UPDATE 7/24/2013: Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday said the city's red-light ticket program features a number of improvements, including weekly meetings with the program vendor. He says motorists have been notified by mail that they will have additional time to appeal red-light tickets.
CHICAGO (CBS) -- In the wake of a Chicago Tribune investigation that questioned several unexplained spikes in red light camera tickets since 2007, city officials said they'll offer anyone who got a ticket during one of those spikes another shot at disputing the citation and getting a refund for the $100 fine.
At a hearing of the City Council Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety, Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld reassured aldermen the mayor has reached out to Inspector General Joseph Ferguson to evaluate the red light camera program, following a Tribune investigation that found thousands of erroneous red light tickets might have been issued during mysterious spikes in citations over the past several years.
Scheinfeld said the city's Finance Department also will send letters to approximately 9,000 motorists who were issued a red light camera, at times when unusually high numbers of tickets were issued at 12 intersections cited by the Tribune. Those people will be invited to get a new review of their case, and if it's found the violation was an error, they'll get a refund.
CBS 2's Brad Edwards reports Dr. Kevin King has a question about his ticket at California and Peterson.
"I remember at the time thinking to myself, 'Wow, that's a really fast yellow light," King said.
Research from Barnet Fagel, the "red light doctor," shows the yellow was only 2. 8 seconds that's short the federally mandated minimum of 3, one example of a bigger issue.
"The revelation is the city is waking up to maybe they have a problem," said Barnet.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) asked whether if the new reviews should be limited to 12 intersections.
"Shouldn't that be applied to, in theory, any intersection or any camera that exists in the system?" he said.
Scheinfeld responded, "if we find in that past data that there are similar spikes of this magnitude, then yes I would recommend that we offer that same opportunity to people."
She noted no red light camera tickets are issued until evidence from a camera is reviewed by two people to confirm a violation occurred. If a ticket is issued, the car's owner has can appeal the ticket.
The commissioner said the city has already begun reviewing red light program data in connection to the spikes reported by the Tribune, and she said they "appear to be anamolies."
"We have analyzed a sample of more than 300 violations that occurred during these periods and have found no instances of tickets issued in error and in all cases found evidence that the law was indeed violated," she said.
"It is important to note that there are always spikes in any automated enforcement system due to fluctuations in traffic volume and driver behavior where cameras are located. For example, if a street is closed for construction, increased traffic flow on an adjacent street or alternate route might drive up violations for a period of time during that construction. The occurrence of special events or severe weather can also create significant changes in traffic patterns," she added.
In particular, she noted one spike cited by the Tribune -- at 119th and Halsted in May and June 2011 -- appeared to be the result of a project to repair the 111th Street and 115th Street bridges over Interstate 57. Shcheinfeld said the city believes drivers likely used Halsted to bypass the construction work by exiting I-57 at 99th and Halsted, then heading south to 119th Street to get back on the interstate.
"This may explain an increase in rolling stops at the red light due to the high number of vehicles turning right at this location," she said.
Scheinfeld also told aldermen the city will begin posting online a tally of daily violations at each of the city's 174 intersections with red light cameras.
"This information will provide the public with increased transparency about the performance of our red light cameras and trends in violations," she said.
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