By Bob Uphues
Red-light cameras look to be on the way in Riverside, perhaps by late 2019, after village trustees voted 4 to 1 on Oct. 4 to enter into a four-year contract with SafeSpeed LLC, which provides and maintains red-light camera systems in a host of suburban Chicago communities.
Trustee Elizabeth Peters was the lone "no" vote on the contract, though Trustee Doug Pollock, who was absent from the meeting, likely would also have voted against it. In his absence, Pollock had an email read into the record outlining a number of concerns with the contract, including his previously stated belief that the contract should have been subject to an open bid process.
The agreement, which includes language that the program be cost-neutral to the village, still needs to be ratified by SafeSpeed, though local officials did not expect any roadblocks.
Exact locations of the cameras and when they will appear on village roadways will be up to the Illinois Department of Transportation, which will review traffic and crash data to be submitted by SafeSpeed. Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said that review process could take as long as a year.
SafeSpeed previously had identified the northbound and eastbound approaches at the intersection of 31st Street and First Avenue and eastbound 26th Street at Harlem Avenue as locations where traffic counts would support installing red-light cameras.
Weitzel previously told members of the village board that he believed the north and south approaches at First Avenue and Forest/Ridgewood, immediately adjacent to Riverside-Brookfield High School, likely would qualify as a red-light camera location in the future.
That intersection is ineligible, currently, for the devices, since it remains an active work site as part of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago's Salt Creek Intersecting Sewer No. 2 repair project.
Trustees also agreed on Oct. 4 to earmark revenue collected from red-light citations for public safety initiatives, which according to discussion at the board table at the meeting, might include anything from installing surveillance cameras at village entryways to supplementing the village's annual police pension obligation.
"It seemed that made people more comfortable that were previously not comfortable with it, if in fact it was going to go to, say, buy signs to help slow traffic down on neighborhood streets," said Trustee Scott Lumsden, referring to emails he said he received from residents on the subject. "If there is a positive revenue to that, if it goes toward those initiatives that we want to get and had to defer them, I think, at least the people who have talked to me, they feel more comfortable with moving forward with that."
Lumsden voted for SafeSpeed contract, along with trustees Joseph Ballerine, Wendell Jisa and Michael Sedivy.
According to the terms of the contract, Riverside will collect $60 for each citation successfully prosecuted, with SafeSpeed receiving $40, with additional fees for second notices and payments through collections.
The village will also pay SafeSpeed $500 per month per camera for maintenance and repair of the camera, initial capture/screening of potential violations, violation processing and mailing and adjudication support services.
The village is also responsible for paying for any LED or countdown signal upgrades at intersections where cameras are located.
Riverside resident Lindsay Morrison questioned trustees on how the adjudication process for citations would work, and stated that in her view, citations handed out to people who turn right on red "are more about revenue than safety."
She also questioned whether the village could change the timing of lights to increase the number of citations or whether the salary of the person reviewing potential violations was dependent on volume of citations.
Weitzel explained that the person reviewing citations likely would be a retired police officer paid between $18 and $25 an hour and working 10 to 20 hours a week. Every month the village will be supplied with a breakdown of data on the number of violations reviewed, the number of citations issues, information on payments and ticket challenges, all of which can be posted on the village's website.
He also said that the village has no control of the timing of stop lights; that is controlled by IDOT alone, Weitzel said.
As far as how the village will handle right turns on red, Weitzel said he would advise strictly following the state statute, which calls for vehicles simply to come to a complete stop. It does not specify for how long, just that the wheels stop turning.
Trustee Joseph Ballerine dismissed complaints that right-turn violations were simply about revenue, saying the cameras change driving behavior and serve as a set of eyes for law enforcement when they aren't around.
"I think it's policing, but more efficiently," Ballerine said. "As long as it's administered fairly and honestly, I have no problem with this."
Ballerine also reiterated his support for the cameras as an investigative tool 24 hours a day, year round.
"That's a very important part of this," he said.