Despite owing one red-light camera vendor $35,000, North Riverside officials are contemplating placing two more of the devices at the intersection of Harlem and Cermak.
Ostensibly, this is about safety. But it’s also about money. Mainly, it’s about money for red-light camera companies.
The Chicago area has been ripe pickings for red-light camera vendors, often very politically connected folks, in recent years. They come in with offers that seem impossible to pass up. Their pitch: We will research which intersections would make sense for red-light cameras, handle all of the cumbersome permit paperwork with the state of Illinois, provide a way for enforcement to happen without officers being stationed at the intersections, provide a deterrent to irresponsible drivers and — not incidentally — provide a revenue stream.
And all of this comes at no cost to the village. The vendor installs the cameras, maintains them, sends out the tickets and collects the money. For this service, the vendor takes a cut of the action. But the village can’t lose money, so it’s a win all around.
Just how much safer do the cameras make intersections? That’s debatable. Research has shown that the vast majority of tickets resulting from red-light violations are right turns on red.
What the red-light cameras have proven without a doubt is that they are cash machines for the vendors. North Riverside’s only vendor to date, RedFlex, charges the village $4,000 per month per camera for “maintenance.” They also tack a small surcharge onto each ticket issued for red-light violations.
RedFlex has taken in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees. The village of North Riverside — because people are so loath to pay these tickets — has made about zilch. The village, in fact, owes RedFlex money, which will be paid from future red-light ticket fines revenue.
While the village has picked a new, apparently cheaper, vendor for the cameras at Harlem and Cermak, North Riverside looks like it would be in line for a greater share of the ticket revenues.
Will it make that intersection safer? There’s already a red-light camera at that intersection on the Berwyn side of the street. Has it had a positive impact?
It does appear to have made drivers dumber. Drivers won’t turn left at the end of a green cycle for fear of getting a ticket. They won’t turn right on red — at all — even though there’s a sign that says they can do so after a complete stop. They slam on their brakes when a yellow light flashes, afraid of being caught in the intersection.
We don’t necessarily have an objection to cameras at the intersections. If they can help investigations, that’s great. But there’s no money to be made in simply helping investigators, so you’ll never see the cameras pitched for that purpose alone.
Do cameras deter irresponsible driving? Maybe. They also encourage bad driving.
What they do best of all, however, is make red-light camera companies rich.
North Riverside can do without any more of the devices.