Residents Raise Questions About Speed Camera Plan

By Geoff Dankert | Tuesday, February 21, 2012

From her front window in Roscoe Village, Ann Turner watches every day as her children make their way to and from their neighborhood school. Her vantage point, a half-block from Audubon School, 3500 N. Hoyne Ave., was a huge draw when she and her husband relocated from  New York City.

“We moved here specifically for Audubon,” she says. “It’s such a family-friendly spot.”

Turner’s proximity to Audubon also has given her a close-up view of the potential for danger when small children and drivers mix. “Every day during either drop off or pickup, there’s someone either rolling through the stop sign or speeding down Cornelia,” she says. “It’s a conversation we have among parents.”

The intersection of Cornelia and Hoyne in front of Audubon School. Parents say drivers running stop signs near schools is a greater threat to safety than speeding. Credit: Geoff Dankert

Those conversations are now likely to include the possible impact of the City of Chicago’s new proposal to use cameras to identify speeding drivers in “safe zones” around schools and parks.

Turner says she and other Audubon parents are “not opposed” to the speed camera plan “if it’s something that would prevent someone from getting hit.” However, she sees a more pressing issue in the neighborhood than speeding.

“The biggest issue is rolling through the stop sign,” she says.

Bill Altman registers a similar threat when he walks his daughter to Coonley Elementary, 4046 N. Leavitt St.

“The bigger threat (than speed) is people who don’t stop for crossing guards and don’t stop at all,” he says. “Cameras won’t address that.”

State lawmakers approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to mail tickets to drivers electronically “caught” speeding in a 1/8th-mile radius around a school or park. The city’s initial plan calls for using 79 of the city’s existing red-light cameras for speed enforcement.

However, a list of affected cameras provided to Roscoe View Journal in response to a Freedom of Information Act request shows they are primarily positioned in high-traffic intersections, not near neighborhood schools such as Audubon and Coonley.

City Council must now approve a plan to use the red-light cameras for speed enforcement. As the proposal makes its way to a vote, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) says he’s received an earful from his constituents.

“I went to South Lakeview the other night and the look on other people’s faces was like, ‘Don’t you dare vote for that thing,’” says Waguespack. Based on feedback from Chamber of Commerce groups, his Facebook page and emails from ward residents, Waguespack says the speed camera issue is either the primary or secondary concern of a lot of people in his ward.

“Their first thought is, ‘Of course we want safe schools, but come on … really?’” he says, noting that most people reaching out to him see it primarily as a way to collect more revenue from people driving in the city.

A sign on West Cornelia warns drivers of an approaching school zone around Audubon School, 3500 N. Hoyne. Credit: Geoff Dankert

Waguespack also echoed comments from parents that the camera proposal does not appear to address the major concern around neighborhood schools: Drivers running stop signs as they detour onto side streets to avoid heavily congested arterial roads. “I’ve just had so many people say, ‘That’s not the issue, you’re not resolving the issue,’” he says.

The Chicago Department of Transportation has turned down Waguespack’s requests for portable enforcement cameras that would help address concerns in specific school zones. “CDOT’s always said, ‘Well, we keep those near the highways.’ They’re not that expensive, and I’d rather spend a million dollars to buy more of those,” the alderman says.

The camera proposal is currently before the City Council Transportation Committee. The committee’s next meeting has not yet been scheduled, and Waguespack has yet to view the specific ordinance. “They haven’t really shown us anything,” he says.

Meanwhile, Ann Turner and her neighbors continue to keep their eyes on cars making their way along Cornelia and Hoyne. Whether the city uses increased police presence, more signs or new cameras to enforce speed and stop sign compliance, Turner says something needs to be done to prevent someone from getting killed.

“It’s only a matter of time.”

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