River Forest's controversial red-light camera program cannot become fully operational until an agreement over the use of Cook County land is approved by both parties, village officials said Monday.
The camera at Harlem Avenue and Lake Street has been inoperable since the program started in early January and will not be until an OK allowing that device to be installed on Forest Preserve Property, Assistant Village Administrator Michael Braiman said.
"We've been discussing one," said Braiman. He gave no timeline on when that device would become operational.
The North and Harlem camera, meanwhile, is working effectively, Police Chief Gregg Weiss said. The controversial program so far has pumped nearly $70,000 into village coffers.
More importantly, the effort may have helped improve people's driving habits. Last year 37 accidents took place within one block of North and Harlem avenues. So far this year, only four have occurred in the 7200 block of North Avenue, Weiss said.
In one incident, a person caused a fender bender when he closed his eyes for a moment. Another was a hit-and-run, a third was a side-swipe. A fourth was a rear-ender that took place when a driver slowed down to let someone pull out of the driveway at the Shell gas station at the corner of Harlem and North, Weiss said.
"In none of them did drivers slow down for the red-light cameras," Weiss said.
For those who are unfamiliar with how the process works, here's a recap:
Eastbound motorists can trigger the red-light camera on North Avenue when they make any moving violations when the light has turned red, such as running the light or failing to come to a complete stop before turning left or right onto Harlem. Because the light in question is on the southwest corner of that intersection, infractions fall under River Forest jurisdiction.
When the violation occurs, a 19-20 second snippet of video is shot, and the film goes to SafeSpeed, which runs the program for the village. The infractions are sent on to the police department, where police review the footage and decide whether to approve or reject the infraction.
If approved, the citation goes to the driver, who can review the film online or at a kiosk on the second floor of village hall. Drivers can pay the $100 ticket or appeal the citation in person or in writing. In either case, a hearing officer will review the video and determine if the ticket was issued correctly or in error.
Drivers who feel they still are in the right can request a hearing in traffic court in Maybrook, which they must set up themselves.
Violators have 21 days to pay up, or the fine doubles. Fines that aren't paid are sent to a collections agency, Weiss said. Once the fine is paid, the moving violation will not appear on a person's driving record.
"It would be like getting a parking ticket," Weiss said.
Since January, some 8,567 violations have been meted out to drivers who failed to completely stop before turning at the corner, Weiss said. As of early July, 2,469 infractions have been approved, another 1,027 rejected. Nearly 5,100 violators have received first notices and have not yet paid, Weiss said. That's not a surprising number considering that nearly 60,000 cars go through that intersection daily, Weiss noted.
Weiss also found that the red-light cameras are helpful in investigations. In one incident, a driver inadvertently dumped his cement on the roadway as he was making a turn onto southbound Harlem. Weiss said police were able to track down the responsible party, who ultimately paid the clean-up fee.
About 60 percent of the fines go to River Forest, which earmarks its money for replacing public safety vehicles and equipment, Braiman said.
The contractor will get monthly fees from a combination of maintenance, repair and violation processing per system, and payment processing fees. Safe Speed will withhold a portion of the revenue to cover those fees, and the village will receive anything left over. If the system doesn't produce enough revenue in a given month, the village won't have to pay.
The program was considered in 2009 but dropped after one firm — RedSpeed Illinois of Lombard — which the village was looking into would not consider a two-tier fine system. The choice was controversial because of then-trustee Catherine Adduci's relationship with Al Ronan, a chief lobbyist for RedSpeed.
Two years later, the issue was reevaluated at Weiss's behest and SafeSpeed was selected. Voting against the program was Susan Conti, a longtime critic of the program. Adduci, who abstained from the vote, is now village president.