• Alex Nitkin
    OCT 27, 2020

    Lightfoot, budget officials defend expanding speeding tickets: ‘This is about keeping communities safe’

    A red light camera in Chicago [DNAinfo Chicago]

    Mayor Lori Lightfoot and top financial officials in her administration on Monday stood by their proposal to widen the criteria for issuing speeding tickets next year, saying they did so primarily as a public safety measure.

    Lightfoot’s plan to close a $1.2 billion gap in the 2021 budget includes a $38.8 million hike in fines, fees and forfeitures over 2020, including by ticketing drivers who exceed the speed limit by more than 6 miles per hour. The $35 citation, first reported by the Tribune, would be sent to drivers who are twice caught by cameras driving between 6 and 9 mph over the speed limit. The first infraction would incur a warning.

    The mayor, who campaigned in part on ending the city’s reliance on ticketing to balance its finances, said during a press conference Monday the added fines are “about keeping communities safe” following a recent increase in “speeding-related accidents and deaths.”

    The city recorded 100 traffic deaths between January and September this year compared to 72 during the same period in 2019, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

    Multiple aldermen panned the proposed new fine during a nine-hour public hearing on Monday, saying it could punish the residents who can least afford it.

    Ald. Maria Hadden (49) said she was “not a fan” of the stepped-up enforcement, suggesting that the city focus on ticketing speeders on Lake Shore Drive, which some suburban commuters “treat like a superhighway,” instead of near city intersections.

    Ald. Samantha Nugent (39) said her constituents would find the added enforcement “frustrating,” saying it could ensnare some drivers who are “just speeding up to let a car through.”

    Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25) went further, saying the hike in fines and fees targeted “essential workers” and represented one more piece of an “immoral budget.”

    “To me, these solutions seem to be putting a lot on the working class,” Sigcho-Lopez said.

    City Comptroller Reshma Soni defended the added fines by saying they were part of an “overall safety enforcement” plan that also includes added fines for truck drivers who park illegally downtown.

    “Once the stay-at-home order lifted, we’ve seen the same amount of traffic, and we’re seeing commercial vehicles double-parking and creating accidents,” Soni said.

    She added that the speeding violations are only enforced by cameras near parks and schools.

    A spokesperson for the city’s transportation department wrote in an email to The Daily Line that in 2019, nearly 93 percent of drivers who were cited for speeding in school zones and 87 percent of drivers who were ticketed in park zones “did not receive a second ticket during the year, indicating they changed their driving behavior.”

    The City Council voted in 2013 to penalize speeding by more than 6 mph but has until now never backed up the rule with a financial penalty.

    Lightfoot on Monday also drew a distinction between speeding tickets and “compliance fines” like parking ticket violations and city sticker fees, whose penalties were rolled back under an ordinance (O2019-5547) the mayor pushed last year.

    Related: Aldermen advance city sticker reforms after some object to $15 million price tag

    “Unlike non-moving violations, people have control over whether they speed or not,” Lightfoot said. “It's my hope people will take this as an opportunity to check their speed.”

    Lightfoot is also proposing to add 750 new parking meters, an addition officials in her administration said would reduce the city’s “true-up” payments due each year to the private company that controls the meters through a 75-year lease.

    The locations of the new meters have yet to be determined, officials said.

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