By Jean Lotus
The Forest Park Elementary School District 91 board will take another look at a contract to install traffic violation cameras on school bus stop-arms at their February meeting, after the board tabled the discussion of a contract with RedSpeed Illinois LLC on Tuesday night.
Board members were given data they had asked for since October: a report collected from bus drivers of how many cars drove around the stopped school buses with the stop-arm extended.
"I'm glad we have these numbers," said Eric Connor, who earlier said he would be inclined to vote against the contract unless hard data was submitted.
Even though Forest Park police wrote six tickets in 2013 to motorists who illegally passed a school bus, a snapshot of a week showed the problem is much more significant.
According to data submitted to the board, bus drivers reported 51 stop-arm violations within one week. The data showed the problem was significantly higher at three of the five schools that reported stop-arm violations.
Betsy Ross and Garfield schools did not report any violations. Bus drivers at Grant-White School reported a total of 44 violations before school between 7:20 and 7:45 a.m. Thirteen violations were reported around 3 p.m.
Field Stevenson/Forest Park Middle School reported an average of two or three violations in the morning and one or two in the afternoon.
"These seem to be concentrated at Grant-White," said board member Sean Blaylock.
The district runs two bus routes per day between north- and south-side schools. An additional bus is used for residential pickup of special education students.
Parent Teri Blain spoke in favor of the cameras. She said a special education student on her block was likely to run into the road, and she had seen cars passing the school bus, even driving into the oncoming traffic lane. She said the crossing guard had taken to standing in the middle of the street during the child's pickup and drop off.
"Even then, they try to pass her and run her over," Blain said.
Other teachers in the audience said they had observed children using the stop-arm to cross in the middle of the street near Field-Stevenson and Forest Park Middle School.
Drivers were so reckless that a teacher and the former Principal Robert Giovannoni had to stand in the street to calm drivers.
"Bob G. almost got killed, not once, but twice," said a teacher.
Board member Heather Cianciolo said she favored an "education campaign" to stop drivers from zipping past. According to Cianciolo's research, stop-arm violations were reduced when buses had multiple stop arms and when buses had flashing headlights. She also said police stings also had a deterrent effect.
According to the contract, citations are examined by RedSpeed staff and then sent to village police to determine if a violation has taken place. The driver receives a violation ticket within two weeks, said Greg Zito, RedSpeed's sales representative. He said it had been illegal to pass a stopped school bus with extended stop-arm since 1967.
But Cianciolo said she worried the 14-day gap between the violation and the ticket was too long.
"I'm wondering if the gap time is not giving the lesson," she said.
Board member Rafael Rosa said the technology is so new that there are no official studies showing the effects of the stop-arm cameras on driver behavior. The federal government requested proposals for a study in December, he said.
Connor said data showed it took about three years for red-light cameras to sink in to the collective psyche of Illinois drivers, and even though T-bone red-light accidents had been averted, rear-end collisions had risen after red-light cameras were installed nationwide.
RedSpeed has provided red-light cameras for some busy Forest Park intersections such as Harlem Avenue and Roosevelt Road since 2007.
Board member Michael O'Connor said he was waiting for answers from inquiries he made to the director of transportation for the Illinois State Board of Education.
"I'd like to wait to hear from her if this is about safety issue or just a money-maker," O'Connor said.
"We need to be talking about things we can do that aren't punitive, but preventative," Rosa said.
"This is a vendor's solution to provide a fine to those who have an infraction, but that's not safety," he said.
"If it's a children's safety issue, it's a police issue," Connor said.