Driving is tough enough around here without our public servants making it tougher. In fact, Chicago has the single worst bottleneck in the U.S. No, it’s not the I-290 nightmare from Hillside to Harlem. It’s the Kennedy Expressway from the Jane Byrne Interchange to the Edens Expressway.
Driving is also expensive, even after your car is paid off. There’s parking, tolls, vehicle stickers, license renewals. And on top of that, we have the most punishing red-light cameras in the area. Bob Uphues and Brett McNeil did an exhaustive study of the staggering amount of revenue raised by the red-light cameras along Harlem Avenue.
They spent months of research to connect the dots between the cameras and the companies they benefit. The cameras also fill the coffers of communities like Berwyn, River Forest and North Riverside. In theory, the red-light cameras are for traffic safety. In practice, they rake in millions for these communities and the company Safe-Speed.
Our intrepid reporters found that more than 90 percent of the tickets are for illegal right turns on red (RTOR), despite the fact that only a miniscule number of accidents are caused by these turns. Just one was recorded at North & Harlem in a year’s time. I’ve been investigating auto accidents for 30 years, and I’ve yet to handle one caused by a RTOR.
It doesn’t mean they don’t happen. In the 1970s, shortly after the law was passed, I was crossing Harlem Avenue on a yellow light, when a car made a RTOR directly in front of me. It caused a horrific crash that totaled both cars. Thankfully, no one was severely injured. This anecdotal evidence aside, it doesn’t justify the millions we’re coughing up because of these cameras.
I recently received a ticket for an RTOR I made from Cermak to Harlem. My ticket was accompanied by two photos. One showed me stopped at the right turn line. The second showed me still stopped at the line, as another westbound vehicle entered the frame.
I decided to contest the ticket and headed to Berwyn to fight city hall. I thought I would claim immediate victory, but I was given a court date for a Tuesday at 3 p.m. I’m lucky that my schedule was flexible enough to attend. Most motorists can’t make it to hearings during the work day, which is why only 5 percent of red-light tickets are contested.
Berwyn Village Attorney Anthony Bertuca was the adjudicator at the hearing. With his folksy manner, Bertuca made the proceedings as painless as possible. He first lectured us about counting “one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi” at the stop line, before making the turn. He added that this wasn’t the law but would keep us out of the courtroom.
We took turns stepping forward to view our video with Bertuca. In most cases, he ruled that we had stopped for a sufficient time but repeated his mantra about counting our Mississippis. I was relieved to be exonerated by the video and walked out fine-free.
Afterwards, it occurred to me that if officials were really concerned about traffic safety at these intersections, they’d outlaw RTOR altogether. So in this respect, the intersection of Desplaines & Roosevelt is perfect. There’s both a camera and a sign forbidding RTOR. This explains why we’re relative pikers in Forest Park, compared to the pirates around us. Our two cameras only generated $545,372 during a two-year period.
So the next time you make an RTOR, prepare to count your Mississippis. But don’t speed it up, like we used to do in touch football.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.