By Mark Wachtler
December 22, 2014. Chicago. (ONN) What is more insulting? The fact that Chicago taxpayers were defrauded out of millions of dollars from a corrupt and criminal Red Light Program. The fact that the Mayor and City Hall have been lying to Chicago residents about the effectiveness of the police cameras. The fact that the company providing the cameras and City Hall were caught in a $2 million bribery crime to get the scam approved. Or the fact that Chicago’s Red Light Cameras are actually causing more accidents than they are preventing. The answer - all of the above.
Chicago residents protest the city’s Red Light Camera ticketing system. Image courtesy of the Illinois Review.
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In a scandalous front page report from the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday edition yesterday, the publication blew the whistle on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ‘Red Light Camera’ program. The Mayor has been pushing the costly plan since his election as a way to raise money for the city and to cut down on automobile accidents at the same time. The fact that it took a $2 million bribe to get the program approved and awarded should have been an obvious sign of bad things to come.
Red light cameras and accidents
The Tribune report pulls no punches and comes right out and portrays Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his staffers as liars at best, and criminals at the worst. The publication even lists a number of examples, and those are just from the Red Light Camera scandal. In the study of accidents at Chicago intersections with new red light cameras, the Tribune investigation found that accidents at those spots increased 5% since the automatic ticketing cameras were installed.
Mayor Emanuel and the City Council have been touting the opposite in their attempt to implement and expand the largest red light camera system in the country. City officials had to go down the list of types of accidents to cherry-pick one - right angle ‘T-bone’ crashes - to find an example of accidents going down after the ticketing cameras were installed. Indeed, cars being broadsided at the 190 intersections in Chicago with red light cameras did go down by 15%. But the total number of crashes at those same intersections actually went up due to the cameras a total of 5%, with rear-end collisions increasing 22%.
The Tribune reminds readers that even with the cherry-picked statistic, the city is still being dishonest with citizens. They note that Mayor Emanuel has been insisting right angle crashes were reduced 47% even though the real number is 15%. Another example the Tribune notes is when city officials explained a mysterious and exponential spike in tickets being issued at certain intersections. The city said it was due to nearby construction at those locations. But the city’s Inspector General exposed the corporation providing the service of changing the duration of the yellow light at those signals. Instead of giving motorists a few seconds to get through the intersection, those locations had yellow lights that were inexplicably cut to just one second.
Yet another example of the Emanuel administration’s apparent dishonesty with residents includes the Mayor’s insistence that intersections with red light cameras saw a reduction in traffic fatalities by 60%. Emanuel is even credited with reprimanding a Tribune reporter on the subject saying, “You guys have continued to repeat wrong information because it doesn't fit your storyline.” But the publication investigated further and found only a 26% reduction in traffic fatalities - one that mirrored the overall city’s and country’s fatality numbers and not automatically attributed to the cameras.
As detailed in a separate Chicago Tribune report, Emanuel's own Transportation Department conceded the Mayor was using inaccurate numbers. The Dept's then-Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly admitted that the Mayor, "inadvertently handed out a working document showing a set of incorrect numbers. I think it was an honest mistake."
Spinning the numbers
While City Hall continues to cite one statistic for right angle crashes, and an erroneous one at that, the Tribune quoted the results of their investigation. “The study results showed red light cameras are responsible for ‘a non-significant increase of 5 percent in the total number of injury crashes, a statistically significant reduction of 15 percent in angle and turning injury crashes, and a statistically significant increase of 22 percent in rear-end injury collisions.’”
The researchers also noted that the increase in injury accidents due to red light cameras wasn’t just occurring at the 190 intersections where they have been installed. Instead, they note, accidents have increased at red lights throughout the city by similar numbers. They suggest the overall citywide increase in accidents may be due to Chicago motorists not knowing which spots have cameras and which don’t. So they may be changing their driving habits at all intersections. The result - an increase of injury accidents across the city.
The study also found another interesting anomaly. The less-traveled the particular intersection is, the more dangerous the red light cameras make it for some reason, “When intersections experiencing fewer than 4 injury crashes per year are considered, there is a significant increase in all crashes by 19 percent after the installation of RLC’s (Red Light Cameras).”
In response to the Tribune’s scathing report, the city’s Deputy Transportation Director David Zavattero told the outlet, “You have offered a different perspective, a different method, a different data set looking at slightly different crashes…I think we are going to take that very seriously and look at some of those same questions.”
The Tribune concludes its report by reminding readers that it had exposed the entire Chicago Red Light Camera system as a criminal scam as far back as 2012. It was then that City Hall Manager John Bills was caught taking $2 million in bribes, including $1,500 for every new red light camera installed in Chicago, from Redflex Traffic Systems, the corporation awarded the Red Light Camera contract. Earlier this month, a Redflex salesman plead guilty to paying those bribes to Chicago’s City Hall.
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