Traffic Safety Committee backs plan to use cameras to catch drivers who block bike and bus lanes
CHICAGO (CBS) -- A key City Council committee on Friday signed off on a plan to use cameras mounted on CTA buses, city vehicles, and light and utility poles downtown to issue tickets to drivers who block bike and bus lanes, bus stops, and crosswalks.
The Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety unanimously approved a two-year pilot program dubbed "Smart Streets," proposed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Alds. Daniel La Spata (1st), Brian Hopkins (2nd), Andre Vasquez (40th), Brendan Reilly (42nd), and Matt Martin (47th).
Chicago Department of Transportation officials said the ordinance will allow the city to install cameras on CTA buses, city vehicles, and utility and light poles to catch drivers who park in bike lanes, bus-only lanes, bus stops, and crosswalks in an area bounded by Roosevelt Road, Ashland Avenue, North Avenue, and Lake Michigan.
City officials and aldermen said the ordinance is designed to provide more reliable bus service, and eliminate hazards for bicyclists, who are often forced out of bike lanes and into the same lanes as cars and other vehicles when someone blocks a bike lane.
"There's not a time that I go down Milwaukee Avenue, even within these boundaries, and don't see the Milwaukee Avenue bike lane stopped up," La Spata said.
Last summer, 3-year-old Lily Shambrook was killed while riding on the back of her mom's bike in Uptown, near Leland and Winthrop avenues, when her mom was forced to pull into traffic because a ComEd truck was blocking the bike lane. An 18-wheeler collided with Lily's mom's bike, and then hit Lily after the bike fell to the ground.
Her family is filing a lawsuit against the city, ComEd, Mondelez, and Penske. Her attorneys have said the city issued ComEd a permit to set up on the next street over, Winthrop, but the utility truck was parked on Leland.
La Spata said he hopes the "Smart Streets" pilot program encourages drivers to stop parking in bike and bus lanes.
"I would love for this to generate no money for the city," he said. "Please let us turn around two years from now and say we didn't gain a dime from this, because residents did and businesses did exactly what they should, which is simply not park in bike and bus lanes."
Most days, you can catch Ben Milford navigating Chicago streets on his unicycle. He is always on the lookout for cars and trucks illegally parked in the bike lanes. He says it is a big problem.
"It feels unsafe in a lot of situations," Milford said.
On Friday, it didn't take long for us to spot someone blocking the bike lane – double-parking while the driver grabbed some food.
"If you're riding your bike, you're going to run into obstructions," Milford said. "I know for a fact that my life is in danger."
Vasquez said he would like to see the program expanded to other parts of the city if it proves effective. CDOT will be required to report to the City Council on the results and effectiveness of the pilot program no later than 120 days before the end of the two-year program.
CDOT officials said, once the ordinance is approved by the full City Council later this month, they will begin identifying camera vendors, with hopes of getting the first cameras up and running as soon as possible.
For the first 30 days after cameras in any specific area of the pilot program are turned on, scofflaws would get warnings in the mail. After those 30 days, any driver's first violation would also result in a warning, while subsequent violations would result in a ticket.
The city would also be required to post signs warning drivers of the cameras once they are up and running.
Programs similar to the proposed new safety ordinance are already in effect in cities such as New York and Seattle, and are being planned in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
Meantime, the committee also unanimously approved a second two-year pilot program, which would allow the city to use license plate reading technology to issue tickets by mail to drivers who illegally park in loading zones in the same downtown area as the bus and bike lane pilot program.
Not everyone is onboard with the programs.
"This strategy of reducing traffic violence via a punitive approach - in this case, automatic enforcement - is one we wholesale do not support," said Olatunji Oboi Reed of the Equiticity Racial Equity Movement.
Reed's organization advocates for an equitable, diverse, and inclusive bicycle culture in Chicago.
"What we're arguing for is investing in engineering our streets in a way that reduces traffic violence - and creates safe neighborhoods for our communities," he said.
Reed said he would rather see that than something just another money-generating revenue for the city.
But Milford sees the pilot program as a first step.
"If it saves lives that is great," he said. "but I want hard infrastructure."
Both pilot programs will now go to the full City Council on March 15.
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