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Chicago aldermen back higher minimum for speed camera tickets

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is making a public call to save one of her signature policies: ticketing drivers caught red-handed by automated speed cameras barely exceeding the 6 mph limit.

The practice – unpopular with many drivers but hailed by some street safety advocates – suffered a major setback on Tuesday by a large bloc of aldermen who voted to overturn it.

The City Council’s finance committee voted 16-15 to advance Mayor 9th Ward Ald’s critic. 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. Now the mayor is bracing for a showdown that could lead to his first veto if the legislation passes the full council on Wednesday.

Click here for an update from Wednesday’s board meeting.

Tuesday’s “yes” votes came from neighborhoods stretching from the city center to the far south and included six allies the mayor has appointed to council leadership positions.

Most notably, Ald, the chairman of the casino committee hand-picked by Lightfoot. Tom Tunney of the 44th Ward and his budget chairman, 3rd Ward Ald. Pat Dowell, candidate for Congress, voted for the Beale ordinance.

Beale’s narrow victory came after two hours of discussion about the city’s rising road death toll and racial inequities over fines, as well as the practicality of how speed cameras work.

Ahead of the vote, Beale said the city’s latest argument that reinstating the higher threshold for speed camera tickets would leave a $40-45 million hole in the budget was an attempt to “spin the narrative.” .

“Most of this money comes off the backs of people who can least afford it in black and brown communities,” Beale said. “This whole program is again built on corruption.”

The committee was due to vote earlier in the morning on the proposal but was adjourned until late afternoon. In the meantime, Lightfoot had sent a statement acknowledging that Beale’s order could pass out of committee and imploring council members to reject the change.

“The Finance Committee is about to allow increased speeds near schools and parks throughout the city,” Lightfoot wrote. “I urge members of city council to vote no on this dangerous ordinance.”

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.

When that didn’t work, Lightfoot released a second statement saying the finance committee “voted to sanction higher speeds around schools and parks, when it seems like every day there is another death. on the road because of speeding and reckless drivers It is simply unconscionable that after losing 173 Chicagoans in fatal speeding crashes in 2021, some aldermen are acting with such little regard for public safety .

Then she listed the 15 aldermen who backed Beale.

The committee had debated the plan last week, but amid heavy criticism of the Lightfoot standards, committee chairman Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, 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 hardly afford the new $35 tickets every time they get arrested.

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Aldermen on the Lightfoot side included Nicholas Sposato of the 38th Precinct, who attributed the area’s shortage of crossing guards to what he said were largely “idiots (who) want to cross our town and drive like a bunch of manic and disrespectful to our communities.

Meanwhile, 1st Ward Ald. Daniel La Spata spoke of the pain of parents who recently lost children in the wave of road deaths by voting no to Beale’s order.

“It’s hard for me to justify voting on an ordinance that we know…would kill more people in traffic accidents,” La Spata said, citing city data that some aldermen have said. challenged earlier.

On the other side, Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, chastised colleagues for trying to ‘muddy the waters’ by confusing Beale’s proposal with support for fully relaxing speed limits.

Hairston as well as Alds. Sue Sadlowski Garza, 10th, and Sophia King, 4th, all argued that the tickets disproportionately hurt black and Latino Chicagoans.

Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi said a study found these demographics bear the brunt of speed camera tickets. But she noted that these are also the groups most likely to be killed in traffic accidents.

“It’s a national crisis that happened here in Chicago,” Biagi said. “Speed ​​kills, and that’s what we’re seeing here in our city and in other cities across the country.”

Departing from the Lightfoot administration’s defense of lower ticketing standards over the past 18 months solely to keep Chicagoans safe, Lightfoot on Tuesday sent budget director Susie Park to the finance committee to also remind Aldermen that tickets fetch tens of millions of dollars, she said, would have to be found elsewhere in order to maintain current service levels. Ticket revenue, while considerable, is a very small part of Chicago’s huge overall annual budget.

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 traveling 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 10 mph over the limit, and $100 tickets are issued to those who drive too fast at 11 mph or more. 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 the 6 mph ticket minimum on the grounds that it forces motorists to slow down, many Chicago drivers resent another example of the city that darkens and aldermen complain that the cameras often aren’t 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.

Chicago Tribune reporter Gregory Pratt contributed.

jebyrne@chicagotribune.com

ayin@chicagotribune.com

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Post expires at 5:34pm on Sunday July 3rd, 2022