By Bob Uphues
Riverside trustees on Sept. 6 voted 4 to 2 to have the village's attorneys negotiate a contract with the red-light camera vendor SafeSpeed LLC and to prepare an ordinance they'll approve on Sept. 20 entering into an agreement for the company to manage the process for installing cameras and monitoring violations at select intersections in Riverside.
Trustees Doug Pollock and Elizabeth Peters voted against moving ahead, with Pollock stating he wanted the village to go through a formal proposal process before choosing a vendor. He wasn't against the concept of red-light cameras per se.
"I think there's room for this technology, if used properly and vetted properly," Pollock said.
Peters, in response to an email inquiry by the Landmark, said she wasn't convinced red-light cameras were right for Riverside.
"I think we need to be careful about advancing questionable programs that have a negative stigma in the name of public safety when there is little to no concrete evidence that it actually increases safety as a whole," Peters said. "However, I do believe this is an area where reasonable people can disagree, and I respect the other opinions out there."
But the majority of trustees agreed with Trustee Michael Sedivy, who has been at the forefront of the push to bring red-light cameras to the village, saying they provide safety benefits by changing driving habits.
Sedivy also said the cameras provide an additional surveillance tool to help police conduct investigations into crashes or identify vehicles that may have been involved in crimes. They also provide revenue, he said, which can be used to fund other public safety programs.
"I agree with our [police] chief on the traffic safety benefits, I do believe there's a significant, free surveillance benefit to this, and I am more than prepared to make sure that any revenue generated from these lights is reinvested back in public safety," Sedivy said.
While Pollock didn't dispute those aspects of a red-light camera program, he said it was important from a transparency standpoint to request proposals, since red-light camera program often are viewed by the public as a way to punish motorists for minor infractions such as turning right on red while enriching the red-light camera vendors.
"There is a place for this in municipalities, but it has a really bad reputation," Pollock said. "Deserved or not, I don't know, but that tells me that we have to be very careful in how we proceed."
Sedivy argued that the recommendation of SafeSpeed as the preferred vendor was based on research already completed by Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, that the "proposals" had already been submitted and vetted by the chief.
"I feel what the chief did was a competitive bid," Sedivy said. "This is one of the few instances I think I would be OK without a competitive bidding situation."
Joining Sedivy in voting to choose SafeSpeed as the vendor and negotiating a contract with them were trustees Wendell Jisa, Joseph Ballerine and Scott Lumsden.
While there are a handful of companies operating in northern Illinois, SafeSpeed is the red-light camera vendor of choice in suburban Chicago, including North Riverside, River Forest and Berwyn.
Their cameras on all four approaches at Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road have brought millions in revenue for both Berwyn and North Riverside as well as SafeSpeed. The vast majority, upwards of 90 percent, of the violations logged at that intersection are for people rolling through right turns on red.
North Riverside uses the revenue to help pay its fire and police pension obligations. It's unclear what red-light camera revenue is used to fund in Berwyn.
Municipalities are attracted to SafeSpeed in part because of the simplicity and predictability of the cost for maintaining such a system. SafeSpeed charges municipalities $500 per month per camera to maintain them and provide citation support services.
For each $100 ticket that's successfully adjudicated, the village collects $60, while SafeSpeed's cut is $40. The village must pay a police officer or retired police officer to verify each violation that's passed along to the municipality by SafeSpeed.
In addition to installing and maintaining the cameras, SafeSpeed will conduct traffic studies and work with the Illinois Department of Transportation to determine where the cameras will be placed. That preliminary legwork could take up to a year.
There are two intersections that SafeSpeed has identified as potential red-light camera locations – the northbound and eastbound approaches at 31st Street and First Avenue and eastbound 26th Street at Harlem Avenue.
The intersection of First Avenue and Forest/Ridgewood would not qualify at this time due to ongoing construction there, and may not qualify from the standpoint of low east/west traffic counts.
However, Weitzel said he would petition IDOT to locate cameras there, since there are obvious safety concerns due to its proximity to Riverside-Brookfield High School.