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Fioretti Proposes Ending Red Light Camera Program

CHICAGO (CBS) -- In the wake of a new study questioning the safety claims the city has used to justify its red light camera system, mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti on Monday said it's time to take down every red light camera in Chicago.

Fioretti, a two-term alderman, said city statistics claiming red light cameras reduce injuries are just wrong.

A study commissioned by the Chicago Tribune found, while right-angle T-bone crashes have gone down at intersections with red light cameras since 2005, the drop is not nearly as significant as the city has claimed.

The city has boasted a 47 percent reduction in right-angle crashes at intersections with red light cameras. However, the Tribune study found the city did not factor in significant changes in the way the state tracks traffic accidents, the improved safety of modern vehicles, or changes in traffic flow due to the recession. The Tribune study showed a 15 percent drop in right-angle crashes, but also a 22 percent increase in rear-end crashes, likely due to drivers slamming on their brakes to avoid a ticket.

"The mayor's numbers of declining collisions were grossly overestimated, and in some cases rear-end crashes actually cause an increase in the amount of accidents," Fioretti said.

Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld defended the red light camera program, noting the Tribune study did find a drop in right-angle crashes, which she said are more likely to cause serious injury or death than rear-end crashes.

"The act of running a red light is against the law and can have disastrous and life-altering consequences including serious injury or death," she said. "Traffic safety is a serious and important issue, and red light enforcement cameras play a key role in helping to improve public safety."

Scheinfeld said the city regularly reviews the program to make sure it is doing all it can to reduce crashes.

However, Fioretti said the red light camera project was born in corruption – noting a former top city official and the former CEO of the city's original camera vendor have been indicted in a bribery scheme tied to the red light camera program – and the system just scams hundreds of millions of dollars off motorists.

"The entire program is fraught with failed oversight, corruption, and unfair enforcement," Fioretti said.

In addition to the bribery scandal that prompted the city to switch vendors from Redflex Traffic Systems to Xerox, the program repeatedly has come under fire from the city's inspector general, who said CDOT did not keep sufficient records to back up claims the cameras have been placed at the most dangerous intersections in Chicago. The inspector general's office also found the city quietly shifted the standard for issuing red light camera tickets, allowing violations to be issued at intersections where the yellow light time is just under the three-second federal minimum standard. That change allowed the city to issue 77,000 more tickets -- and pull in $7.7 million in extra ticket revenue -- before the city again changed the threshold back to at least 3 seconds.

The Tribune also published an investigation earlier this year that questioned several unexplained spikes in red light camera tickets since 2007, prompting the city to offer 9,000 motorists caught during one of the spikes a second chance to contest their tickets. However, the city ultimately offered only 126 refunds, while not explaining what caused the spikes in ticketing.

Fioretti said the tens of millions of dollars in revenue generated each year by red light camera tickets could be made up through closer examination of the city budget.

Fioretti said he's introducing an ordinance to eliminate red light cameras by this spring. He said he wants red light cameras gone before spring, before the city turns its attention to speed cameras, which he believes are even worse for motorists.

However, the ordinance has little chance of passing, given Emanuel's staunch support for the program.

The Emanuel campaign noted Fioretti approved an expansion of the red light camera system when he voted for the 2009 city budget.

"Alderman Fioretti is against the red light camera program, but voted for its expansion in the 2009 City budget. The alderman doesn't support the $13 minimum wage, but voted for the increase. He is opposed the use of TIFs to benefit large corporations, but pushed for $15 million in TIF dollars for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Alderman Fioretti does not have a problem with the Mayor—he has a problem with his own record."

This weekend, fellow mayoral challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia called for a moratorium on red light camera tickets, saying the program appears to be more about making money for the city than improving safety.

Garcia said City Hall is blind to the red light camera problems because of the money they bring in. Since 2002, they've generated approximately $500 million in tickets.

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