The River Forest Board of Trustees on Monday passed three ordinances related to the implementation of red-light photo enforcement in the village. The main ordinance came with a caveat not imposed by any other municipality.

In a 3-2 vote, with trustee Cathy Adduci absent, the board amended a proposed ordinance to differentiate between straight-ahead red-light violations and what are known as “rolling red-light turn” violations.

Tickets issued for running a red light are generally $100 a violation, the maximum amount allowed by state law. They’re administered by local municipalities and treated as parking tickets, not moving violations. The citations don’t go on your driving record.

Under the amended ordinance, a straight-ahead red-light violation would incur a $100 fine, while rolling turn violation would cost you $50. The contract now goes back to the technology vendor, Red Speed Illinois, which can accept or reject the changes. A Red Speed representative didn’t immediately return calls for comment Tuesday morning.

Trustee Steve Hoke, who chairs the police committee that hosted a Red Speed presentation June 18, had planned to ask for the three ordinances to be removed from the consent agenda, saying the board had not by Monday adequately discussed the issue. Instead, Jim Winikates made the request, saying he didn’t believe the issues had been debated by the board, and were inappropriate for the consent agenda.

“My recollection is the police committee did not make a recommendation,” Winikates said.

Susan Conti, who had some concerns with the $100 fine for rolling right turn on red violations, queried Red Speed Illinois sales rep Michael Lebert, asking, “$100. Can we modify that?”

Lebert told her yes, state law allowed fines “up to $100.” Citing “standards and practices, he counseled against any changes.

“There’s a potential for mistakes to be made if we start to alter our automated system,” said Lebert. Conti then asked for further board discussion.

Winikates and Mike Gibbs indicated early on that they believed a traffic violation is a traffic violation and should be photo-enforced, especially if it frees up police time.
Adduci’s absence avoided the need for her to recuse herself from the Red Speed discussion. Her husband, noted lobbyist Alfred G. Ronan, is Red Speed’s chief lobbyist in Springfield.

The board discussion was also held against a backdrop of intense current coverage of the red-light camera enforcement issue in two Chicago area daily newspapers. In their Sunday issues, both The Chicago Tribune and The Daily Herald ran long articles on red-light photo enforcement technology. Focused primarily on Red Speed, the articles call into question oft-stated safety motives for installing the technology, suggesting instead that profit is the main driver. The Tribune’s Sunday story was followed by a Monday piece outlining in detail the political machinations in Springfield by Ronan and others, including State Rep. Angelo Saviano of Elmwood Park, that ultimately made the technology legal for traffic enforcement.

The camera technology is strongly supported by River Forest Police Chief Frank Limon, whose hiring Hoke helped orchestrate last year. However, as he has on past occasions, Hoke again expressed concern that the safety justifications usually cited for installing the technology didn’t square with the fact that most red-light camera tickets in other municipalities were for rolling right turns on red, rather than the far more dangerous straight-ahead red-light violations. He moved to amend the proposed ordinance to levy a $50 fine for rolling right turn violations.

Lebert cautioned several times that such an alteration to Red Speed’s centralized operation, which he said serves about 60 municipalities – while allowable under state law – would be inconsistent with standards and practices.

“I wouldn’t encourage you to do that,” he said.

Winikates said he didn’t “see why we need to reduce the fine and create administrative hassles for Red Speed.” Steve Dudek replied that he was uncomfortable having a vendor dictate practices to the village.

President John Rigas, who owns a software development and service company, supported Winikates’ position, saying being the sole party to do something different within such a technical system leaves you “open to bugs, errors and problems.”
Hoke echoed Dudek, saying, “It clearly is two different types of violations. I don’t think software problems should drive our decision making as to what’s fair.”

River Forest, Hoke added, “should be a leader on this.” He noted that at the June 18 police committee meeting, Lebert told him and Dudek that “90 percent” of tickets issued by its municipalities were for right-on-red turn violations.

“I’d like to think that River Forest is a leader. And I think we’re showing leadership here tonight,” he said.

Hoke argued that it was unfair to lump the driver who doesn’t completely stop during a red-light turn in with the driver who “blows through the red light at 100 miles an hour.”
“I’m not going to vote for something that produces 90 percent of the fees for something that I consider to be very minimal.”

Conti said she thought $50 for a rolling red-light turn was “more palatable,” saying, “I think we’ll have more people willing to pay the fine and less likely to contest it.” She and Dudek then voted with Hoke to amend the ordinance by a 3-2 vote. That amended ordinance then passed 5-0.

Hoke said Tuesday that he hoped the changes River Forest brought to the enforcement process was the start of something statewide.

“I’d like to think that this will have wide-ranging impact,” he said.

Rigas said Tuesday that he disagreed with the “perception that a slow rolling red-light turn violation is different than straight-out blowing through a red light.” Harlem and Lake, he said, is heavily used by shoppers and students.

“There’s a lot of people movement in that intersection,” he said.

The sponsor of the state law, Oak Park senator Don Harmon (D-39), acknowledged Tuesday that there are growing reservations about red-light technology. He stressed that safety is first and foremost.

“We have to embrace emergent technology, but we have to use it responsibly. If this is revealed to be nothing more than a revenue generator, then folks will feel more reluctant.”

Rail crossing camera bill awaits gov’s signature

The Tribune coverage began with a reference to the massive, and some say miraculously non-fatal, train/vehicle crash in Elmwood Park on Thanksgiving eve, 2005. That incident was the impetus for a bill, sponsored by Oak Park’s state senator, Don Harmon (D-39), which ultimately was rewritten as the Red Light Photo Enforcement Law.

On June 17 the Senate sent the Harmon-sponsored bill, SB148, which allows for automated enforcement of railroad crossing violations, to the governor’s office. The bill, which passed 55-3, awaits Gov. Patrick Quinn’s signature to become law.

The law allows local municipalities to pass ordinances requesting permission to work with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) to establish “automated enforcement of railroad crossing violations.” Unlike current red light photo enforcement, which is operated by private businesses under contract, the rail crossing camera technology would be cooperatively run by the ICC and the local police department.

The new law will extend a pilot project established in DuPage County in 2006 to the rest of the state. Harmon said that project, conducted jointly by the ICC and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), showed evidence that cameras alter drivers’ behavior.

“The project has shown that drivers moderate their behavior if they know they’re on camera,” he said.

The law would mandate $250 fines for the first offense and $500 fines for all subsequent violations. It would also allow the Illinois Secretary of State to suspend the driver’s license of any person found guilty of five such violations who has not paid the fines. As with red light photo enforcement, the law allows local adjudication and court appeal of tickets.

Harmon said he was motivated by the “significant risks” of at-grade accidents and their “grave consequences.” While Oak Park has no ground level rail crossings, and River Forest just two, the two villages are surrounded by municipalities that have numerous at-grade rail crossings, including Forest Park, Berwyn, North Riverside, Maywood and Elmwood Park, among others.

Harmon said the technology is also a less expensive alternative to major changes to at-grade crossings, such as overpasses. The bill incorporates current red light camera technology, which also lowers the cost of implemention.

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