Park Ridge reconsiders new red light cameras

Park Ridge alderman on red light cameras: 'My support is wavering a little bit.'

Park Ridge aldermen tapped the brakes on allowing the city's red light camera operator to ask state transportation officials for approval of new red light cameras.

Red Speed Illinois, the company that operates the city's lone camera at Oakton Street and Northwest Highway, proposes another one for Dempster Street and Potter Road but must first get approval from the Illinois Department of Transportation. To do that, it needs the City Council's permission to make the request.

Aldermen voted 4-2 Monday night to send Red Speed's request back to the council's informal committee-of-the-whole for more debate.

"My support is wavering a little bit," said Ald. Daniel Knight, 5th Ward, who suggested sending the question back to the committee.

After reading recent Tribune coverage of Chicago's travails with its red light camera operator and similar problems in other cities, Knight said he wants Red Speed representatives to explain how Park Ridge's program is different from Chicago's.

"I did believe in the safety angle for them, but I'm getting a little fuzzy on that," he added. "I'm coming to question why these are there."

Aldermen also questioned whether the cameras are primarily a public safety tool or a revenue-raiser.

If aldermen ultimately approve Red Speed's request, it could face a veto from Mayor David Schmidt, who said he is philosophically opposed to red light cameras and bothered by the fact that most camera-promoted tickets are for right turns on red rather than the original notion of preventing people from running red lights.

Even though the question is only whether to let Red Speed approach IDOT, Schmidt said, "I haven't vetoed something in a long time, and this looks like a good one to me."

Alds. Joseph Sweeney, 1st, and Nicholas Milissis, 2nd, were the only votes against returning the topic to the committee-of-the-whole.

Sweeney said he has no problem with the city using the red light cameras as a revenue source, likening it to the city's transfer tax on real estate sales. In the cameras' case, however, "the only ones paying are the ones who are breaking the law," he added.

On Aug. 11, aldermen gave preliminary approval to letting Red Speed ask IDOT's permission to place a new camera at Dempster and Potter. Ald. Marc Mazucca, 6th, was the only "no" vote that night.

Earlier in the year, police officials asked Red Speed to evaluate four intersections — Dempster and Potter, Dempster and Luther Lane, Greenwood and Touhy avenues, and Greenwood and Busse Highway — for potential red light cameras.

Red Speed Illinois' report from June looked at IDOT crash data and red light camera installation policies, Park Ridge Police Department collision reports and Red Speed's own site surveys and traffic studies before concluding that only the westbound approach to Dempster and Potter should be sent for IDOT approval.

Even if aldermen ultimately vote to let Red Speed do so, that doesn't mean a camera will be placed there. If IDOT approves the request, they would vote on final approval for any new red light camera.

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