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Red light cameras are a pain, but speed cameras are much worse

Written by
Clayton Guse

On Sunday, Mayor Rahm Emananuel announced that the city will remove 50 red light cameras at 25 intersections and that those cameras would no longer be issuing citations as of Friday, March 6.

The 25 intersections, which are primarily located in South and West Side neighborhoods, accounted for more than 38,000 (or about 14 percent) of the red light camera violations recorded in the second half of 2014.

The action from Emanuel came less than a week after Jesus "Chuy" Garcia announced that he would remove all of the cameras of the sort if he wins next month's election. 

Amidst all of the hullabaloo over red light cameras, Chicagoans seem to have forgotten about the other type of eyes in the sky: speed cameras. Here are a few things to know when addressing the issue.

Speed cameras dole out more than twice as many tickets as red light cameras

According to the city's data portal, more than 659,000 violations were recorded by the city's 141 speed cameras during the second half of 2014. That provides a pretty stark contrast with the 267,000 recorded by 174 red light cameras. Granted, speed camera tickets are often less expensive than red light violations. Exceeding the speed limit by six or more miles an hour warrants a $35 citation. Cruising 11 or more miles an hour over costs drivers $100, which is the same price as a red light ticket.

All of the city's red light cameras were installed under Daley, all of the speed cameras were installed under Rahm

The "go-live date" for each of the red light cameras that are currently active in the city is before Rahm Emanuel's May 16, 2011 inauguration. Conversely, all of the active speed cameras were installed after 2013, including another three in January. Rahm's removal of 50 red light cameras puts a small dent in the network of ticket machines that Daley left behind, but the mayor hasn't shown any signs of fiddling with the speed traps that his administration spearheaded.

Chicago's most lucrative speed cameras are on the South and West sides

A majority of the red light cameras that Rahm deactivated over the weekend are in areas that supported Willie Wilson in last month's mayoral election, but the city's most profitable speed cameras during the second half of last year were in those same areas. Cameras at 536 E Morgan Drive, 10318 S Indianapolis Avenue, 445 W 127th Street and 2900 W Ogden Avenue were far and away the most ticket-heavy, according to the data portal.

Removing all of the city's red light and speed cameras would leave a notable hole in the budget

Not every violation leads to a citation, and not every citation is paid, but more than 1.5 million speed and red light camera violations last year makes it safe to estimate that the revenue generated by them flirted with $100 million. In the grand scheme of the city budget, this is relatively small—the current combined annual salary of city employees tops $2.4 billion. At the same time, Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed 2016 budget cuts expect to cost the CTA, Metra and Pace a combined $130 million in state funding. If Garcia aims to fulfill his promise of removing every red light and speed camera in the city upon inauguration, he'll have to find a way to fill that void.

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