The Chicago Cash Camera Scam: Profit The Clear Motive

Recently, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans to install up to 1800 speed cameras across the city in order to improve safety for children. But as is common with Chicago politics, the whole thing stinks of corruption and dishonesty. Here’s a recap:

Out of the blue, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces a sudden and immediate need to install speed cameras in school zones and parks to address a pedestrian safety crisis. The issue was so hot, it had to be pushed through the state legislature with little debate, all while downplaying the potential revenue:

But Emanuel’s lightning-fast push for speed cameras has left little time to scrutinize an initiative backed up by sometimes murky, incomplete and inconsistent data. It likewise downplays the enormous potential to generate revenue for the cash-strapped city.

In his push, Rahm talks about the specific death of a little girl (Diamond Robinson) even though a traffic camera wouldn’t have saved her. Another article presented information showing that the plan would do little to increase safety for children:

Chicago logged 251 pedestrian fatalities between 2005 and 2009, but fewer than half occurred in the “safety zones” where cameras would be allowed to operate under Emanuel’s plan, and fewer than half of those involved speeding.

The same statistics show that two-thirds of speed-related deaths involving pedestrians age 18 or under also happened outside Emanuel’s proposed enforcement zone — 8 of 12 in all.

Then, The Chicago Tribune reveals that the mayor’s office refuses to release most of the records behind the push for cameras:

The request covered internal communications, among them email messages, visitor logs, phone records, reports and memos. Administration lawyers cited a provision in Illinois’ open records law allowing for — but not mandating — the withholding of “preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda and other records in which opinions are expressed, or policies or actions are formulated.”

The plan was NOT well received by citizens, as a report detailed by Chicagoist.com explains:

Our friends at The Expired Meter obtained a copy of a report from Gov. Pat Quinn’s office that indicates nine out of every 10 people in Illinois are not happy with the recently passed Senate Bill 965.

Another suspicious element is the desire to operate speed cameras well beyond school hours, from 6 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. which raised the ire of city Alderman who would still have to contract with a camera company to install and operate the cameras. This has forced the Mayor to compromise on the hours of operation which will likely be reduced.

All along the push, the Mayor has continually referred to a report that purportedly supports the installation of the speed cameras. That report; however, has failed to withstand scrutiny as the Chicago Tribune explains:

The mayor’s report amounted to little more than a claim that traffic deaths declined significantly in areas where red-light cameras were installed over a three-year period. But the administration refused to provide any of the underlying research to verify their numbers, claiming it was confidential.

When the administration’s numbers expert finally sat down with the Tribune after weeks of requests, he acknowledged the claimed reduction in fatalities was based only on an informal analysis of traffic statistics.

Denied the city’s research, the Tribune performed its own analysis using city traffic data provided to the federal government and came to a very different and less dramatic conclusion.

Instead of the 60 percent reduction the mayor touted, the Tribune’s analysis of accidents for the same locations revealed a nearly 26 percent reduction — one that mirrored a broader accident trend in the city and across the nation. The difference? The city said fatalities dropped from 53 to 21 in the targeted zones, but the federal statistics showed the before-and-after numbers were 47 and 35.

The Alderman are questioning the motives behind the cameras, so it is not yet a done-deal.

But that’s not all. We learned last week that one of Rahm’s Emanuel’s biggest supporters, Greg Goldner, works as a lobbyist and consultant for the photo enforcement firm Redflex and would profit greatly if awarded the contract for Chicago’s speed cameras:

Now, it turns out the longtime allies share another interest — the installation of automated speed cameras in Chicago.

As consultant to the firm that already supplies Chicago its red-light cameras, Goldner is the architect of a nationwide campaign to promote his client’s expansion prospects. That client, Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., is well-positioned to make tens of millions of dollars from Emanuel’s controversial plan to convert many of the red-light cameras into automated speed cameras.

So with all of this in consideration, does it really look like safety it the real motivation here? Where are the traffic engineering studies? What alternatives have been evaluated? Why the rush? Why the hidden documents and misinformation? If there was a genuine safety problem, would all of these smoke and mirrors be necessary? We’ll let you decide.

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