50 red light cameras to be removed in Chicago

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Red light cameras are once again at the center of the race for Chicago mayor.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the city is removing 50 of them from Chicago's streets and is getting some backlash for the timing of the move, which comes a month before the runoff election.

The mayor said the removal is part of his on-going reform of the red light camera system. His critics say his announcement is a political ploy to try to get votes.

Sunday afternoon, Emanuel defended the timing of the removal of 50 red light cameras at more than 25 interactions, saying it is not political.

"If that was the case, we wouldn't have had the reduction of the 32 cameras we did literally over a year ago, or two years ago when I fired the operator the city had inherited. So this is a further installment on things I've done going back a little over two-and-a-half years into my tenure as mayor," he said.

The announcement came just days after the mayor's challenger in the April 7 runoff election, Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, promised to end the scandal-ridden program altogether and amid increasing political pressure from the African-American and Latino voters Emanuel needs for re-election.

"The official clock has officially started ticking on the red light program in Chicago," Garcia said. "I will end the red light program on my first day in office, the mayor will continue it."

Garcia has not said how he would replace the $70 million in yearly revenue they bring the city.

Chicago transportation officials say the latest cameras removed were chosen using the same Illinois Department of Transportation safety standard applied two years ago to get rid of 32 red light cameras at 16 other intersections.

"At these intersections there were either no right angle crashes, one of the most dangerous crashes most likely to result in serious injury or fatality," said Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld, Chicago Department of Transportation.

Those who drive through them on a daily basis aren't so sure.

"I don't think the red-light cameras are doing anything," Ana Maria Sierra said. "I work in the restaurant across the street and i watch cars still, it's constantly flashing. People still pass them. No one ever really pays attention to them."

The mayor also got behind one of the major red light camera reforms supported by city council transportation chair Alderman Anthony Beale. They include public hearings, pedestrian countdown timers and first time red light offender amnesty.

"I would prefer to have the police in my community fighting crime other than writing traffic tickets, so we want to make sure that we continue to reform the system, it's not a perfect system," Beale said.

The red light cameras in question have not been taken down yet, but were turned off Friday, leaving 302 red light cameras at 149 Chicago intersections, a 20 percent reduction in what has been the nation's largest red-light camera program. But still some critics say the system was never about public safety but generating revenue.

"I think it's too little too late of what the mayor is offering being four weeks out from an election," said Mark Wallace, Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras.

City officials did not say how much it would cost to remove the cameras or how they would make up the revenue.

There are only a couple of days left to register to vote in the April runoff elections. Tuesday is the deadline for those registering to vote for the first time.

To register you must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18-years-old by Election Day, and be a resident of your precinct at least 30 days before the election.
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