Jul 19, 2022 - News

Speed camera data offers mixed picture

Note: "Near a camera" is the area within 1,000 feet of a speed camera; Data: City of Chicago, Axios research; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

City Council is scheduled to vote on repealing the controversial 6 mph speed ticket threshold tomorrow.

Why it matters: A defeat of this Mayor Lori Lightfoot-backed policy could signal a significant shift at City Hall, where mayoral power has held sway for decades, although less so recently.

Flashback: Launched in March 2021, the policy lowered the ticketing threshold from 10 mph to 6 mph over the limit. The city then saw a huge spike in speed ticketing that brought in an estimated $105.9 million in the first year, according to WBEZ.

Between the lines: The policy has become a political lightning rod. Critics call it a cash cow that hurts people of color, while supporters frame it as a win for public safety and funding.

Reality check: Axios' Erin Davis crunched the data and found a mixed bag.

By the numbers: We compared data from March 1, 2018–June 20, 2019, to data from March 1, 2021–June 20, 2022, and left out 2020 due to COVID-driven traffic changes.

  • All crashes in Chicago were down 8.2% in the after period, and even more so (12.7%) near speed cameras. Nonfatal injuries were also lower near speed cameras.
  • Fatal crashes, however, rose by 114% in areas around speed cameras, and by just 44% in areas not around speed cameras.
  • Immediately after the new enforcement limit, speed camera tickets jumped by 12 times.

Details: A UIC study of local red light and speed tickets from 2015–2017 showed that low-income communities of color disproportionately bear the economic burden of ticket fines.

  • But the study also showed a 15% drop in crashes resulting in serious injury and death in the period after both red light and speed cameras were installed.

The intrigue: Our 2019–2021 analysis of data across the nation's four largest cities showed that Chicago recorded the highest number of fatal crashes, specifically in the months following the new 6 mph enforcement.

Yes, but: "That doesn’t mean that speed cameras, or the 6 mph rule, have been ineffective," Chicago transportation writer and bike advocate John Greenfield tells Axios.

  • He cites reduced injury rates along with local anomalies, like record numbers of Chicago carjackings in 2021, that he believes contribute to a volatile traffic landscape "that may have been significantly worse if the ticketing threshold hadn't been lowered."

💭 Monica's thought bubble: As someone who has gotten two of these tickets, I know how easy it is to unconsciously drive into one of these zones while going 37 mph. And how annoying it is to get the damn ticket.

  • But as a biker and safety lover, I also get why it's important to make drivers more conscious of their surroundings. I know it's changed my driving habits in the last year.

What's next: Ald. Anthony Beale, who is sponsoring the repeal effort, confirmed to Axios his intention to call the vote Wednesday, but stopped short of saying he has enough votes to overturn it.


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