By Bob Uphues
It may be up to a year before they make their appearance in Riverside, but red-light cameras appear to be on the way, with a majority of village trustees indicating support for rolling out the program during discussion of the subject on Aug. 2.
Next month, trustees will decide whether to accept a recommendation from Police Chief Thomas Weitzel on a preferred vendor or to issue a request for proposals from red-light camera firms, a decision which could slow down the implementation of a program unless the village hires a consultant to put together the RFP.
Village Manager Jessica Frances said her staff was "overwhelmed" by other projects and that if the board wanted staff to put the RFP together, it wouldn't come back to the board for approval "for a few months."
However, Trustee Doug Pollock indicated a competitive process was essential for his support, and Village President Ben Sells also favored the RFP approach.
"This may be the most significant thing we do as a board," Pollock said. "It's just common public policy to do competitive bidding."
Other trustees, including Michael Sedivy, Wendell Jisa, Joseph Ballerine and Elizabeth Peters said they were comfortable moving ahead with SafeSpeed LLC, the firm recommended by Weitzel after consulting other area police chiefs whose villages use that firm.
"I definitely want to move forward, and I wish we would have done this years ago," Sedivy said.
Police Chief Thomas Weitzel enthusiastically supported implementation of a red-light program in Riverside, and recommended Safe Speed as the company to do it.
"To me, all traffic enforcement is about changing habits," Weitzel said.
Red-light cameras have proliferated in Chicago and the suburbs in the past decade, with come municipalities reaping hundreds of thousands of dollars or more by issuing red-light violations ranging from drivers who blow straight through red lights or improperly turn left after a light has changed to people who roll through a right turn on a red light.
The vast majority of red-light violations are issued to people who roll through or who police determine have not stopped for a long enough period before turning right on a red light.
At all intersections the cameras monitor, right-turns on red account for 90 percent or more of violations issued. Without red-light violations, the cameras would not be economically feasible for the red-light camera companies.
In addition to charging monthly fees for the cameras, for example, SafeSpeed gets $40 from each $100 red-light violation ticket issued by a municipality.
Because of that, red-light camera programs have come under fire from the general public as municipal money grabs that have little impact on overall safety.
The village of North Riverside, during their 2017-18 fiscal year, collected almost $1.4 million from red-light violations issued that year and another $1.3 million by collecting on delinquent red-light tickets through the Illinois Comptroller's Local Debt Recovery Program.
North Riverside last month extended its contract with SafeSpeed LLC for another four years.
According to information included in the village board's Aug. 2 meeting packet, Weitzel estimated that Riverside could expect an average of $24,000 per month per intersection in revenue from red-light violations.
SafeSpeed in a survey conducted in April has indicated that the village has two locations where red-light cameras would be feasible right now. The Illinois Department of Transportation has final say over whether the cameras can be placed at an intersection.
The locations include the northbound and eastbound approaches of the intersection at 31st Street and First Avenue as well as eastbound 26th Street at Harlem Avenue.
Listed as not feasible in the April survey was the First Avenue and Forest/Ridgewood, which is heavily trafficked and immediately adjacent to Riverside-Brookfield High School.
One of the reasons given for the location not being feasible was the fact that the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Great Chicago is still in the midst a major construction project.
However, the survey also notes "low cross traffic volume" on all four approaches. In the past SafeSpeed had identified the intersection as a feasible location, and Weitzel told trustees he still believes that will be the case once the MWRD work wraps up.