Chicago Speed Cameras and Democracy

City Council takes up the semi-contentious speed camera bill, and it passes like many semi-contentious bills before it: 33-14, a low but not atypical result from the past nine years of City Council votes.

speed cameras

 

The speed camera ordinance passed 33-14 through City Council today. It’s the first time the mayor has faced statistically significant dissent—through his first 100 days, Emanuel received only four dissenting votes, and a quick browse through Emanuel-sponsored ordinances since shows a similar pattern. But 68 percent for an ordinance is not atypical recent years in the City Council, as Dick Simpson found in the last years of Mayor Daley (PDF):

In other words, City Council polarized ever so slightly. It’s not exactly Council Wars, more like Council Mild Irritation.

The other mildly interesting thing that happened today was that the vote on the infrastructure trust got pushed back, after a call from the BGA to do so, and John Kass’s prediction that hard-charging Rahm wouldn’t, though it’s only been delayed six days instead of the BGA’s preferred 30. This should surprise Kass, who wrote:

The so-called critics want Mayor Rahm Emanuel — our beloved Rahmfather — and his terrified aldermen to “slow down” before they ram through his urgent plan for a private-public “trust” to spend billions on mega-projects with a minimum of oversight.

Or maybe it shouldn’t. Ambitious plans followed by small compromises are an early hallmark of the young administration.

By contrast, the speed camera plan was given extensive lead time: plenty of time for the administration to make its case, for the Tribune to point out that the administration’s statistics didn’t support its case, for people like me to point out that there was a good if less mawkish case for the city to make that they were seemingly uninterested in making, and for extensive, smart analysis by interested parties like Steven Vance and John Greenfield at Grid Chicago.

What happened? About what you’d expect. It passed, though on the low end of City Council’s bell curve. And this was on an easily comprehensible issue—the right to virtually unencumbered, moderate violations of the speed limit. And it is virtually unencumbered: data obtained by The Expired Meter found that only eight percent of almost 12,000 speeding tickets issued by the CPD were given for being one to 15 miles over the limit. A lot of people do that (guilty), so it will ding a lot of checkbooks, even at the slap-on-the-wrist cost of $35 and up. By contrast, the Infrastructure Trust is bitterly complex.

The Emanuel administration has a balance to strike: not pushing things through so fast that the rounds of ordinances cause collateral damage, as with the parking meters, but not giving them so much leash that they lose control. Right now, City Council—and by extension, the voters who elect all of them—seem to be giving them a pretty long leash.

 

Photograph: ell brown (CC by 2.0)

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