The Alderman Responds

Here is what the Alderman had to say about speed cameras (I should specify: this was not a direct response to my post, just a general email blast…I must not be the only person complaining about this!):

Since October of 2013, the City of Chicago has been installing Automated Speed Enforcement Cameras throughout Child Safety Zone locations. The City of Chicago experiences a great deal of car accidents each year.  Many of those accidents involve injuries and death to people of all ages.  One thing we all know is that the rate of speed is co-related to the outcome of those who have the unpleasant experience of having contact with a moving vehicle.

It is important to understand why I supported automatic enforcement cameras.  As a former law enforcement officer, traffic accident investigator and first responder, I can personally speak to the property damage, injuries and death investigations that made up my daily job assignment.  Without exception, I found that a lower-speed accident resulted in better outcomes for everyone concerned.

Okay, so lower-speed accidents are better than higher speed accidents. So far I’m with him. But, just to be clear, this does NOT say that the “Child Safety Zones” coincide with accidents, injuries, or deaths, or that speed cameras are shown to lessen property damage, injuries, or deaths (much less these specific placements of speed cameras).

The Child Safety Zone program is designed to protect the public by reminding motorists to slow down and obey the posted speed limits around schools and parks. I personally advocated for ensuring there was a reasonable speed cushion of 6 miles per hour above the posted speed limit.  Are speed cameras something I want? No, absolutely not.  Do I want them to be speed traps? No, absolutely not. Do I support speeding throughout the community? No and neither do most residents.  I can say this because of the number of requests made by residents who are asking for speed humps to slow traffic speeds to protect the lives of their neighbors and family members.  The use of speed humps is not allowable on main arterial streets.

“Are speed cameras something I want? No, absolutely not”, but literally one paragraph above he said, “it is important to understand why I supported automatic enforcement cameras”. So you don’t want them, but you support them. Got it.

Perhaps we can think of a better way for “reminding motorists to slow down” that doesn’t also “coincidentally” put money in the city’s pocket. How about better signage to more clearly mark the park and school zones? The one on Indianapolis might be marked, but I didn’t see it when I was actively looking for it. (I have not specifically gone back to see if I can find signage, as some people have done.) If you are only concerned about “reminding” me, how about a bigger sign?

But since he brought it up, how about speed humps? Speed cameras were also “not allowable” until a law was passed, so excuse me if I don’t take “it’s not allowed” as the end all, be all excuse from the guy who decides what’s allowed and not allowed. But wait, speed humps and larger signs don’t bring revenue to the city. Interesting.

I think it’s safe to say City Council members do not want to burden drivers with unnecessary fines.

Why is that safe to say? I don’t find it particularly safe to say the City Council does not want extra money.

We do want to slow excessive traffic speeds everywhere, especially around schools and parks.  The push to abolish speed cameras delivers the message that “speeding and reckless driving is supported.” We cannot support speeding and reckless driving. Traffic controls make it possible for us to drive our vehicles on the roads safely.  Citations for exceeding the speed limit are not anything new.  Technology is affecting our lives every day.  The control of our speed is best controlled by the driver.

This entire paragraph is what is known as a Non Sequitur argument:

Non Sequitur (“It does not follow”). This is the simple fallacy of stating, as a conclusion, something that does not strictly follow from the premises.

It’s just a series of statements. Each statement is true by itself, but do not build to a logical conclusion. The argument is:

  1. We cannot support reckless driving
  2. Traffic controls make driving safe
  3. Tickets are not anything new
  4. Technology affects our lives
  5. Speed is best controlled by the driver

The Alderman wishes us to believe that the logical conclusion to the above is that speed cameras are necessary. Even if the above statements are all true (and I could debate a few of them, particularly #2), it does not hold that speed cameras are the logical outcome.

Abolishing traffic controls in Chicago is not the answer.

That does not mean that establishing speed cameras IS the answer.

The same tools are used in surrounding towns and villages.

Ah, the old, “Everybody else is doing it!” This is another classic fallacy

Argumentum ad populum (argument or appeal to the public) or Argumentum ad numerum (argument or appeal to numbers). This fallacy is the attempt to prove something by showing how many people think that it’s true. But no matter how many people believe something, that doesn’t necessarily make it true or right.

In other words, it doesn’t matter *who* is using speed cameras, that doesn’t justify it. Let’s just hope the surrounding towns and villages don’t jump off a bridge.

Speed cameras and red light cameras are not going away unless they are abolished by State Elected Officials who have the power to outlaw them across the state.  Making adjustments to the system of changing dangerous driving behavior is a much better approach to addressing this matter.  Let us all do a better job of driving more safely and advocate for our fellow drivers to do the same.  Visible signage and traffic controls that support our need to change bad driving behavior and reduce the negative sanctions of fines is a good step in that direction.  Reducing the number of cameras is another option that can be pursued.

Okay, so we’re stuck with them and there’s nothing we can do, but none of this addresses the topic of placement of the speed cameras. Were the speed cameras specifically placed in neighborhoods where reckless driving has been shown to be an issue? Were they placed in neighborhoods with a large “number of requests made by residents who are asking for speed humps to slow traffic speeds to protect the lives of their neighbors and family members”? Or were they specifically placed in areas designed to be speed traps, such as next to parks that are “two blocks away” from the road, concrete lots, dog parks, or fenced in golf courses? Why are some cameras reporting a disproportionate amount of violations, specifically on the South Side, with a handful of cameras each individually generating millions of dollars of revenue for the city.

Do you and I want safer streets? Yes. Do we want to avoid paying fines? Yes we do.  Do we want to send a message that it’s ok to speed and drive recklessly by removing traffic controls? No we don’t.  Will the State outlaw these types of traffic controls? No! Do we want the system monitored better so malfunctions are discovered and corrected quickly? Yes, absolutely.  So, as my colleagues and I advocate for changes, please drive safely.

What I do not see anywhere is evidence that shows that speed cameras reduce “reckless driving” and make an area safer (the *claimed* desired outcome). If such evidence existed, it would be produced. Instead, the Alderman is relying on rhetoric and logical fallacies to make his point. I do see direct evidence that speed cameras make the city money (let’s be honest, the *actual* desired outcome).

Which speaks louder, actions or words? I think the gentleman doth protest too much.

The Scourge of Speed Cameras

Remember that automated speeding warning I got last month? Guess what arrived in the mail this month!

Behold, in all our DANGEROUS, RECKLESS, glory:

Lock those monsters up.

Now here’s the thing. I would SWEAR to you that we were not speeding. We only went that way one time since we got the warning, so I know very specifically what day this happened. And I remember being very, very careful not to speed and saying to Sara, “Okay, help me watch for speed limit signs.” I did everything I could possibly do to not get a speeding ticket.

That’s my main problem with the whole thing: I was clearly trying my best not to break the law. I know for a fact that we were driving slowly and safely, with one eye on the speedometer. So don’t try to pretend this is about anything more than making money. Don’t try to pretend it’s about “safety” or “protecting children”.

I guess I was speeding. I can’t produce any evidence and anyway, they have video, so who am I to say? We were tearing up the road at a blazing 42 miles an hour, for the maximum possible fine, natch. How were we going > 10 mph over the speed limit? Well, supposedly we were going through a park.

I would SWEAR to you that there is no park on that stretch of road. I would SWEAR to you that there is no posted 30 mph speed limit sign. Maybe it’s in a bush or something?

So I started doing a little research. Turns out there is a park there, but there are some questions being raised about if that stretch was designated as a park just to get the speed camera installed. Notice the map below. The green rectangle is “Park No. 499”, and the green pointer is the “address” of said park.

Gee, I wonder why I hadn’t seen that park from S. Indianapolis Ave. before…


Maybe everything is on the up and up with these speed cameras. Maybe I was doing something illegal, got caught, and now I’m trying to pass the blame. Even still, I just don’t think that we should set up a system that incentives the police to do the wrong thing and then hope that they don’t. More people “caught” = more money in the city’s pocket, and there’s no way for us to check up on this, or prove our innocence. So we just have to assume that the city is going against their own financial interests, and not “cheating”.

And then you read this.

Turns out, the city of Chicago was caught illegally lowering the length of yellow lights on intersections with red light cameras installed, resulting in an “extra” $7 million in revenue. Whoops.

The city agreed to fix it, but only because the Tribune looked into it.

Who’s going to look into it for every violation?

Big Brother and the Surveillance State

I recently got a mysterious, official-looking letter in the mail. I opened it up and it informed me that a couple of weeks ago, I was speeding. Apparently they have devices that use radar, photography, and/or lasers to automatically ticket speeders. *This time* it was a warning, since this was my first offense, but in the future they would simply mail me a ticket.

I know a lot of people freak out about red light cameras, but those never bothered me. After all, going through a red light is breaking the law, and it’s breaking the law whether there is an officer to see you or not. It is something you Should Not Do. If you do something you Should Not Do, how can you complain about getting caught by it, whether by man or robot?

On the other hand, this felt ENTIRELY DIFFERENT, but I can’t explain why (and no, not because it Happened To Me; I’ve *ahem* been on the receiving end of a red light ticket or two). Same argument applies, no? But for some reason this just really rubbed me the wrong way; some streets are now equipped with hidden monitoring equipment, which will slap you with a fine if you step out of line. I suddenly felt the oppressive hand of Big Brother on my shoulder.

Okay, but again, why did this feel different than red light cameras? I came up with a couple of possible explanations:

1) Speeding is not as cut and dried as running a red light. By and large, if you run a red light, you are in the wrong. Speeding is…more arbitrary. On many highways around Chicago, the speed limit is 55, and it would be *extremely unsafe* to travel at that speed. Traffic flows at 70. Try that in any small town in the Midwest and see if they feel 70 in a 55 is appropriate. The fact is, there is a “speed limit”, and there is a speed limit. Sometimes they match, sometimes they don’t.

2) As a corollary to #1, this means it is sometimes “okay” to speed and sometimes it is not. This means that we’ve ALL broken that law at some point. Legally speaking, speeding might be just as wrong as running a red light, but it doesn’t *feel* that way.

3) However, I think the biggest reason that this felt different is that, I don’t know if I committed this crime or not. I mean, I assume I did, and I’m sure they probably have some kind of photographic evidence that I did, but when I run a red light with a camera and I see that flash go off, I know they’ve got me dead to rights. I know immediately that I’ve done something wrong, I’ve been caught, and now I’ve got to pay. It’s the same feeling as seeing those flashing lights in your rear-view. That’s vastly different than receiving a notice weeks later that says, “Trust me, you’re a criminal. Take my word for it. We’re the cops, we wouldn’t lie to you.”

It’s the slippery slope argument. Suddenly, the onus is on me to somehow prove that I wasn’t speeding on some day I can’t recall, on some street I don’t even remember being on. Most people in that position will just say, “Eh, okay, I guess so,” and pay the fine. Maybe there was some reason I was speeding. Maybe there was a mistake. Maybe there was a glitch in the software. I don’t know, and I can’t know. Suddenly I’ve got to prove I’m innocent, instead of them proving that I’m guilty, and the deck is totally stacked against me.

Furthermore, it sets up a conflict of interest for the police. They now have a situation where they can assess more fines, at little or no cost to themselves, while also reducing their police force and thereby their payroll. There is no downside whatsoever to catching as many speeders as they possibly can, only upside. At least before there was an opportunity cost that they only had so many officers, so if they were catching speeders they weren’t solving murders. But now? Put a monitor on every street! And if they happen to catch one or two that were really innocent, well, who’s to know? Who’s to prove them wrong, or call them on it? Maybe they fudge some of the numbers, get a little extra cash in their pocket…

Is that how the justice system is supposed to work? Now the old, “Well, there’s nothing we can do, it’s in the computer system that way,” is a legitimate excuse for the cops too?

I know it’s somewhat ironic that someone who programs computers for a living would say, “Hey, maybe we shouldn’t rely on these things *quite* so much.” On the other hand, I know how often they make mistakes. I see, every day, that no matter how hard you try, they’re pretty unreliable. For some things, sure: if my search for the name of the actor who was in some movie doesn’t work, we’ll all go on just fine. But law enforcement?

Color me very, very uneasy about this whole development.

Good News! All crime in Chicago has apparently been solved!

Good news, folks! Apparently there is absolutely nothing for the police to be doing in Chicago.

Yesterday I got pulled over on the highway. Warning only, no ticket, and it’s a good thing! My speed? Going 60 in a 55.

Officer: “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
Me: “I honestly have no idea.”
Officer: “Do you know how fast you were going?”
Me: “No. I was just keeping up with traffic.”
Officer: “You’re operating a motor vehicle and you have no idea how fast you were going?”
Me: “I could take a guess…but no, I couldn’t say for sure. If I was passing people, I would have looked, but I was just keeping up with traffic.”
Officer: “What if I told you you were going 80?”
Me, thinking: “Oh crap, I was going 80?”
Me: “Well, I would be surprised, but I was just keeping up with everybody else.”
Officer: “Well, you were going 62. But I’ll put down 60 so I can just give you a warning.”
Me, thinking: “I was only going 62??”

First off, I think we can all agree that going 5 over is pretty standard anywhere in the country. Second off, if you’re going 55 on the highway around Chicago, you are a hazard to traffic and you’re probably going to die. Without question, the average is somewhere around 70 mph or so. Everybody goes 70, every day, right past cops and nobody bats an eye.

“But you were technically speeding,” Sara gleefully points out. Okay, I suppose. But why was I picked out, out of the hundreds of cars around me going exactly the same speed? I have a theory.

Usually, one is very aware of where all the cop cars are at any given moment. In this particular case, I didn’t notice he was behind me until he was *right* behind me. So I think that he was trying to go very fast (speeding if you will), and I didn’t get out of his way fast enough. So he thought to himself, “This guy must not be paying attention, I’m going to pull him over for something.”

There is no way someone can justify to me why I got pulled over for going 60 mph on the highway.