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Author Topic: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections  (Read 558 times)

Brandon

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And the corruption just continues.

Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections

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As rejection letters go, the Illinois Department of Transportation's message last year seemed pretty clear.

Oakbrook Terrace wanted to put red light cameras at a busy but relatively safe intersection. IDOT must approve cameras on state routes in the suburbs, and it said no: Cameras are for boosting safety, and the intersection's "low crash rates" did not support a need for cameras.

In just a few months, that no would turn into a yes.

It was a yes that, records show, came after the intervention of a powerful state senator who received campaign cash from the red light camera firm that stood to make millions of dollars from those Oakbrook Terrace cameras. The senator's involvement prompted dozens of emails between IDOT officials — with large passages of that correspondence kept secret to this day by IDOT.

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What happened at Illinois Highway 83 and 22nd Street highlights the inconsistent and at times contradictory way IDOT has approved the controversial cameras at nearly 200 intersections across the suburbs.

Ten years ago, the General Assembly allowed suburbs to install cameras, but for state routes, typically the busiest roads, IDOT needed to approve. And IDOT was talking tough. Engineers wanted cameras put only in truly dangerous places where no other fix had improved safety.

Yet, a Tribune analysis found that often didn't happen. Among the findings:

•More than half the intersections with cameras scored among the safest in IDOT studies at the time the agency approved the cameras.

•IDOT, more often than not, allowed cameras at places that didn't meet its own threshold for whether an intersection had a red light crash problem.

•Of current cameras, one-fourth were granted permits in spots with no red-light-related crashes in at least three years.

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As for the Oakbrook Terrace decision, IDOT said it felt no political pressure and did nothing wrong.

Michael Manzo, a village council member in Oak Brook, a suburb next to Oakbrook Terrace, helped lead the unsuccessful fight against the Oakbrook Terrace cameras. He called IDOT's flip-flop a "disgraceful" decision to aid the owners of a politically connected camera firm.

"Let's be honest," he said. "This is going to be, for these individuals, one of the most lucrative corners in the state of Illinois, and that's why they fought so hard to keep it."

Of course it's all about the money.

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The Tribune analysis included reviewing thousands of pages of records and crunching a decade's worth of IDOT crash and intersection data. IDOT could not provide an accurate list of all camera locations, so reporters crisscrossed the suburbs to locate and count cameras on state routes.

IDOT's oversight can be traced to a 2006 law that began as a bill to address drivers weaving around railroad gates. That legislation evolved — with no push from IDOT — to expanding red light cameras beyond Chicago and into the rest of the six-county area.

With red light firms working behind the scenes to get passage, advocates at the time said that the move was about safety. While research has been mixed, it generally has supported the idea that cameras — if installed at hazardous intersections — can reduce the most dangerous crashes.

But, state officials have said, cameras can do more harm than good at relatively safe intersections. Ticket-leery drivers can be scared into slamming on their brakes at yellow lights, causing rear-end crashes. Or drivers who could make a legal right turn on red may instead cause backups by sitting at intersections, out of fear of a ticket.

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IDOT's staff initially drafted a policy in 2006 that would have required specific metrics to define a dangerous intersection. Key among them: at least five T-bone or left-turn crashes a year attributed to someone running a red light. IDOT officials in an interview said that was based on federal policies and the agency's own experience with what number could signal a dangerous problem.

Under the draft policy, suburbs wanting cameras also had to show a steady or increasing number of red light violations at those intersections. Suburbs would have to produce a study that analyzed how a camera would affect crashes, including whether installing one would have the adverse effect of boosting rear-end crashes.

If the initial draft policy had been enacted, the Tribune found, it could have disqualified 181 of 184 intersections on state routes that currently have cameras.

But that draft was never adopted. It's unclear why.

Money, my dear boy, money.

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IDOT since 2007 has analyzed crash data on roughly 40,000 intersections to determine the most dangerous 5 percent. In later years, the agency also rated the intersections outside the 5 percent as having high, medium, low or minimal danger.

The Tribune used IDOT's data to determine danger levels for all intersections at the time the agency issued red light permits, and it found:

•The majority of intersections — 96 of 184 — had scores at "low" or "minimal" danger risk, the lowest categories.

•Only 24 intersections made the list of the most dangerous 5 percent of intersections at the time IDOT issued its permits. That's less than one of every seven intersections approved by IDOT.

Although IDOT at times cited its crash data analysis in its review of red-light applications, agency officials told the Tribune the studies meant little in deciding where cameras go.

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Agency officials said they instead focused on different metrics that IDOT tabulated for each stretch of roadway approaching an intersection, known as an approach leg. When a suburb requested a red light camera, IDOT reviewed the previous three years of crash data to see if there's enough T-bone or turning crashes to suggest a crash problem. Records showed the agency set the threshold at an average of three a year.

The agency at times cited the threshold as a reason to deny cameras, records show. But often, the Tribune analysis found, IDOT allowed cameras at places that didn't meet the threshold.

The Tribune reviewed the 287 approach legs with cameras. It found 204 legs — or 71 percent — didn't meet IDOT's metric for suggesting a crash problem.

And at 78 legs, there were no crashes attributed to someone disregarding a traffic control device or turning on red in the three years before a permit was issued.

IDOT's policy has always stated cameras "should be installed only where a safety problem ... has been documented."

But IDOT says the word "should" gives it wiggle room.

More like room for corruption.

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And records show IDOT has allowed cameras at corners with low crash levels.

That's how Berwyn got a camera in 2007 at eastbound Cermak Road and Ridgeland Avenue.

IDOT initially denied the request, saying crash data "only indicate a few" red-light-related crashes. But the police chief wrote an appeal letter, and IDOT then approved the permit.

And it's how Lake Zurich got IDOT's approval for cameras in 2009 on the east and west approaches of U.S. Highway 12 at June Terrace, an access road to busy commercial strips.

IDOT initially denied the permit there too, citing low crash levels. The red light vendor did a survey and found the only violators at those approaches were lower-risk, rolling right turns on red. But the suburb appealed and turned in new surveys with new sets of alleged violations that included more examples of alleged red light runners. IDOT reversed course.

And it's how Olympia Fields got a camera in 2009 for the westbound approach at U.S. Highway 30 and Orchard Drive. The Tribune found zero crashes caused by a red light runner in the prior three years.

Records show IDOT approved a permit because the camera vendor's survey counted seven red light violations over 12 hours. The red light camera vendor didn't say how many of those were rolling right turns on red.

Regarding IL-83 and 22nd Street again...

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In its 2015 application, Safespeed's latest study cited half the violations as the 2013 one. Yet the suburb and Safespeed had something else that year: endorsements from lawmakers who received campaign cash from Safespeed.

One was from Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, who by 2015 had received $3,000 from firms tied to Safespeed's owner.

He wrote a letter to John Fortmann — the top local IDOT official at the time — to "introduce" Fortmann to Safespeed and ask IDOT to approve the application. The need for such an introduction is unclear because, by then, Fortmann's office for years had been working with Safespeed.

Records show another appeal came the very day the 2015 application was submitted to IDOT, from a more powerful senator: Martin Sandoval, D-Cicero.

Unlike Cullerton, Sandoval's district didn't include Oakbrook Terrace. Nor did Sandoval's district include the Chicago headquarters of Safespeed. But Sandoval did chair the Senate Transportation Committee. And two months before Sandoval intervened, one of Safespeed's owners cut Sandoval's campaign a check for $5,000.

Can we just ban these cameras already?  The corruption involved just fucking stinks to high heaven.

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The emails that were released showed Sandoval contacted Fortmann, and Fortmann told his peers that Sandoval brought up a Rauner administration proposal to add an extra toll lane to I-55 — known as the I-55 Managed Lanes Project — a proposal that, then and now, awaits legislative approval.

"He indicated that while unrelated he wants to work with the administration on other issues such as I55 Manage lanes (sic) but is not getting the type of cooperation on his issues that he would like to see," Fortmann wrote to his peers.

Nice.  Hold another, unrelated project hostage until we get our cash cow.

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Fortmann retired in December and took a job at a local engineering consulting firm that works with IDOT. He said he couldn't recall specifically who decided to allow cameras at the intersection: administrators in Springfield, the local IDOT district or a combination. But he defended it.

"I just know there are a lot of violations at that intersection," he said. "To me, it wasn't that controversial."

That's not how Oak Brook saw it.

Oak Brook had long fought the cameras, fearing they would drive away mall customers and hurt sales tax revenue. It amped up its fight.

That village's police chief studied the intersection and described it as "tremendously safe."

Then the suburb approved an ordinance banning red light cameras in Oak Brook. In it, the Village Board complained that red light firms have made roads less safe, not more, by seeking to "corrupt local law enforcement by turning it into a moneymaker for political leaders, who in turn have signed contracts granting substantial profits to red light contractors, who in turn have paid contributions to political decision makers."

Exactly what I and others have been saying for years.

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Records show Safespeed and its owners were among Oakbrook Terrace Mayor Tony Ragucci's biggest donors over the years. And if the numbers in Safespeed's study come true, the firm's cut of the violation cash could approach $5 million a year just from that intersection.

And the money train just keeps running.
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Brandon

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ET21

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Re: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections
« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2017, 03:19:04 PM »

 :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D
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inkyatari

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Re: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections
« Reply #3 on: September 22, 2017, 04:19:58 PM »

Those surprised, please stand up so you can be smacked with a clue-by-four.
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Brandon

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Re: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections
« Reply #4 on: September 22, 2017, 04:50:36 PM »

Those surprised, please stand up so you can be smacked with a clue-by-four.

Forget it, Jake.  It's Chinatown Illinois.
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ilpt4u

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Re: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections
« Reply #5 on: September 23, 2017, 08:20:20 PM »

I'm glad we don't have Red Light Cameras in Southern IL (yet)

But this being the great state of IL, its probably only a matter of time before they appear on IL 13 in Marion and Carbondale...
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edwaleni

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Re: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections
« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2017, 09:37:52 PM »

One only need to read the travails the red light cameras had in Schaumburg.

They were finally removed as people, furious for getting ticketed for harmless right on red turns, started contesting them in traffic court, where the judges started throwing them out.

Pretty soon the State's Attorney's office intervened and asked they be removed because it was costing so much to represent the state in court and continually losing.

The company attempted to pay off several local legislators campaign funds to keep them in place, but the public outcry was just too loud. They were removed.  Cook County Traffic Court in Rolling Meadows saw a reduction almost immediately.

On the flip side, the state is broke and running 18 months behind on tax reimbursements, so municipalities are trying to find revenue without more taxation, since Illinois just doubled the income tax. So here come red light cameras.
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hbelkins

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Re: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections
« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2017, 03:41:35 PM »

If red light violations are that important, then have the jurisdictions assign cops to those locations. Let those governmental agencies justify why it's more important to write traffic tickets than to combat real crime. Also, law enforcement on public property should not be done by for-profit entities.
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ChiMilNet

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Re: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections
« Reply #8 on: September 24, 2017, 03:47:58 PM »

One only need to read the travails the red light cameras had in Schaumburg.

They were finally removed as people, furious for getting ticketed for harmless right on red turns, started contesting them in traffic court, where the judges started throwing them out.

Pretty soon the State's Attorney's office intervened and asked they be removed because it was costing so much to represent the state in court and continually losing.

The company attempted to pay off several local legislators campaign funds to keep them in place, but the public outcry was just too loud. They were removed.  Cook County Traffic Court in Rolling Meadows saw a reduction almost immediately.

On the flip side, the state is broke and running 18 months behind on tax reimbursements, so municipalities are trying to find revenue without more taxation, since Illinois just doubled the income tax. So here come red light cameras.

I had a relative get caught by one of those cameras in Schaumburg before it was removed. They never posed any danger to other cars, and it was such a money grab. Looking at that map doesn't surprise me in the least.

If the municipalities want better revenue, maybe combine some of them to remove redundant government expenses. I'll stop before this gets more political than it already is. Sadly, this article will likely do nothing to change it.
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johndoe780

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Re: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections
« Reply #9 on: September 24, 2017, 05:25:23 PM »

I feel as if the red light cameras are more of a city thing due to antique intersection design than a suburban thing. There's a few here and there in the far western suburbs, but not as common as when you get closer to the city.

They used to have these on Golf and 59, but when IDOT redid the intersection last year, they added signalized right hand turns hence eliminating the red light cameras ever since.
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Jericho That

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Re: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections
« Reply #10 on: September 25, 2017, 08:08:20 AM »

If red light violations are that important, then have the jurisdictions assign cops to those locations. Let those governmental agencies justify why it's more important to write traffic tickets than to combat real crime. Also, law enforcement on public property should not be done by for-profit entities.

I wish they would assign cops to the 22nd Street/IL 83 intersection.  Red light runners aren't a safety concern there, for the most part, but that doesn't mean there aren't half a dozen after EVERY WB to SB green arrow on weekdays.
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kalvado

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Re: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections
« Reply #11 on: September 25, 2017, 08:33:57 AM »

If red light violations are that important, then have the jurisdictions assign cops to those locations. Let those governmental agencies justify why it's more important to write traffic tickets than to combat real crime. Also, law enforcement on public property should not be done by for-profit entities.

I wish they would assign cops to the 22nd Street/IL 83 intersection.  Red light runners aren't a safety concern there, for the most part, but that doesn't mean there aren't half a dozen after EVERY WB to SB green arrow on weekdays.
If it is not a safety concern, there is no need to waste police resources given they should be busy enough dealing with the crime rate Chicago enjoys as we speak.
Redesign of an intersection to provide more capacity to traffic which cannot be handled by existing intersection may be a better idea...
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SEWIGuy

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Re: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections
« Reply #12 on: September 25, 2017, 09:25:49 AM »

If red light violations are that important, then have the jurisdictions assign cops to those locations. Let those governmental agencies justify why it's more important to write traffic tickets than to combat real crime. Also, law enforcement on public property should not be done by for-profit entities.

I wish they would assign cops to the 22nd Street/IL 83 intersection.  Red light runners aren't a safety concern there, for the most part, but that doesn't mean there aren't half a dozen after EVERY WB to SB green arrow on weekdays.
If it is not a safety concern, there is no need to waste police resources given they should be busy enough dealing with the crime rate Chicago enjoys as we speak.


The intersection isn't in Chicago.  Otherwise that's a GREAT point!!!   :crazy:
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kalvado

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Re: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections
« Reply #13 on: September 25, 2017, 09:37:46 AM »

If red light violations are that important, then have the jurisdictions assign cops to those locations. Let those governmental agencies justify why it's more important to write traffic tickets than to combat real crime. Also, law enforcement on public property should not be done by for-profit entities.

I wish they would assign cops to the 22nd Street/IL 83 intersection.  Red light runners aren't a safety concern there, for the most part, but that doesn't mean there aren't half a dozen after EVERY WB to SB green arrow on weekdays.
If it is not a safety concern, there is no need to waste police resources given they should be busy enough dealing with the crime rate Chicago enjoys as we speak.


The intersection isn't in Chicago.  Otherwise that's a GREAT point!!!   :crazy:
There is a fair amount of "PUNISH THEM! PROSECUTE THEM!" attitude going around - without realizing that enforcement is only one, and not always the best, tool here. To make things worse, people tend to forget that compliance is not a goal in itself, there is (or should be) a reason for each and every regulation. And if the same goal (traffic safety in this particular case) may be achieved with other means, those approaches are worth examining as well as they may be more effective and/or cheaper...
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Jericho That

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Re: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections
« Reply #14 on: September 26, 2017, 08:13:36 AM »


There is a fair amount of "PUNISH THEM! PROSECUTE THEM!" attitude going around - without realizing that enforcement is only one, and not always the best, tool here. To make things worse, people tend to forget that compliance is not a goal in itself, there is (or should be) a reason for each and every regulation. And if the same goal (traffic safety in this particular case) may be achieved with other means, those approaches are worth examining as well as they may be more effective and/or cheaper...

This isn't an operational issue, it's an asshole issue. The turn lanes have sufficient storage, but drivers don't want to wait another cycle. Enforcement would be the most effective solution at this intersection.
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kalvado

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Re: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections
« Reply #15 on: September 26, 2017, 08:39:16 AM »


There is a fair amount of "PUNISH THEM! PROSECUTE THEM!" attitude going around - without realizing that enforcement is only one, and not always the best, tool here. To make things worse, people tend to forget that compliance is not a goal in itself, there is (or should be) a reason for each and every regulation. And if the same goal (traffic safety in this particular case) may be achieved with other means, those approaches are worth examining as well as they may be more effective and/or cheaper...

This isn't an operational issue, it's an asshole issue. The turn lanes have sufficient storage, but drivers don't want to wait another cycle. Enforcement would be the most effective solution at this intersection.

Could be - as you see, I have no idea even where that intersection is..
However, I know a local intersection where running late on red arrow is very common (left turn is for getting to highway from quite busy arterial). Problem of that spot is too much traffic - you can easily wait for 2 full cycles before getting through. I suspect that without people running the light, place will become a parking lot... So asshole factor is  just a contributing one to a bigger problem.
You see, traffic lights - unlike speed limit signs - are generally respected by motorists since everyone understand the reason for them. If there is a specific hot spot in terms of running red light and/or corresponding accident, I would look at underlying problem before ramping up enforcement. I do not benefit from fines, though, and those money may change my approach..
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Henry

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Re: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections
« Reply #16 on: September 26, 2017, 10:43:46 AM »

Is it any wonder they call it IDiOT???
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Brandon

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Re: Watchdog: IDOT approves red light cameras for already safe intersections
« Reply #17 on: September 26, 2017, 11:11:14 AM »


There is a fair amount of "PUNISH THEM! PROSECUTE THEM!" attitude going around - without realizing that enforcement is only one, and not always the best, tool here. To make things worse, people tend to forget that compliance is not a goal in itself, there is (or should be) a reason for each and every regulation. And if the same goal (traffic safety in this particular case) may be achieved with other means, those approaches are worth examining as well as they may be more effective and/or cheaper...

This isn't an operational issue, it's an asshole issue. The turn lanes have sufficient storage, but drivers don't want to wait another cycle. Enforcement would be the most effective solution at this intersection.

The problem, having been through that intersection many, many times, is that the green arrow is not long enough to clear the turn lanes.  Were it long enough to clear the turn lanes, the issue would go away.
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