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If Evanston follows the example of other Chicago suburbs, cameras could soon photograph hasty drivers blasting through red lights.

Advocates say the camera systems — which lead to tickets in the mail for the law-breaking drivers — can improve traffic safety and raise funds to ease a town’s budget crisis.

Bellwood, where Comptroller Roy McCampbell likened the cameras to “lotto or casino type operations,” makes $60,000 to $70,000 a month by handing out citations for violations documented by cameras at one intersection.

Schaumburg cashed $1 million in three months with its own camera system. At one point, Bolingbrook raised $140,000 a month.

Skokie officials say that the system is for public safety, not revenue, and plan to locate their camera at one of the city’s top five most dangerous intersections.

Skokie will install its camera system at Dempster Street and McCormick Boulevard, near the Evanston border. A one-day study conducted by the camera company Skokie contracted showed that at least 31 violations occurred at the intersection.

If that one day is typical, the city could make around $93,000 monthly by charging $100 a ticket, though some studies say that number will shrink by 40 percent to 60 percent as people became more aware of the camera.

But that’s still a lot more than the $4,400 monthly fee Skokie must pay to its camera company to maintain the camera.

And Skokie’s intersection, with an average of 26,000 vehicles passing through it daily, sees the about the same amount of traffic as six of Evanston’s top 10 intersections for accidents.

Evanston’s top intersection for accidents, Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue, sees a daily average of 27,200 vehicles, according to the Public Works Department.

So, red light cameras probably could make money for Evanston. Amid a budget crisis that has officials projecting a 5 percent drop in revenue — the city could use the money.

But whether any city should use red light cameras to raise funds is another question, and one that became painfully relevant in Schaumburg earlier this year.

Like Skokie officials did in November, Schaumburg trustees emphasized public safety when they unanimously approved for their cameras in September.

When the city made $1 million at one intersection though, residents and business owners accused officials of using public safety to mask financial motives.

But Schaumburg’s haste to install its first camera may have contributed to the outcry.

Schaumburg located its camera system at an intersection that was not particularly dangerous – that was not even among the city’s top 10 most dangerous intersections.

Schaumburg officials say they were trying to avoid placing the cameras on state roads so the city would not have to wait for approval from the state.

Schaumburg also drew criticism because most citations issued were for a maneuver less dangerous than running straight through a red light — failing to come to a full stop before turning right on red.

A 2001 study concluded that the average motorist would have to drive 1 billion miles before being involved in a collision caused by right-turning on red.

After the public outcry Schaumburg negotiated with the camera company so that right turns were ignored. The company complied but ultimately decided that the change of plans had made the cameras financially infeasible for them.

And Schaumburg is not an unusual case. A Chicago Tribune investigation last month showed that cameras are often placed at relatively safe intersections and that the vast majority of citations are for rolling right turns.

But regardless of how cities use them, studies show that red light cameras make the streets safer, and not just where the cameras are placed, says Joseph Schofer, a professor of civil engineering at Northwestern University.

“If you use a red light camera to enforce in one location, you can improve the observance of red lights in other nearby locations,” he says.

Although the cameras sometimes increase rear-end collisions when drivers slam on their breaks to avoid being snapped, the decrease in more dangerous right-angle collisions more than makes up for it, reducing the total number of crashes that cause injury by 20 to 30 percent.

On average, the Evanston Police Department handles 3,400 motor vehicle crashes each year, of which failure to obey stop signs and red lights is among the top five causes. Officers issued 583 citations for red light violations in 2008.

Despite the apparent safety and financial benefits, the City Council has not given red light cameras much consideration, though the cameras were recommended in the Multi-Modal Transportation Plan.

“It depends on how desperately the community feels we need new revenue sources,” Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said.

Evanston’s Division of Transportation conducted an unscientific public survey last year that included 400 respondents and resulted in a mild approval of the cameras, though not necessarily for their financial benefits to the city.

“I’m not sure that’s how we want to make revenue,” Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, says. “Making people feel like we’re watching them all the time.”

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35 Comments

  1. I’d rather be mugged in an alley at gunpoint.
    Why doesn’t the City just replace all our license plates with Visa cards, then link their cameras directly to our banks?

    It will make their scam a little less hypocritical.

  2. Red light cameras
    I don’t have a problem with red light cameras since they are a great source of revenue, but no one should pretend that they have anything to do with improving safety. The studies and statistics all can be interpreted to say whatever you want, but the bottom line is:

    It’s all about the money.

  3. Red light cameras and bicycles
    Will these enforcement tools also ticket bicyclists who sail through traffic signals and stop signs?

    1. I wish they could ticket
      I wish they could ticket those selfish and dangerous bike riders. I am tired of sharing the roads with bicyclists who don’t want to follow the “rules of the road.” If it’s a red light, STOP, see a stop sign? STOP!

      Bikes have no plates or ID’s so I can’t imagine them being ticketed.

      1. Yes, I wish they would be
        Yes, I wish they would be ticketed, as well (and I am both a cyclist and a pedestrian). However, I also wish that drivers that do not signal their turns (they must think signal lights are christmas lights), turn right or left crossing double yellow lines (I thought those indicated a “do not cross”, but they must be decorations in Illinois), keep talking on their cell phone and roll through stop signs… all those behaviors should be ticketed, too. Cars are far more dangerous than bikes.

        And how about jay walking pedestrian who do not even realize they cross in front of a car because of their ipods, texting on cell phones, etc?

  4. Can we please add on one at
    Can we please add on one at Dempster and Chicago? Even though there is a sign that says “NO TURN ON RED”, cars never follow that. I’ve gotten yelled at by a driver who nearly hit me and my baby in a stroller and when I yelled back that there was no turn on red, I was flicked off.

  5. Red light cameras
    If they are proven to improve safety and commpliance with traffic laws at intersections I say go for it, particularly if the offenses are not counted towards points on your license.

    Far too many hasty motorists are not stopping on right-turn-on-red (many hardly slowing down!) and far too many are going through intersections on a very obvious red light.

    Hey, we tax cigarettes. Tax traffic violators – they are a much greater risk to public health. Put the money toward improving our streets and bike ways!

  6. Please no!
    As it has sufficiently noted this is about money not safety. There’s got to be better ways to generate revenue for the city than these Orwellian methods. It will just create anxiety and a nasty environment. How about we concentrate on better bike paths throughout the city?

  7. Please no!
    As it has sufficiently noted this is about money not safety. There’s got to be better ways to generate revenue for the city than these Orwellian methods. It will just create anxiety and a nasty environment. How about we concentrate on better bike paths throughout the city?

  8. And please put one at Oakton and Asbury
    Do the statistics quoted by the opponents of red-light cameras count the accidents involving pedestrians? I too have nearly been hit several times by cars turning right on red at Oakton and Asbury, where the signs plainly state NO TURN ON RED. The drivers are so intent on looking for traffic coming from the left that they see neither the sign nor the pedestrian. Here there is no ambiguity about whether the driver came to a complete stop — it’s illegal to turn right on red, period. Why should we not let the cameras enforce that? If there are signs saying NO TURN ON RED, put a camera there! Seems like a no-brainer.

    1. I agree…more cameras, please
      I don’t understand all the people who claim that this is a ‘revenue grab’, etc.

      It seems simple to me: If you don’t want to pay a fine, don’t drive through a red light.

      I am curious, though, about one thing: I wonder what the residents of Asbury have to say…you know, the ones who campaigned for speed bumps on their street, for safety reasons.

      I haven’t cross-checked all the postings yet, but I wonder if there are any Asbury residents who favor speed bumps who are now campaigning against red light cameras.

      1. Interesting question… Well,
        Interesting question…
        Well, of course there are no speed bumps on Asbury itself, but south of Oakton there are speed bumps on the east side of Asbury, and traffic circles on the west side. I’m the one who asked for red light cameras at Oakton and Asbury, and I’m also a local who thinks the traffic circles are pointless, as they do nothing at all to slow down traffic. I wish we on the west side of Asbury had speed bumps like other neighborhoods, because they actually seem to work!

  9. It’s Hopeless
    I hate the traffic cameras. They’re one of the reasons I live in Evanston instead of Chicago. Unfortunately, even if Evanston has the good sense to abstain from installing them, Skokie does not. We’ll be subject to their revenue grab just a few yards outside our City limits.

  10. Just wondering…
    I don’t understand the people who hate the red light cameras, insist there is no safety benefit to their use, call it a scam and claim it’s only “all about the money.” People who obey the traffic laws should have no problem with red light cameras, even if they are also a source of revenue for the city. Could it be that the opponents of red light cameras are people who habitually do exactly what the cameras are designed to ticket, and they just don’t want to get caught? Just wondering…

    1. Re: Just wondering…
      I’ve never been cited by a red-light camera despite often driving in areas where they are installed. I also am a firm believer that people should obey the rules of the road, and come to complete stops when turning right on red.

      My issue with the cameras has nothing to do with me not wanting to “get caught”.

      My issue is with how the justification for the cameras goes down. Safety is used as the reason for installing them, and who can say no to that, right? However, if you study the research on red light cameras it becomes apparent that the main goal is to generate revenue, not improve safety.

      Don’t just take my word for it. The Tribune has done plenty of stories on this subject recently:
      http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-red-light-cameras-12-jul12,0,7945020.story

      http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/chi-0727edit2jul27,0,1330556.story

      http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-red-light-cameras-03-aug03,0,3881774.story

      1. Okay, but I still don’t see
        Okay, but I still don’t see how it’s a problem to have mixed motivation. What’s the downside of installing them, whatever the reason, as long as they work as intended? We can certainly use the revenue, and we can also certainly use some help enforcing traffic laws. Enforcement by technology has the potential for being very effective in places where there’s no chance for ambiguity — like intersections that are posted No Turn On Red.

        After reading the piece in the Sun-Times (July 26) about the problems with super-sensitive cameras in Schaumburg, I suppose the technology is perhaps not ready for prime time in all situations, but eventually we will see much more use of technology for these kinds of purposes, and I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing in principle.

        Oh, and statistics can be made to support just about argument. Although I will follow your links and read more — thanks!

  11. Red light cameras
    Overall, I think this is a good idea. While I don’t see many cars blowing a red light, as mentioned, the right turn on red law is unbelievably abused. Being a pedestrian doesn’t afford you any safety in most cases. I have felt for awhile that the EPD should enforce the stop sign law and ticket vehicles that roll through stop signs. Not only would the officers salary be covered but the city budget deficit would surely be reduced.

    1. Your point is good, but it is
      Your point is good, but it is off base … No matter how much enforcement is done, the driver still has the opportunity to go to court .. where the problem is .. If the court actually gave the driver a fine, the city only gets a small percentage of the fine (about $15 on a $75 fine). With the county raising the court fees to $135, of which the city gets $0, the judges are now drastically reducing the fines to cover for the high court costs. Many times, the drivers now receive a low fine, $25, or no fine at all .. just court costs. So, the county gets their money and the city gets none … At least with the red light camera, the city would get the majority of the fine as it would not be handled by the county.

  12. Money makers…..
    The red light cameras are nothing more than ATM machines for the city…your license plate number is their PIN. Studies have shown that if you simply have the “yellow” light illuminated for 2-3 seconds longer, traffic accidents will be reduced. But this will not generate a single dime for the city so it will never happen.

    1. Those calculations are based
      Those calculations are based on the past timing of cars through an intersection. Thus, it is a hilarious suggestion and ignores actual human behavior in adapting to the new length of the yellow light. It’s like canceling classes in a college on Wednesday before Thanksgiving to avoid students cutting class to take a flight home… students start flying out on Tuesday.

  13. I have almost been hit or hit
    I have almost been hit or hit bicyclists multiple times in the last few months when they are either

    * riding the wrong way down a 1 way street
    * riding on the wrong side of the road
    * blowing stop signs/red lights without slowing down

    Where are the police to ticket these people who feel they are above the law?

    I challenge anyone reading this thread to pick an intersection of 2 major streets in Evanston & record the % of bicyclists blowing red lights vs cars.

    1. If you’ve hit multiple cyclists in the last few months…
      …then you shouldn’t be driving a car.

      I don’t care if cyclists are breaking the law or not, if you can’t manage to avoid hitting them on a regular basis, then please stay off the road because you are clearly not capable of driving safely.

      I fear for the pedestrian that jaywalks in your presence.

      1. Bikers and Pedestrians
        I’m a biker—in fact I sold my car 20 years ago since I rarely had a need for it.
        However there are so many bikers that don’t even pay attention to any rules of the road [or sidewalks] like stop signs, or stopping for pedestrians and like many pedestrians don’t seem to know left side of the street/walks–or even center of the street/walk. I assume their spandex outfits and little hats will protect them.
        In fact they will probably be part of the large “Darwin Prize Winners”—weeding out the weak of the species [by death]. Many pedistrians will suffer the same fate by walking back and forth from right to left to cente of walks and be hit by bikers and/or walk int traffic while totally absorbed by their IPod, cell phone or texting.

        1. I’m all for green, however…
          I completely agree with the above poster. There are bicyclists in Evanston who:
          1) Cross against the signals at major intersections, then look at YOU in disdain;
          2) Weave dangerously through traffic dressed like a Lance Armstrong wannabe; and
          3) Lack reflective gear when riding after dark.

          Although it doesn’t apply to a majority of riders through Evanston, there are enough out there to warrant caution.

          So, bicyclists of Evanston, I will do my due dilligence at stop lights and signs and ensure that I allow you to cross safely provided your signal gives you right of way. In return, please obey the local laws and dress for visibility.

          1. The “Lance Armstrong wannabe” hating is off-topic
            This really has nothing to do with red light cameras. And frankly, as a motorist, it rarely affects me or puts anyone in any danger when a cyclist runs a red light or a stopsign with no vehicles coming the other direction which is what 99% of the complaining is usually about.

          2. Cyclists and Rules of the Road
            “And frankly, as a motorist, it rarely affects me or puts anyone in any danger when a cyclist runs a red light or a stopsign with no vehicles coming the other direction which is what 99% of the complaining is usually about.”

            Is it OK for cars to do that also?

            Explain that to a cop.

          3. Re: Cyclists and Rules of the Road
            Do you see it as a big problem when pedestrians cross the street on red lights with no cars coming? Doing so on a bike isn’t much different, assuming the cyclist has slowed down to look both ways and found it to be clear.
            And, I’ve never suggested that running red lights on a bike or jaywalking is legal, so I’m not sure what I’m supposed to explain to a cop.

            Also, can someone explain what any of this cyclist discussion has to do with red light cameras? The cameras aren’t going to photograph bikes or pedestrians.

          4. Cyclists and Rules of the Road
            These past few days I have seen so many cyclists, either knowing or unknowing, breaking the rules of the road. For example, going against traffic is dangerous for the cyclist. It seems that either the cyclist is getting back on the bike for the first time in several years or just has the attitude that pedestrians and motorists alike are to give way to them.

            Even though there are signs downtown, cyclists are still riding on the sidewalk, and some very fast. Bikes have become lighter in the past years, which means that these bikes are silent when coming up from behind pedestrians. Even if the pedestrian is not wearing headphones or on the phone, in most cases you cannot hear the bike until they are ontop of you. If you jump back when a cyclist calls out, they “thank you” and go on. If you are on the sidewalk, the pedestrian has the right of way, not the cyclists. As a rule, if you are older than 12 years old, you should be on the street.

            If the cyclists are on the road, they are to obey the stop signs, yields, red lights, and crosswalks. A cyclist can get their speeds up higher than 20 mph, but they are not as visible as a car. By running the lights, you are putting yourself and others at risk. I have seen many close calls with motorists swerving into oncoming traffic to avoid a cyclist running light/stop sign. A cyclist should also go with the flow of traffic, if you are not, it’s the same as driving down the wrong way or side of the street. The motorists will be looking at the flow of traffic, FIRST, and then at the opposite side. This means a car can pull out of a parking spot, looking behind, and miss seeing the cyclist until it’s too late.

            For the common complaint, it’s too hard to keep stopping and starting on the bike, then city bike riding is not for you. However, there are places in the country for non-stop bike riding. It’s the same as a driver saying that they were running late and that’s why they ran all the red lights and stop signs from their house to work. There are consequences. Until Evanston/Chicago are on the same page as cities like Seattle, who has lights and traffic timed for both cars and cyclists, this is the reality of city cycling.

          5. Three thousand pounds of
            Three thousand pounds of steel vs. nineteen pounds of bike? The person weilding the car needs to show quite a lot more caution & restraint than the cyclist. Stop the crazytalk, please. Cyclists are safer when the drivers of cars simply ignore them (us). I’d be in less danger if I were completely invisible while on my bike.

            or…

            Stop the hating. Don’t be so jealous that I look so effing good in my tight pants…

            ;^)

  14. Rear End Collisions?
    So front end collisions probably will be reduced by red light cameras. What about rear end collisions? I’ve caught myslef slamming on the brakes at an intersection with red light cameras to avoid going through so I wouldn’t get a request for $100 in the mail. What if a driver behind me was following to closely and not paying attention? BAM! One could get rear ended and possibly pushed through the intersection, hit by cross traffic and activate the red light camera resulting in a $100 ticket anyway.

    1. Rear end collisions go up
      In nearly every case, there are far more rear end collisions at intersections with red light cameras than without. The safety first crowd will argue that rear end collisions are “safer” than right angle collisions (such as those which occur when someone runs a red light), but the decrease in right angle collisions is rarely enough to justify the increase in rear end collisions.

  15. I don’t see at all how the
    I don’t see at all how the cameras are scam: if drivers abide by traffic laws, they won’t get any revenue. If you are opposed, who is really the scammer? I’d say the one who breaks the law and does not want to get caught… Perhaps the cameras will be an incentive for more civil driving behavior. I hope the cameras recover their cost and then some.

  16. We Are The Enemy
    After reading several of the posts on this site, I can’t help admitting that we are our own problem. If you are rear-ended for slamming on your brakes in order to avoid a camera ticket, then you are driving much too fast to begin with. When approaching a traffic light, the idea is not to punch the gas and speed up in order to make the light, but instead, to drive with caution because the traffic light notates a major intersection where caution should be employed. I have lived on Oakton Steet in Evanston for 10 years and, during that time, traffic levels have increased and so has the speed of drivers in our fair city. We SHARE our streets, but many drivers act more like they OWN the road.

    Some simple advice – if you allow yourself ample time to get where you are going, you will be able to enjoy the drive, limit your frustration, and maintain a more safe environment for everyone. Sure, sure, life is busy, there is never enough time. Maybe people should try getting out of bed a few minutes earlier…..

  17. We Are The Enemy (continued)
    One further comment…

    If we all collectively slow down, we’ll burn less gas through our cars, lower the overall emissions our vehicles put out and save our brake pads by not slamming them on at red lights.

  18. The city already has more
    The city already has more than enough revenue. It’s not our fault they don’t spend it wisely. If they want cameras, they’ll just need to learn and pinch their pennies like we (the people) already do.

    I don’t rush out to buy that snazzy new Mercedes when I’m broke. I save money or I cut back in other areas. Government, federal and local, will just need to stop spending money they don’t have (and won’t be getting from tax revenue, because the people are already overtaxed and won’t be having any more of it). Go fish.

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