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Mayor Rahm Emanuel. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

Emanuel essentially says 'I told you so' about speed cameras

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday speed cameras have been “incredibly effective” at slowing down motorists around schools and parks and if that translates into less revenue, he’ll find another way to bankroll $70 million worth of children’s programs.

One day after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the 92 speed cameras installed around 43 schools and parks have so far generated just $3.7 million in fines — only $1.5 million of which has been collected — Emanuel took it all in stride.

He essentially said, “I told you so.”

“The first goal — as I said when we created the child safety zones — was to deter people from speeding near our schools and our parks. And it has been incredibly effective at slowing people down,” he said at an unrelated news conference on street repaving.



Referring to the Sun-Times, Emanuel said, “You said . . . we’re not going to have the financial resources. The Tribune has said this is going to be an unlimited amount of money. . . .  Stop the prediction business. We have only one fact: People are slowing down.”

Emanuel is counting on speed cameras to bankroll $70 million worth of children’s programs this year.

Unless there’s a dramatic turnaround, there’s likely to be a gaping hole in the city’s 2014 budget at a time when cash-strapped Chicago can least afford it. City Hall already has plowed through a $20.5 million snow removal budget that was supposed to cover this winter and the start of next winter.

Emanuel refused to say where he would find the money to close the gap. He would say only that Chicago children will not suffer.

“We will have the resources to make sure our kids have the after-school funding they need . . . and 5,000 [additional] children in pre-K that they need,” he said.

“The budget will be balanced. We will not raise property taxes, as we haven’t the last three years,” he said. “We will put resources back into the rainy day fund. And we will absolutely make our investment in our children’s future.”

Chicago aldermen had feared the $70 million projection was a low-ball figure. They were bracing for a political fallout second only to the parking meter debacle.

Instead, they’re breathing a sigh of relief. The number of motorists caught speeding each day has dropped at all but four of the 92 camera locations.

“I’m extremely shocked. What it goes to tell you is, people are sick and tired of being hit in the pocket and they’re slowing down. . . .  If people abide by the law, those fines and fees will not affect you,” said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee.

“I thought it was going to be a lot higher,” he said. “But we’ve had a horrible winter. People are slowing down. When we get into the spring and summer, we’re going to see how those numbers pan out.”

Beale’s ward is home to Chicago’s most prolific speed camera at 445 W. 127th along the Major Taylor Bike Trail. Since Nov. 30, it has generated $289,025 in fines, of which $79,612 have been paid, after spewing out 2,696 $100 tickets and 555 tickets at $35 a pop. That followed 55,260 warning notices.

Beale called it a “speed trap” that he’s determined to eliminate by raising the speed limit at his next committee meeting.

“When you get off the Bishop Ford, the speed limit is 35. When you come under the viaduct on Indiana, it drops to 30, then goes back up to 35 when you get past Halsted Street,” he said. “It should be consistent all the way down. There should not be a drop with a camera there.”

Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) likened the lower-than-expected revenues from speed cameras to Chicago’s minuscule take from the bottled water tax imposed during the Daley years.

Emanuel “really took Chicago in another direction: Be mindful of traffic. If it’s trickling down, then I’m grateful for that — even though it will give us shorter funds,” Austin said. “It has changed the minds of people on how they drive. That, for me, is more important than the money portion of it. It makes people more conscious.”