Red-light cameras will be operating soon on Harlem Avenue in River Forest
A sign indicates a red light traffic camera at the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Lake Street in River Forest. Geneva has decided to remove its red light cameras after three years.| Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 4, 2013 6:14AM
RIVER FOREST — Four years after they were first proposed, red light traffic enforcement cameras will soon be operating at two busy River Forest intersections.
Cameras at Harlem and North avenues and at Lake Street and Harlem could be docking drivers with $100 tickets by the end of January.
The village board in August 2011 voted to install the cameras. But it wasn’t until November that poles, signs and cameras were installed, after approval from the Illinois Department of Transportation, which has oversight authority for Harlem Avenue and North Avenue, as both are state highway routes.
Contractor Safe Speed, Inc. completed installing the camera infrastructure in December.
The village must post notice of its intent on its website for 30 days prior to making the system operational.
The traffic cameras faced harsh criticism when first proposed in 2008, due to well-publicized instances of other municipalities using the systems as lucrative revenue generators. Plans were scrapped in 2009, after trustees could not agree on contractual terms with an initial technology provider, RedSpeed, Inc.
In 2011, a new board revisited the issue.
“The village board asked for staff to take another look prior to my arrival,” said Village Administrator Eric Palm. He said staff recommended Safe Speed for two reasons.
“They had the lowest fees, $40 per ticket issued, (the village gets $60) and we kept final authority over any tickets being issued,” said Palm. “We didn’t want a red light vendor dictating to us who would be fined.”
The village‘s Community Service officer, a retired police commander, will review all camera videotape and make a final determination. In his absence, a police officer will make the determination.
“It’s revenue too, but all of our police fines are revenue,” said Palm, who noted the money from the camera-generated tickets would be placed in the equipment replacement fund.
Ultimately the board’s approval last year was based on both pedestrian and police officer safety grounds. Traffic enforcement on heavily traveled Harlem Avenue presents potentially deadly challenges to officers exiting their vehicles to talk with motorists.
Trustees Cathy Adduci and Mike Gibbs are running against each other for village president in April’s election. Gibbs supports the cameras. Adduci does not.
Gibbs said he was swayed by testimony from Police Chief Greg Weiss, who urged the technology be approved both to avoid backing up traffic on Harlem during traffic stops, and to avoid placing officers in harm’s way on the heavily traveled state truck route.
“We’re trying to improve safety as well as maximize our police resources,” said Gibbs.
Like Weiss, Gibbs has been ticketed after being caught by red light cameras, and he said he understands the unpopularity of the technology. But he dismissed charges that the board opted for cameras for the additional revenue.
“No one ever presented us a dollar figure,” he said. “No on said we’d make X amount of dollars if we adopted this technology.”
Instead, “it’s an issue of both officer safety and pedestrian safety,” Gibbs said. He noted that the curbs on the northwest and southwest corners of the Lake Street intersection on the River Forest side are both curved rather than the more-common 90-degree angles found at many intersections.
That is to allow for buses to turn off of and onto Harlem from Lake Street without having to cross over into oncoming traffic lanes.
But the result is a dangerous environment for pedestrians, with a longer distance from curb to curb.
“There’s a lot of different things going on there,” he said.
Adduci criticized the process by which the board approved the new cameras.
“My position was, this should go to the (village’s) traffic and safety commission,” she said, echoing the position of fellow trustee Susan Conti. “Just like they’d do with a stop sign. Let’s have the community speak to us on this.”
Adduci recused herself from voting on the issue in 2011, because her husband, Al Ronan, is a lobbyist for competing red-light-camera vendor RedSpeed. She said she would have voted against the cameras, saying, “I don’t see the need for it in our community.”
But Adduci said the debate ended with the 5-2 vote in favor of the cameras, and “it’s time to move on.”