traffic safety issues all the time? This is a traffic safety issue, isn’t it? We’re sure that there’s just no chance that the majority of the Village Board is doing this to raise revenue as some critics have suggested. We’re willing to accept the trustees’ word that this is just a safety issue.

Disclosure: The author of this article has never received a ticket due to a red light camera (actually, he hasn't gotten anything more serious than a parking ticket in more than 25 years).