ProPublica gives ammunition to alders who want to let motorists drive at deadly speeds – Streetsblog Chicago

The current Chicago City Council battle over whether drivers should be allowed to speed 9 mph without fear of speed camera tickets is not just a moot debate. It is a literal matter of life

The current Chicago City Council battle over whether drivers should be allowed to speed 9 mph without fear of speed camera tickets is not just a moot debate. It is a literal matter of life or death.

This is a time when traffic violence is on the rise nationwide, and Chicago road deaths reached 173 in 2021. Reckless or negligent drivers fatally hit four children in our city last month. Motorists injured another one six children inside the last ten days.

If Ald. Anthony Beale’s proposed order to roll back Chicago’s speed camera ticketing threshold from the current 6mph rule to 10mph, drivers will almost certainly injure and kill more innocent people. A 2017 National Traffic Safety Board study found that while people hit at 30 mph, our city’s default speed limit, usually survive, those hit at 40 mph almost always die. So there’s a big difference between going 35 mph in a 30 zone (a speed at which you currently won’t get a ticket in Chicago) and traveling at 39 mph (the speed at which you will.) If you hit someone at 39, they will almost certainly die.

Image: CDOT
Image: CDOT

It is therefore frustrating to see ProPublica, a media outlet supposed to work for the public good, publish yet another article about the windshield-POV of Chicago’s automatic enforcement program. As the authors of the article Melissa Sanchez and Emily Hopkins published on the subject last January, their new article talks much more about the financial impacts on drivers who choose to speed than the physical impacts these motorists often inflict on passers-by. Given that this article was published on Friday, less than two weeks before the aldermen are likely to vote on Beale’s legislation at the next Council meeting on July 20, and could sway the votes, that’s journalism downright irresponsible.

Emily Hopkins and Melissa Sanchez
Emily Hopkins and Melissa Sanchez

Like their previous article, the new pieces by Hopkins and Sanchez discuss valid concerns that black and Latino drivers have been recorded violating traffic laws in traffic camera zones at higher rates. than other motorists. They also talk about the economic consequences for motorists who rack up multiple citations after failing to change their behavior and rack up ticket debt.

But this time, they failed to mention the very relevant fact that Chicagoans of color are also disproportionately affected by traffic violence. According to the city Vision Zero Chicago Action Planblack Chicagoans die in accidents twice as fast as their white counterparts.

“Officials question whether speed cameras have improved road safety enough to justify their financial burden on black and Latino motorists,” reads the headline of the new piece. In April, the City of Chicago took an important step to address this burden by launching the Clear Path Ticket Equity Program, meaning single people earning less than $41,000 (more for those living in larger households) only have to pay half the usual fine. That’s $17.50 for speeding 6 to 9 mph, or less than three gallons of gas these days.

It is also extremely relevant to the subject matter. Oddly, ProPublica doesn’t discuss this 50% ticket discount in its new piece.

The illustration for ProPublica's new coin literally features the windshield's perspective.  Illustration: Laila Milevski/ProPublica
The illustration for ProPublica’s new coin literally features the windshield’s perspective. Illustration: Laila Milevski/ProPublica

A study from the University of Illinois at Chicago of our city’s traffic camera program released last January confirmed that speed cameras are not concentrated in communities of color. However, ProPublica previously noted that street layout may be a factor in why more drivers in African-American and Latino communities on the South and West Sides commit camera-recorded speeding tickets than motorists in other areas. other parts of the city.

In the new paper, Hopkins and Sanchez write, “ProPublica has identified some road and neighborhood design differences that seem [emphasis added] to contribute to disparities in ticketing, such as wider streets with more lanes that lend themselves to speeding in areas with higher proportions of black and Latino residents.

But the word “seem” does a lot of work in this sentence. The authors previously clarified to me that they hadn’t actually determined that speed cameras in African American or Latino communities are more likely to be located on wide, multi-lane roads than cameras in other types of communities.

The Chicago Department of Transportation should investigate this issue and make changes to camera locations if necessary. But aldermen shouldn’t let this unproven assumption by ProPublica sway their votes.

Hopkins and Sanchez said in Friday’s article, “There has been no in-depth analysis of the safety benefits of lowering [6 mph] threshold for issuing speeding tickets. True, but the ticket data strongly indicates that the new rule is doing its job to encourage safer speeds.

Although there was a dramatic increase in the number of citations issued by cameras after the 6 mph threshold came into effect on March 1, 2021, peaking on May 7 of that year, the number of speed camera tickets issued has declined fairly steadily since then. , give or take some seasonal variations. (People tend to drive less in the dead of winter, and cameras near schools don’t issue tickets when classes aren’t in progress.) Predictably, drivers learned that if they wanted to avoid tickets in camera areas, they could only 5 mph speed.

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Click to enlarge. This graph of the total number of Chicago speed camera tickets issued per day shows the period between March 1, 2021 (the month COIVD-19 hit Chicago) and June 8, 2022 (the most recent date for which data is available). .) The red line is March 1, 2021, when the 6mph ticketing threshold went into effect. After peaking on May 7, 2022, the number of tickets issued has generally declined. Image: Steven Vance, Streetsblog Chicago

Additionally, CDOT recently said that preliminary data from ProPublica suggests that the number of injury crashes in camera areas has decreased since the 6 mph rule went into effect.

Hopkins and Sanchez note that some mobility justice advocates argue that instead of punishing drivers for speeding, we should implement “road diets” on speed-prone streets, reducing the width and / or the number of traffic lanes to encourage safer speeds. These advocates are right that prevention is better than punishment.

Unfortunately, the “Do road diets, not speed traps” approach is much easier said than done. That’s because many of the same people who hate automated enforcement also object to taking space away from drivers. For example, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) was a vocal opponent of speed cameras and red light cameras. But in 2016 she helped kill a CDOT proposal for a road diet with protected bike lanes on eight-lane Stony Island Avenue in his neighborhood, arguing that it would cause traffic jams. In the years since, Luster Jackson, 58, and Lee Luellen, 40, were killed by drivers while riding their bikes on this stretch of Stony Island.

Lesley Hairston, Chandelier Jackson and Lee Luellen.
Lesley Hairston, Chandelier Jackson and Lee Luellen. Jackson and Luellen were fatally struck while cycling on Stony Island Avenue after Hairston blocked CDOT’s proposal for a road regime with protected bike lanes on that stretch.

Meanwhile, we know Chicago speed cameras saved lives. The UIC study found that between 2015 and 2017 cams prevented 204 fatalities and injuries. And, again, there is strong evidence that the 6 mph rule makes them even more effective.

As such, ProPublica is doing the public a disservice with this new article. If anything, this car-centric piece could help the alderman essentially legalize 9mph speeding to score political points. And that would almost certainly lead to more death and destruction on the streets of Chicago.