River Forest has crossed a red line

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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by Tom Scharre

I've lived in Oak Park since 1985. And in those 29 years, never received a traffic citation from -- nor had an accident in -- either Oak Park or River Forest.
Yet, in a period of 35 days, River Forest sent me three $100 fines. What changed? My driving habits? I don't think so. (Ironically, the first ticket arrived the same week the State renewed my Driver's License via mail due to my 'Safe Driver' status.)
What changed is a 'red light camera'. An unthinking/unblinking camera – designed to raise revenue rather than improve traffic flow and safety –  apparently finds fault with my driving.
All three cases involved right turns. All three took place when traffic on the perpendicular street had a left turn arrow – meaning no oncoming traffic. All three were pedestrian free. (I am fairly certain no human being, even a cop in a car, would have given it a second look.)
Now, had I sped through a red light or endangered a pedestrian, such a fine would be justified. Neither occurred here. In fact, nothing occurred here – other than a technologically advanced way to squeeze a little more revenue from a law-abiding taxpayer.
Of course, I protested. (In one case, that rear window brake light indicator was clearly visible.) To no avail. I got a form letter back, indecipherably signed in auto-pen, saying nope – "the decision is final" and pay-up in 21 days.
These are not 'moving violations'. If they were, the Illinois Department of Motor Vehicles would be recording 'points' against my record. These are money grabs – pure and simple. And short-sighted ones, to boot.
Because they induce me to avoid River Forest altogether. Think about it, Village of River Forest. I shop at the Jewel, visit the Starbucks, patronize Petco, get prescriptions at Walgreens, etc. These are all things I could do elsewhere – and I plan to.
Over the past 29 years, my wife and I have spent tens of thousands of dollars in River Forest businesses. Sales those businesses will now lose. Sales tax the village will now lose.
So, enjoy your 300 bucks. In the not-so-long run, it will cost you and your local businesses a lot more. I can't see how that is in anyone's interest.
It's true "you can't fight City Hall." (Or, in this case, Village Hall.)
But, it is also true I don't have to shop in the village of River Forest.

Tom Scharre is a longtime Oak Park resident. A retired taxpayer. A certified 'Safe Driver.' And he's miffed.

Reader Comments

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Jacob Daniel Adler  

Posted: February 15th, 2018 5:29 PM

This is a transparent revenue grab with the ruse of safety. In fact, it ends up less safe and drives down revenue for local businesses. I live in Elmhurst, and I now avoid River Forest completely.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: August 28th, 2016 11:56 AM

Part of the solution (if there is one) is diagonal pedestrian crossing as Maureen suggests, and a step up from altering traffic light timing: the use of "smart" traffic signals (as used in SF).

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: August 28th, 2016 11:06 AM

agree Maureen. It's almost turned into a dance trying to navigate pedestrians and letting cars in from side streets. Traffic simply will not move if people don't give a little . I witnessed a kid trying to cross Oak Park on his bike for a solid 5 minutes. And cars backed up on side streets until some considerate drivers just stopped and let them into the flow. In addition to getting rid of these red light cameras, we also need to reevaluate the timing of our lights in OP. There is nothing more frustrating than sitting in a traffic jam that is completely unnecessary.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: August 28th, 2016 8:36 AM

agree Ada, but it's not just the automobile traffic, it's the pedestrian traffic - - a major difficulty in making turns (both left & right) at major intersections is the result of waiting for pedestrians to cross the street. I'm a big advocate of diagonal crosswalks and red lights where "all traffic stops" - these allow pedestrians to safely cross without having to dodge turning cars. With this system, green lights are for motor traffic only and pedestrians cross ONLY when they have the walk signal. It's much more efficient. For example, when turning right at Lake & OP Ave, it's often the case that only one car is able to make the turn because of all the pedestrian traffic crossing at the green light. That's a No Turn on Red intersection, so you have to wait for the next cycle to make your turn.

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: August 28th, 2016 7:09 AM

The problem I find, with all this increased traffic, is that if you don't make that turn at Harlem and Lake, when you can, you'll never make it at all - which at times means a rolling stop. Traffic has gotten so bad, it's as if you have to run a gauntlet every time you hit the road in OP/RF.

Kathy Martin from Oak Park, il  

Posted: August 27th, 2016 10:03 PM

I. Have lived. In oak park and. River. Forest most of my life and I have had my car taken and actioned off in five days. They just sold my car with no title. They have continuously harrass me and forced me for no reason to stop shopping at the. Alta store and walgreens they have harrased me Beyond belief and assalted me. I went to the chief and threatened me with false cause. Finnally .i started reporting them to tthe FBi, for the harrassement has been so bad.They have injured me And caused me to lose everthing and the harrassement has continued to other states because of their false accosations. They have. Pursued me for no reason and entraapped me out of malice and made and these false accusations. Have. Caused me to be severally injured and led to jail time and reppeated false arrestts.. They forced me out of my house stole my cars and caused me to be in wheelcair. I tryed callunf my attorney ro sue they. Now i report the incidents and threats to the. Fbi

Jean-Paul Dandurand  

Posted: July 1st, 2016 7:50 PM

PS - when I meet up with friends from Ohio I'll do it in Wisconsin. Great thing about America is choices.

Jean-Paul Dandurand  

Posted: July 1st, 2016 7:42 PM

I was recently one day in Illinois for the funeral of a father's friend and just today received a $100 fine for a red turn on right violation in River Forest (I reviewed the video and 3 cars after me did the same so this is obviously a revenue generator for the city). In the future I will gladly drive 500 miles to avoid Illinois in its entirety. This is what's called penny wise and pound foolish. Good luck, Illinois.

Gregory Feret from oak park  

Posted: May 4th, 2016 1:24 PM

(at least) one comment here I've just read mentions viewing online video of the alleged river forest red light violation, but I tried and I can't find it online. where is it. the images printed on my citation show my brake lights on, my right turn signal on, and no pedestrians visible (at north & harlem). So I wanna see this video

Parker from Oak Park  

Posted: August 1st, 2014 6:19 PM

RF traffic enforcement nailed me too at east bound North Ave turning onto south bound Harlem where the sign clearly says no right turn when pedestrians are present. I saw no pedestrian out my windshield at the southwest corner where I turned, but I did see some across the way upon reviewing the citation photo. They got me and I paid. So I got the point. Read the signs, look everywhere, come to a full stop and be cautious. A hunnert bucks is steep tuition, but nothing compared to being hit.

Bill Kopper from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 1st, 2014 5:27 PM

Why not invest in left turn green arrow signals and (in the case of River Forest) stop signs. How about consistent cross walk markings? Seems that would make things safer. Guess the cameras come free or you pay for them with the initial revenues - after the vendors get their money. Clearly a public/private scam.

Marc from River Forest  

Posted: August 1st, 2014 2:17 PM

It's not just River Forest. I got one turning westbound at Cermak and Harlem. From Chicagoist.com: A report from the Chicago Tribune finds a discrepancy between state and city records on the effectiveness of red-light cameras? Illinois DOT records show an increase in crashes at intersections where cameras are installed compared to the years cameras were not present. However, the city's record finds the cameras very successful in reducing traffic accidents. Chicago will have 189 cameras by 2015.

Chuck from Oak Park  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 8:49 PM

Hmmm...that is odd, because when I got flagged for a (legal) right turn in River Forest, I was given the option to request a hearing. I did so (it was an administrative hearing with a retired judge, and lots of other red light ticket challengers present) he dismissed the ticket after he reviewed the video of the incident. I don't know why the author of this piece was unable to similarly appeal his tickets.

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 6:12 PM

I actually received a warning for getting caught in one of Rahm's photo speed traps on Chicago Avenue. Just a letter saying I was speeding, but since no priors, I just got a warning. 4000 block of Chicago Avenue apparently. I actually don't have too much of a problem with the right turn cameras. No reason to blow through a red making a right turn. Speeding cameras and the straight runnning red light cameras are a little more nuanced though imho. Don't like those.


Posted: July 31st, 2014 5:00 PM

If a real human being can't catch you breaking the law, then you aren't breaking the law. Using a camera, and one manned by a third-party, is nothing more than extorting passers by. If this type of thing happened to a northerner in the south, we'd all be saying how corrupt and back asswards those southerners are.

Ed from Oak Park  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 4:57 PM

Did the author even check the online video of his infraction? I've caught 3 red light violations myself, twice while hurrying to volunteer activities. Each time I was sure that I had made a right on red and that the camera incorrectly ticketed me. Each time I saw video of me making a "rolling" right on red. I would rather have learned the lessons without the fine, but the lessons were learned (eventually).

Bill Kopper from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 3:21 PM

It feels like a money grab. There is a camera at Grand and Oak Park Avenue. From grand this intersection has a left turn lane going south on Oak Park Ave., but no left turn arrow. They might as well put up a no left turn sign there because it is impossible to make a left turn in the city without an arrow. I'm sure the consultants and municipalities know things like this before they put up the camera. Imagine the presentation for the cameras pay lip service to safety and then presents a huge section on revenue sharing.

Phil from Oak Park  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 2:35 PM

Here's a less risky alternative "endorsed" by the Village (bit of sarcasm here): If shopping in the Jewel/post office/WholeFoods area and you plan to drive south on Harlem, take North Blvd instead of Lake. Barely any traffic and no red light cameras. Want to go north on Harlem? Take the well-manicured side streets in River Forest (but beware that many cross streets lack any signage--treat every one as a 4-way stop just in case.) Soon RF will disallow crossing through like they do on North Ave.

Driver from Oak Park  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 12:25 PM

I feel the same way as the letter writer and am now avoiding the Lake/Harlem intersection all together. It clearly is a money grab. I think they will find more people using side streets or avoiding the shopping mall altogether.

Chris Williams from Oak Park  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 12:18 PM

Ha! Just kidding. I don't try to cheat local government. But really, this kind of thing makes people want to cheat the government . . . it reduces trust and undermines community, these money grabs.

Chris Williams from Oak Park   

Posted: July 31st, 2014 11:41 AM

The letter writer does not specify whether he came to a complete stop at the red light, and then turned right in the absence of pedestrians. If that was the case, the ticket is bogus. If he rolled and turned, the ticket is valid. My wife got one of these tickets though - I believe the tickets are generated anytime someone makes a turn, which is a clear money grab. Overall, this is an obvious money-grab. This is why I exploit every opportunity to cheat local government, when I can.

Steve from Oak Park  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 11:09 AM

@Winter Skye: get the facts before you spout off. I walk and take public transportation. While crossing the street at a cross walk, a speeding bicyclist made a right, through a stop sign and hit me. Guess who got the broken arm.

Winter Skye  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 10:46 AM

@Safety: In your dreams, pal. There is a huge reason why it's the way it is: cars are two tons. Next!

Safety First from Oak Park  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 10:43 AM

We should require license plates for bicycles to we can give them red light tickets too.

Winter Skye  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 10:14 AM

@Steve: Stop being a lazy bones and pollluting the air! There has to be some benefit in riding a bike. Sheesh!

Winter Skye  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 10:13 AM

Can they get something to measure speed at Lake and Harlem?! These characters sometimes seem to be going 60 in a 25 MPH zone!

Steve from Oak Park  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 9:58 AM

Do bicycles need to obey the rules of the road? Just wondering...

Paul from River Forest  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 9:48 AM

Tom's right. I've gotten a ticket @ North & Harlem myself. It doesn't say "No Tight Turn On Red," it says "No Right Turn On Red WHEN PEDESTRIANS ARE PRESENT." If you come to a complete stop and turn --even if there are NO pedestrians -- you get a ticket anyway. That's the definition of a dishonest, money-grabbing scam.


Posted: July 31st, 2014 9:11 AM

I agree with Bridgett and think some of you are missing the larger point the author has made. Right or wrong, he feels slighted by the process, enough to alter his spending habits that directly impacts RF businesses. It's the same as getting a parking ticket 5 min after expiration or a citation one day after license/city sticker deadline has passed. Sure, you're in the wrong both times, but it's the sense of getting nickel-and-dimed.The village gets their money upfront, but loses out in long run

Lessons learned  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 8:35 AM

If a village is able to monitor traffic using technology, issue citations that are reviewed by officers trained in traffic enforcement and it changes a drivers behavior, plus makes revenue for the village without raising taxes, and only affects a portion of the drivers who don't follow the rules. I'm ok with that. As for the amount of revenue River Forest makes is of no concern to anyone but their residents. One less accident at HarlemLake only adds credence to it being safer.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 6:09 PM

The cameras were installed to generate income. Safety is a by-product. Go look at the safety stats regarding the North and Harlem camera that has been there longer. Then compare those meager increases to how much that camera has generated in revenue. Over a million dollars. Do I think people should follow the Rules of the Road? Absolutely. And I also feel that being honest about one's true motivation, is refreshing. :-)


Posted: July 30th, 2014 4:53 PM

People always say "but there was no one there!" I'm sure people that have hit pedestrians & bicyclists also thought no one was there either. That's why you're supposed to come to a complete stop and look before proceeding.

Lessons learned  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 4:38 PM

Thanks Bridgett I must be missing the bigger picture of why he drives to River Forest if they have all those stores in Oak Park closer to him. But my bigger point is why he feels it is ok to not stop at a red light regardless if it's for right turns? I was hit one time on my bike by someone making a right turn looking to the left. All traffic tickets are for revenue. But to suggest there is no safety aspect to this is silly. I learned my lesson the first time got a ticket. So I guess it works.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 3:40 PM

@Lesson Learned, I think you're missing the bigger picture. The purpose of those red light cameras in to generate income for RF. It has nothing to do with safety. While OP and RF are friendly neighbors, they are still vying for the same sales tax dollars. The author of this letter can get all he needs in his own town of OP, which has a Starbucks, Jewel, Walgreens, a pet store. All within pretty close proximity to Lake & Harlem.


Posted: July 30th, 2014 2:57 PM

I know so many people who have gotten the robot tickets for right turns, but every time I sit at the intersection at Harlem & Lake I see 3 or 4 cars turning left on red, cars moving into the intersection even though traffic is completely stopped (so they get stuck in the intersection). This causes traffic to be even more snarled, unsafe for pedestrians - yet I never see the red light cameras flash for that. I don't think the cameras are making anyone safer.

Milanne Bancroft from Oak Park IL  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 2:38 PM

Those cameras do teach a driving lesson, however. I was ticketed out near Rosemont and a year or so later at the River Forest light for the same violation. The "protected turn" is what got me both times. I knew there were no pedestrians to my right and no oncoming traffic because of the traffic turning west onto Harlem. You can bet I come to a COMPLETE stop and just sit there, in spite of anxious drivers honking and signalling to "turn right on ride, moron!" Let THEM get the $100 fine!


Posted: July 30th, 2014 2:16 PM

I walk a lot and let me tell you that I am regularly almost run over by cars turning right that don't bother to look before going. Most cars do not come to a complete stop before turning and this is extremely dangerous. I hope more people get tickets for this so I can feel safer as a pedestrian.

Just Wait  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 1:56 PM

It's only a matter of time when speeding cameras spread throughout our cities. Then all the sanctimonious folk saying "Well just don't break the law then!" will get their tickets for going 5 mph over the speed limit sent to them in the mail.

No Sympathy  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 1:39 PM

The law on the books is clear. Right turns on red are permitted after a complete stop. That means cease all forward motion. I bet you don't stop completely for stop signs either.

Lesson Learned from Oak Prk  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 1:29 PM

I for one am glad we have one less poor driver, driving around River Forest. Especially one that couldn't learn a lesson from the first ticket. You got caught! That is why you are whining. I doubt you changing your shopping habits will have any impact. So all you are doing is wasting gas driving farther to purchase something. Follow the law it's that simple.

local driver  

Posted: July 29th, 2014 8:19 PM

Same thing happened to me in Chicago - once. Ever since then I never make a right hand turn on red at an intersection with a red light camera. A pain that you have to check for the camera before deciding whether to make what should be a legal right hand turn, but that's what I do.

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