JUN 22, 2022
Lightfoot’s reduction in speeding threshold for tickets to face critical challenge in City Council
Speed cameras have captured drivers who exceed the speed limit by 6 mph or more near schools or parks since March 2021. [Anjali Pinto/ProPublica]
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s move last year to lower the threshold at which drivers are issued speeding tickets in areas around parks and schools will face a critical test on Wednesday as the City Council is set to vote on whether to raise it from 6 mph over the speed limit back up to 11 mph.
The council’s Committee on Finance voted 16-15 on Tuesday to send Ald. Anthony Beale’s (9) ordinance (O2021-1227) raising the speeding threshold to the City Council for a final vote on Wednesday, more than one year after the measure was introduced. If the ordinance is approved, it could result in the first veto of Lightfoot’s administration.
Lightfoot issued a statement after Tuesday’s committee vote scolding the 16 aldermen — five of whom she handpicked to chair council committees, plus the City Council’s president pro tempore — who supported Beale’s ordinance, writing that “residents need to remember [their] names.”
“It is simply unconscionable that, after losing 173 Chicagoans to speed-related traffic fatalities in 2021, some Aldermen are acting with so little regard for public safety. By state law, the revenues generated by these fines help pay for public safety, infrastructure, after-school programming in parks and schools, Safe Passage workers, and many more vital programs,” Lightfoot wrote. “What happened today is simply not responsible governance. I will not let City Council jeopardize public safety.”
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the speed camera ticket change during its 10 a.m. meeting. Aldermen are also scheduled to vote on Lightfoot’s appointment of Monique Scott as the next 24th Ward alderman. Monique Scott was handpicked by Lightfoot to replace her brother Michael Scott, who resigned from his aldermanic seat earlier this month to take a community relations job with Chicago-based film company Cinespace.
- Lightfoot picks Monique Scott, sister of recently resigned alderman, to replace him in 24th Ward
- Michael Scott calls it quits, heads to Cinespace to give appointed successor a ‘leg up’ in 2023
Lightfoot pushed the City Council to lower the threshold for speed camera tickets from 11 mph over the speed limit to 6 mph near public schools and parks as part of her 2021 budget plan, and her administration has since promoted the change as a safety measure.
But Beale in March 2021 introduced his ordinance to repeal the crackdown, calling it a “cash grab” disguised as an attempt to reduce the number of traffic crashes. An unusual mix of aldermen agreed with him on Tuesday as they voted in support of his proposal.
The city’s Budget Director Susie Park told aldermen on Tuesday that raising the speed threshold could mean a loss of $40 million to $45 million in annual revenue for the city, which would “directly impact” spending on public safety, infrastructure improvements, afterschool programs and the city’s Safe Passage program.
Getting cars to slower down raises the chances that a pedestrian or biker who is hit by the car will survive the impact, Chicago Department of Transportation Comm. Gia Biagi told aldermen during a committee meeting last week.
According to Biagi’s presentation, nine out of 10 people will survive getting hit by a car traveling at 20 mph, but that drops to a 50 percent chance of surviving for people who are hit by a car traveling at 30 mph.
"This is an important tool in the toolbox,” Biagi said on Tuesday. “We don't have a lot of tools for driver behavior."
In addition to a lack of people on the road during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, transportation department officials last week said data they’ve collected shows average car speeds observed at camera locations have dropped by 1 mph since the lower threshold was implemented last year.
"We are heartbroken by all the fatalities on our roadways, and we are all hands on deck,” Biagi said last week. “And to diminish the tools that we have in our toolbox is something that we don’t want to do. We want to have every tool at our disposal."
But aldermen who support Beale’s proposal have argued that the speed cameras aren’t changing drivers’ behavior in their wards, but instead filling the city’s coffers.
Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10) said last week that data she has pulled on a speed camera in her ward shows "traffic patterns have not changed at all over the past six years since the camera’s been there. It’s not slowing people down.”
On Tuesday, Garza said she was "perplexed" because last week's discussion "was all about safety, safety, safety" but now it's about "revenue, revenue, revenue." Garza added that “speed cameras don't change people's driving habits — if they did, we wouldn't be generating $52 million."
Ald. Sophia King (4) requested a demographic breakdown of Chicagoans who are being issued speeding tickets.
"Part of the points that are raised is that most of these tickets are off the backs of Blacks and Brown people who are struggling the most," King said.
Still, several aldermen and city officials pointed out that driving any amount over the speed limit is breaking the law.
"I want people to know if they slow down and be patient, you won't have to pay no ticket and you might save a life,” Ald. Emma Mitts (37) said.
Ald. Nicole Lee (11) said she opposed Beale’s proposal and that residents in her ward are actually "looking for...more ways to calm traffic."
Lee added that the city would be “letting people get away with going faster when they should be going slower” if the speeding threshold is increased.
24th Ward alderman nomination
Lightfoot announced on Monday that she had picked Monique Scott, the sister of recently resigned alderman Michael Scott, to replace him as the new alderman of the 24th Ward.
Monique Scott currently serves as a park supervisor of recreation for the Chicago Park District. According to a news release from Lightfoot’s office announcing her pick on Monday, Scott has “tripled the number of park memberships” for the facility where she works and “provides strategic leadership to ensure parks are available to every resident and visitor.”
“I am honored to be chosen to represent the hardworking men and women of the 24th ward,” Scott said in a news release from Lightfoot’s office. “Building on the work of the previous Alderman, I will strive to bring economic development and safety to my residents. At this crucial moment, I am excited to serve my community and make North Lawndale a better place for all.”
Members of the City Council Committee on Committees and Rules met briefly on Tuesday to give an initial and quick OK to Lightfoot’s appointment of Scott. Scott did not speak, nor did aldermen ask questions or give remarks on Scott’s appointment before it was approved unanimously.
Scott briefly appeared on screen and Ald. James Cappleman (46) said, "If you're anything like your brother you're wonderful.”
“I’m better,” Scott replied.
The Monday news release from Lightfoot’s office announcing Scott’s nomination did not mention that the appointee is the sister of the former alderman.
The process of choosing a 24th Ward replacement played out similarly to the three-member committee Lightfoot formed to find a successor to convicted Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11). Ald. Nicole Lee (11) was Lightfoot’s first aldermanic appointment in March.
Members of the selection committee for the 24th Ward were Brenda Palms Barber, president and CEO of North Lawndale Employment Network; Sheila McNary, president and CEO of Advanced Care Services, Inc.; and Marcus Betts, assistant vice chancellor for external engagement at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Ald. Michelle Harris (8), who chairs the rules committee, was also a member of the committee.
Applicants to replace Michael Scott had also included his chief of staff Charles Rice, who is listed as the chair of both Michael Scott’s aldermanic campaign committee and chair of the 24th Ward Democratic Organization campaign committee.
Surviving spouse benefits
Separately on Wednesday, aldermen are scheduled to consider a proposal (O2022-1216) from Ald. Matt O’Shea (19) to extend death benefits to families of police officers and firefighters who die by suicide. The measure was unanimously approved last week by the city’s finance committee.
"It's a small gesture to do what we can as government to support families in crisis," O'Shea said.
Police officers and firefighters "are more likely to die by suicide than any other means of death in the line of duty," Jen McGowan-Tomke with NAMI Chicago told aldermen.
More than 10 Chicago police officers have died by suicide since 2018, McGowan-Tomke said.
O’Shea’s proposal would extend the fund for police officers and firefighters who have died in the line of duty to officers and firefighters who have died by suicide, according to Michael Howlett with the Legislative Reference Bureau. The measure would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018.
The proposal stipulates that the spouses of first responders are eligible for payouts from the city’s Policeman and Fireman Death Benefit Fund if a suicide or drug overdose “is the cause of or a contributing factor in their death.” The fund provides up to $8,000 in funeral expenses and between $15,000 and $40,000 in additional benefits to “surviving spouses, dependents, parents, and siblings of a deceased member of the police or fire departments,” according to aldermanic briefing materials.
Additionally on Wednesday, the City Council will consider the following proposals:
O2021-4198 — A proposal from Ald. Brian Hopkins (2) to support the proposed class 6(b) property tax incentive for Baker Development Group at 2017 N. Mendell St. in the 2nd Ward. The tax break is expected to help the building’s current tenant — Meds Health — double its footprint in the 60,000-square-foot building and attract new tenants to the building that is currently only 25 percent occupied, project attorney Rolando Acosta told aldermen earlier this month.
Baker Development Group bought the building, which was formerly a liquor distribution warehouse, in 2015 and has since spent more than $6 million on renovations, Acosta has told aldermen. Initially, the building was going to be leased as a space for cannabis cultivation, but the developer is instead working to secure the tax break to help furnish an expansion for Meds Health, which manufactures generic drugs to treat erectile dysfunction.
Officials in the city’s Department of Planning and Development disagreed with the need for a property tax incentive for the Mendell Street property. "The project simply does not meet the minimum eligibility requirements of the program,” department Deputy Comm. Tim Jeffries told aldermen last week. “More specifically, the project did not demonstrate that the incentive is financially necessary [to move] forward." Jeffries added the department objects to the tax incentive “and would additionally note that Mayor Lightfoot is not in support of this ordinance.”
O2022-1697, O2022-1698 — Two ordinances introduced by Lightfoot that would sell two vacant city-owned lots on the west edge of Douglass Park to Natashee Scott, the wife of Michael Scott, for a combined $8,000. Natashee Scott is a senior deputy to Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton.
- Retiring alderman defends move to scoop up city-owned properties in his ward at bargain prices
- Housing committee approves sales of vacant city-owned lots to recently retired alderman, wife at low cost
One of the ordinances would sell the city-owned lot at 1254 S. Albany Ave. in the 24th Ward to Natashee Scott for $1,000 through the city’s Adjacent Neighbors Land Acquisition Program (ANLAP). The lot was appraised at $7,000, according to the language of the ordinance, but ANLAP allows property owners to buy neighboring lots from the city for as little as $1,000 so long as each lot is appraised at no more than $10,000.
The other ordinance introduced last month would sell the city-owned vacant lot at 1256 S. Albany Ave. to Natashee Scott for $7,000, which the ordinance lists as that property’s fair market value as well.
Under the ordinances, the Scotts, who live at 1250 S. Albany Ave., would be required to transform the empty lots into “landscaped open space” within six months of the sale.
O2022-1627 — A proposal from Reilly to replace two existing liquor licenses on Navy Pier that were “absorbed” by the pier’s hotel when it opened. “Navy Pier had asked for an additional two [licenses] to replace those, and those would be for restaurant operations,” Reilly said last week. “Certainly it seems appropriate — there's not a high density of these on the pier, they’re well spread out.”
O2022-1703 — An ordinance proposed by Lightfoot that would grant a limited ground lease to AT&T to replace O’Hare Airport’s copper wiring with fiber optic cable while the company gradually moves its office site out of the airport.
O2022-1694 — A proposed seven-year extension of the city’s existing intergovernmental agreement to serve as a pass-through for federal and state funding for the nonprofit Chicago-Cook Workforce Partnership.
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