Those two red-light cameras may well be the most lucrative in Illinois. None of the cameras in Chicago -- where the city's sprawling red-light camera program has been the source of controversy for more than a decade -- even come close to the annual ticket averages generated at Harlem and Cermak. Either way, that camera is a junior-varsity performer compared to the red-light cameras at Harlem and Cermak.
In fact, three of the four SafeSpeed cameras at Harlem and Cermak generate more tickets than any camera in the city of Chicago. The fourth SafeSpeed camera at the Harlem and Cermak intersection generates more citations than all but two of Chicago's cameras. River Forest officials inked their first red-light camera contract in , and the village today operates cameras on Harlem Avenue at North Avenue and Lake Street.
That number would have placed the North Avenue camera among the top four red-light cameras in Chicago in Before the village installed red-light cameras, River Forest officials ordered internal studies from the office of Village Administrator Eric Palm and another from the police department. Police officials were tasked with assembling "a synopsis of research relating to the safety impact on the use of red light cameras," while Palm's office focused on the potential revenues to the village based on contract deals with several possible red-light camera operators.
River Forest Police Chief Gregory Weiss in June reported the results of his department's review of nationally published red-light camera research. Weiss' memo to village officials included no details of a traffic safety study that referenced right-hand turns or the safety effects of heavily ticketing this activity.
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The police department memo acknowledged that critics argue red-light cameras function primarily as revenue generators, and that Schaumburg officials removed cameras in that village "due to negative public sentiment. The memo also noted that other observers contend traffic engineering is a more effective remedy for accident-prone intersections. Still, the chief concluded, "The installation of red-light cameras are a viable option to enhance the effectiveness of police traffic enforcement. Prior to completing his memo, Weiss and his staff in the spring of collected crash data for several River Forest intersections.
That crash data showed the Harlem Avenue intersections at North and Lake were the most accident-prone in the village. Between and , there were a total of 21 reported accidents at Lake and Harlem, and 11 accidents at North Avenue and Harlem. These numbers did not include a breakdown of accident type, but earlier traffic records submitted for internal review by the police department indicated about 60 percent of wrecks at North and Harlem were rear-end crashes, while about 44 percent of accidents at Lake and Harlem also involved rear-end collisions.
No numbers from either data set detailed crashes involving motorists making a right-hand turn. But crash data submitted by River Forest and SafeSpeed in a pair of "justification reports" filed with the state in late provides a detailed look at accidents in both the North Avenue and Lake Street intersections.
Those records show that in , the year before River Forest implemented its red-light camera program, not one crash at North and Harlem involved a motorist making a right-hand turn. Only one such crash was recorded between and The story was similar on Lake Street -- zero accidents in involving motorists making right-hand turns from Harlem.
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And between and , there were a total of two such accidents at Lake and Harlem. Moreover, internal traffic studies performed in the fall of showed the vast majority of all traffic infractions in both the North Avenue and Lake Street intersections were right-turn violations. These hour traffic studies were a requirement for the village's application to the state for permission to install the red-light cameras. At North Avenue, 87 percent of all noted violations were for improper right-hand turns. On Lake Street, 97 percent of violations were related to right-hand turns.
Crashes involving vehicles turning right at Harlem and Cermak in Berwyn and North Riverside have not been a particular problem, either. A report issued by SafeSpeed to Berwyn for the camera at northbound Harlem and Cermak showed that between and there were total crashes at the intersection.
Only eight involved vehicles turning right, representing a little less than 8 percent of the total. While Weiss and the River Forest Police Department were reading traffic studies and compiling accident data, Palm was examining potential annual revenues from a red-light camera deal.
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In a February memo titled, "Redlight Camera Vendor Price Comparison," Palm compared projected revenues from five potential red-light camera vendors. In his memo, Palm indicated he spoke with three vendors, which he identified as the "most prominent in the Chicagoland area. While the village administrator did not make a recommendation for any particular firm, he wrote that "[t]he purpose of this analysis is to show the 'true cost' of operating a red-light running camera between vendors.
By those standards, SafeSpeed, in offering more revenue per ticket, made sense and village officials voted in April to approve a deal with the company. River Forest renewed that contract in In an email response to written questions from Wednesday Journal, Palm said River Forest officials chose SafeSpeed in part because it was the only company surveyed that charged a fee based on the village's own determination of whether a violation had been committed.
We preferred SafeSpeed's model. As Berwyn officials worked toward installing cameras in October , a police detective who served as a liaison between the city and SafeSpeed suggested company officials also consider studying the intersection at Harlem and Roosevelt Road. Michael Ochsner wrote in an email to a SafeSpeed official.
That December, as the city contemplated approaching the Illinois Department of Transportation to approve cameras on Harlem at both Roosevelt and Cermak, Ochsner wrote another email seeking revenue projections in order to justify installation costs the city would incur. In one, he referenced the city's existing red-light camera program and claimed, without proof, they prompted a "dramatic decrease in traffic crashes" in the city.
Urging IDOT officials to approve additional cameras in Berwyn, Ochsner claimed they would "provide an immediate improvement in motorist safety" and he dubbed the new cameras "an urgent need. According to a SafeSpeed analysis, there were 24 crashes reported there in In , the year the camera was installed, there were 25 crashes. In , the first full year after the camera was installed, there were 27, records show. Under the terms of the contracts each municipality maintains with SafeSpeed, 60 percent of revenues is allocated to the towns and 40 percent flows to SafeSpeed.
Forest Park could not provide revenue data for tickets issued by village cameras in the Harlem and Roosevelt intersection, and the totals referenced in this story do not include Forest Park collections. That money has been earmarked for capital improvements for the village, according to Palm.
From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress
Palm defended the program, saying Wednesday Journal's analysis didn't take into account factors such as pedestrians or changes in traffic volume over time, factors he called "two very relevant and contextual areas of information. Berwyn's budget does not indicate a specific purpose for red-light camera funds. He has 20 years of experience and has performed numerous academic and real-life traffic safety studies -- including a study regarding right-turn laws in his native Quebec. He also was responsible for a analysis of Chicago red-light camera data commissioned by the Chicago Tribune.
Lord told Wednesday Journal that red-light cameras were not designed for the kind of traffic enforcement currently practiced in River Forest, North Riverside and Berwyn -- namely, high-volume ticketing of right-turn violations. From a traffic safety perspective, red-light cameras were designed to prevent drivers from running red lights while traveling straight through the intersection, and to prevent drivers making dangerous left-hand turns in front of oncoming traffic, according to Lord.
If they are being used to make money, it's not right because people won't believe in them" as safety devices, Lord said. Asked about the dangers of right-hand turns, including slow-rolling right-hand turns, Lord said the maneuver is not recognized as a significant traffic safety hazard. A right-hand turn "is not high-risk compared with other maneuvers in intersections," he said. The greatest dangers at intersections, he said, are blown red lights and blind or reckless left-hand turns. These lead to head-on and T-bone collisions, which generally are much more dangerous and deadly than accidents involving right-hand turns.
Lord ended the interview with a story from College Station, Texas, where he lives.
Years ago, a motorist there received a red-light camera ticket and began to challenge its existence. Those efforts eventually led to a ballot initiative that banned red-light cameras in the city. If the purpose of red-light camera enforcement is primarily revenue-based, Lord said, "then it's why people won't like them and try to take them out.
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And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem to the Halls of Congress
We're counting on an exquisite mix of civic enlightenment and mild shaming. Sort of like public radio. Donate Now. Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment. Sandy, the same thing happened to me last summer and I sent the same response as you. They replied back to remind me to watch the video - even though no pedestrians were present, I was still required to come to a full stop.
The video showed that I rolled through the intersection. They were right, I was wrong. Didn't make me feel any better though.
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Still a scam. I received one in mail. You can interpret as you may James, but the comment is factual. If you don't agree, I suggest you research for yourself and come to your own conclusion. Take note that the municipalities where red light cameras are prevalent are the same communities that have a LOT of slot machines as well.
Ironically, most of the leadership is of Italian descent. As a pedestrian, I'm glad to see this enforced. I only wish Melrose Park added more cameras on North Avenue, because cars turning right are ignoring people waiting on the crosswalk all the time. And that, in addition to "beg buttons" and limited time given to cross the street when the pedestrian light does turn on, makes the street really unsafe. I live in Oak Park and like to shop in North Riverside. I got a red light ticket few months ago, right turn from Harlem to Cermak, paid immediately.
I tried to avoid that turn and I was very cautious if I had to turn their. But recently I got another ticket. I couldn't believe it!