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An independent academic report released today by the Northwestern University Transportation Center (NUTC) found that Chicago’s Red Light Camera (RLC) enforcement program demonstrates “significant safety benefits” and recommends the continuation of the program. The report highlighted safety benefits that included a 19 percent reduction in serious side-angle and turning crashes, a 10 percent reduction in injury-producing crashes and a measurable “spillover effect” that improved safety at intersections without cameras.
“The safety of motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists is our top priority and I am pleased that this comprehensive report confirms the beneficial safety impact of Chicago’s Red Light Camera program,” said Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld. “The goal now is to continue our ongoing effort to increase transparency and accountability for the program by embracing the study’s recommendations.”
One key recommendation of the study is that extending the enforcement threshold for issuing a violation from 0.1 seconds to up to 0.3 seconds after the light turns red would maintain the safety benefits of the program while ensuring the program’s fairness. The academic experts pointed to the existence a “dilemma zone” faced by otherwise law-abiding drivers who are forced to make a split-second decision on whether to stop or continue through the intersection when the light turns red.
Based on these findings, the City of Chicago will immediately extend the "grace period" during which drivers are not ticketed to up to 0.3 seconds. This is more generous than many other cities with red light camera enforcement, and on par with New York and Philadelphia.
“We want to emphasize that extending this enforcement threshold is not an invitation to drivers to try to beat the red light,” Scheinfeld said. “By accepting the recommendation of the academic team, we are giving the benefit of the doubt to well-intentioned drivers while remaining focused on the most reckless behaviors.”
Additionally, the NUTC report identified six existing camera-equipped intersections, out of a total of 151 intersections with red light cameras, as locations that did not deliver the anticipated safety benefits. Data showed that these intersections registered high numbers of violations but no corresponding reduction in crash rates.
The study also provides tools to identify intersections where safety benefits are likely to be realized by the use of cameras. The criteria are based on traffic volume, geometrics of the intersection, evidence of a high number of angle and turning crashes, and low number of rear-end crashes.
Using these methodologies, the City will begin the process of relocating cameras from six existing intersections to five other intersections where camera enforcement was deemed potentially more effective.
The following are the intersections with cameras that are proposed for removal:
The following are the intersections with proposed cameras for installation:
Per City ordinance, CDOT will begin scheduling public meetings to discuss all proposed removals and installations of camera enforcement intersections.
The report also urged Chicago to integrate the RLC into the City’s overall traffic safety efforts, which CDOT has already begun through its Vision Zero initiative.
The City announced last year that it was launching Vision Zero Chicago, a data-driven, multi-agency approach designed to improve traffic safety for all road users, whether in vehicles, on bikes or on foot. The goal of Vision Zero is to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries in Chicago by utilizing a variety of policies and safety measures, including camera enforcement.
The 105-page NUTC study compared before and after crash data at 85 intersections in Chicago where RLC’s were installed in 2008 and 2009 with crash data for 103 intersections that were not equipped with cameras.
Led by Dr. Hani S. Mahmassani, director of the NUTC and the William A. Patterson Distinguished Chair in Transportation in the McCormick School of Engineering, the team included an expert advisory panel of traffic safety experts from across the country. The scope of the study included performing a comprehensive assessment of existing practices, and benchmarking them against national best practices. Using available safety data, the team conducted a rigorous analysis of the existing RLC enforcement practices before arriving at its recommendations.
Consistent with other national studies that show overall crashes decrease with camera enforcement, the NUTC study found that injury-producing crashes decreased by 10 percent due to the camera program, with more serious angle and turning crashes decreasing 19 percent and rear-end crashes increasing 14 percent. Federal traffic safety research has found that side-angle crashes cause five times more damage than rear-end crashes as well as being more likely to cause fatalities and serious injuries. The NUTC study is also the first to document a measurable "spillover effect" of improved safety at intersections without cameras.
Since taking office in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been committed to reforming and improving the City’s RLC program. The academic study represents the most recent step in an ongoing effort to ensure that the program is operating effectively.
The City has reduced the number of red light cameras by 20 percent since 2011 -- removing 78 cameras at locations where crash data showed low numbers of crashes. Other reforms include strengthening management oversight, upgrading the technology and adding more public transparency and more public input into the process, including the requirement for public community meetings before any cameras are removed or added. The City also completed the installation of pedestrian countdown timers at all intersections equipped with red light cameras.
To see the full NUTC study, Chicago Red Light Camera Enforcement: Best Practices & Program Roadmap, go to:http://www.transportation.northwestern.edu/research/report-redlightcameras.html
For more information about Chicago’s RLC program, go to: https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/red-light_cameraenforcement.html