Only in the bureaucratic morass that is Chicago can a municipal government fleece its citizens under a disingenuous disguise of public safety.
Aided with the political muscle of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, last week the Illinois state legislature quickly approved the mayor’s plan to blanket the city with speed cameras. The cameras would be installed in so-called “safety zones,” near schools and parks. A closer inspection shows that big brother’s eye would include 66% of the city, leading the Chicago Sun Times to note that, “Pretty much any time you exceed the speed limit, you would be in an area where a camera could dock you $100.”
According to the mayor’s transport commissioner, Gabe Klein, the cameras would yield $100 fines or graduated fines depending on speed, and would be automatically mailed to the license plate holder of vehicles traveling five miles or more over the speed limit. The mayor defends the plan denying that the initiative has anything to do with the city’s intractable budget and deficit problems.
Why the seemingly unprovoked mayoral attention to speed cameras? Our children’s safety, Emanuel insincerely cries.
The mayor highlighted two recent accidents on Chicago's south side involving vehicle collisions with children, one resulting in a 6-year-old’s death. The only problem with the examples is – as the Chicago Tribune first reported, “Neither incident occurred under conditions where speed-camera monitoring would have come into play under the legislation Emanuel is pushing in Springfield.”
Further, a Tribune analysis of federal data on collisions showed that of the 251 pedestrian deaths in Chicago between 2005 and 2009, fewer than half occurred in the applicable "safety zones," and less than a quarter involved speeding.
Many who acknowledge the mendacious motivation for the measure nonetheless still support it, arguing that the cameras are merely helping to enforce laws that already exist. This is a dangerous and misguided justification.
Laws are meant to serve specific and recognizable purposes, and policymakers should never be encouraged to strengthen the arm of bureaucratic power with backhanded intentions. Doing so represents a grave lapse in the social contract citizens make with their leaders, and can easily give rise to more dangerous consequences.
In the meantime, Chicago residents are now made to endure being not only among the most taxed in all aspects of civic life, but also the most ticketed. How shameful that city and state leaders refuse to acknowledge the real purpose of this initiative.
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