By Dorothy Tucker and Carol Thompson
CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago's speed cameras churned out hundreds of thousands of violations in the month after the city dropped the threshold for automated ticketing from 10 miles per hour over the speed limit to just six, data show.
On March 1, 2021, speed cameras all over Chicago began issuing either warnings or real tickets to speeders traveling 6 to 10 mph over the limit in specific "Children's Safety Zones" near certain parks and schools. Previously $35 tickets were issued at 10 mph over the limit and $100 tickets for 11 mph or more over
The CBS 2 Investigators looked at publicly available data as well as information received from a public records request for a 36-day period before and after the change took effect. We learned that citywide tickets went up from 35,784 in the five weeks before March 1 to 398,233 in the five weeks after. Those 398,000 tickets amounted to $871,035 in fines. Some of those tickets could have been first warnings that did not result in a fine owed.
"I see this thing going off all the time," said Ricky Duddleston who lives right across the street from the speed camera at 3200 S. Archer Ave. "Constantly flashing … I think it's a scam, man."
Duddleston doesn't buy the city's safety zone reason for putting the camera in this location. There is a small neighborhood park a couple of blocks away. But he said, "There's no kids walking down this street. Never."
Money is the motive if you ask Duddleston. "City's crying broke. How much money you think they make off these things?"
That Archer camera flashed 257 times before March 1 and 11,016 times after. Fines totaled $25,335 for city coffers. Comparing those new ticket numbers to a pre-pandemic year, that camera caught 1,853 speeders during the same period in 2019.
"Tickets are going through the roof," said 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale. He has two cameras in his ward. One is near Abbott Park on 95th Street. But the one he really hates is 30 blocks south. "The one on 12th is on a bike trail," said Ald. Beale.
And, that camera has the biggest jump in speeding tickets and fines in his ward. Before March 1st, 2,573 tickets issued. After March 1, 13,588. Extra funds for the city? $26,680. Again, over the same March to April five-week period, that camera generated only 4,900 tickets two years ago.
"That's ridiculous. That's ridiculous. In times when people can't afford to pay, now we're hitting them over the head with ticket after ticket after ticket. This is a revenue generator, period," said Ald. Beale.
"How disgusting to prey on poor people this way," said community activist Mark Wallace, who is just as angry as the Alderman. He's been fighting to abolish red light cameras for years, and thought he had an ally to not impose regressive fines and fees in then candidate Lori Lightfoot.
"This is something the Mayor ran on and promised that she would not do," said Wallace.
Lightfoot made that promise during a CBS2 Mayoral Debate two years ago when she said, "I'm determined to make sure that we're not continuing to balance the budget on the backs of people who are least able to handle it."
Christopher Swanson is one of those least able to handle the new lower limits for speeding fines.
"It's a speeding ticket that I got on 4909 N. Cicero Ave. There is my car," he said pointing to the image on his ticket. He said he has gotten three tickets since the change took effect at the beginning of March.
Swanson is a retired custodian on a fixed income and those three $35 tickets add up to $105. "I have a mortgage to pay, I got the gas, the light, the phones all that together it just doesn't cut it," he said.
Where he got his latest ticket for going 37 miles per hour in a 30 mph park zone at 4909 N. Cicero, 513 tickets were issued in the 5 weeks before the change and 15,672 in the 5 weeks
after. The camera generated $37,225 in fines for the city. Back in 2019 – the same camera in 2019 caught 3,319 speeders.
"I personally feel I didn't go over the speed limit," said Swanson. "But, I can't … dispute the cameras." Before that change in March, the camera on Cicero would not have clocked Swanson as speeding. He might not have gotten his two other tickets either in a different Safety Zone.
"Oh, I'm very frustrated about this. I really am," he said.
Frustration is causing Alderman Beale to try to undo the change because "If you continue to lower the threshold, the odds of you getting ticketed are greater," he said.
Ald. Beale recently introduced an ordinance to turn back time and reset tickets back to 10 miles and more over the limit. He also wants the mayor to keep her promise because "It's totally contradictory of what you told us and what you sold us on," he said.
Chicago Mayor's Office response:
"The change in the speeding threshold was implemented in response to an alarming increase in vehicle speeding and traffic fatalities. This change affects the City's 68 Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE) Children's Safety Zones, which are operational near schools when they are in session and children are present, and in parks during hours when they are open.
Forty-three more people died in traffic crashes in Chicago in 2020, a 45 percent increase over 2019. These deaths have occurred at a time when fewer cars were on the road due to the pandemic and City traffic data showed cars were driving 8-10 percent faster on average than at the same time in the previous year.
The goal is not to issue tickets, but to encourage safer driving behavior and discourage speeding that is correlated with more severe injuries and deaths in traffic crashes. In order to avoid a speeding violation, drivers simply have to observe the speed limit.
Even incremental reductions in speed greatly increase the likelihood of avoiding death or serious injury in the event of a crash. According to federal traffic safety data, chances of a pedestrian surviving being struck by a car are 90 percent if hit by a car traveling 20 MPH, 50 percent chance of surviving if hit by a car driving 30 MPH and only a 10 percent chance of surviving being struck by a car driving 40 MPH."
Did you get a ticket from a Chicago speed camera after March 1? We want to hear from you.
Email investigative producer Carol Thompson at email@example.com, call us at 312-899-2250, or get in touch using the form below.
[contact-form to="firstname.lastname@example.org" subject="CBS Chicago Speed Camera Investigation"][contact-field label="Name" type="name" required="1"][contact-field label="Email" type="email"][contact-field label="Phone Number" type="text"][contact-field label="" type="textarea"][/contact-form]
for more features.