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Jeff Ward: Geneva Does Write Right-on-Red Tickets!

And why does it take a freelancer to uncover the truth?

Though I believe it’s important for columnists to quickly call out politicians for their more-dubious pronouncements, never let it be said that Jeff Ward doesn’t have a sense of fair play!

Instead of continuing my full frontal assault on Geneva’s pair of heinous red light cameras, I interrupted that offensive until the March 20 primary dust had settled.

You all know I’ve never been a fan of these unconstitutional devices, but this particular attempt to eliminate them started with a state Sen. Chris Lauzen press conference at Williamsburg Avenue and Randall Road.

That’s where 1st Ward Alderman Sam Hill challenged me to write the truth about Geneva’s cameras. As it turns out, the truth is:

  1. They are a money maker, bringing in $177,223 last year.
  2. There was a 91 percent drop in citations issued right around the time Mayor Kevin Burns announced his county chair run.
  3. They don’t make those two intersections any safer.

Despite that data, Mayor Burns persisted in insisting this was all about safety and not revenue. In a press release response to Lauzen’s press conference, he even went as far as declaring, “We don’t issue tickets for right-turn-on-red.”

Since you also know just how I feel about uncompromising blanket political statements, the FOIA request was submitted shortly thereafter and here are the 2011 camera ticket results:

 

 

Straight
Through

Right
Turns

January

333

174

February

338

140

March

291

176

April

243

103

May

130

175

June

109

153

July

127

87

August

144

46

September        

121

66

October

89

86

November

106

89

December

150

120

As you can clearly see, the mayor’s idea of writing no-right-on-red camera violations vastly differs from my own and probably yours. Unless my math skills are fading, 1,415 of them is significantly greater than zero.

When confronted with these numbers and his own statement, the mayor replied, “As a journalist, you certainly know that what is often printed is not necessarily what is said,” adding, “What I have said and have written ... is this: ‘The city does not focus on right-turn-on-red violations.’ ”

In other words, we misquoted him!

But rather than explain how difficult it is to misquote a written document, I simply sent him his own statement.

“You are correct in that a release of mine … did indeed state that but, the release was incorrect,” the mayor responded, “I accept responsibility for the error but it does not change the city's policy of not issuing violations for right-turn-on-red unless the violation is blatant.”

In other words, he misquoted himself.

The fact that most local municipalities manage to rack up a 60 percent ROR camera ticket record does make Geneva’s 40 percent look a little better, but I’d still say that number constitutes a great deal of “focus.”

For comparison purposes, I also acquired St. Charles’ camera data which backs up their claim that they don’t single out right-on-redders. Of the 250 citations issued in 2011, only 66—or 26 percent of them—went to errant ROR turners.

Even if you cut our numbers in half, on three separate occasions Geneva wrote more tickets in a month than St. Charles did all year at an intersection that’s far crazier than either one of ours!

Here’s the bottom line! The odds of a rolling right on red causing an accident are an astonishingly low—.00029 percent, or 1 in 345,000 turns. If Geneva continued to write 1,415 ROR tickets a year, it would take 244 years before one of those turns actually caused an accident.

Mayor Burns and the aldermen can flap their gums all they want, but this program has little to do with safety and everything do with revenue. Because if Geneva really did stop writing ROR-turn violations, the cameras wouldn’t even pay for themselves.

But what bothers me even more than the mayor’s mendacious ways is that it took a glorified freelancer to call him on it. Where are all the reporters?

Instead of leaving the Lauzen press conference arm in arm with Alderman Hill, perhaps Chronicle reporter Brenda Schory could’ve taken 30 seconds to send a one sentence FOIA request to the City of Geneva. It’s really not that much to ask.

Whenever an elected official issues a statement along the lines of, “My God man! We would never (fill-in-the-blank),” the least the folks of the fifth column can do is make the minimum effort to verify it. No wonder people are losing faith in the press.

So yes! Despite the mayor’s previous proclamations, not only does Geneva write ROR camera tickets, but they write quite of few of ‘em. Their imminent 2013 departure notwithstanding, it’s time to either call ‘em what they really are, or take ‘em down and end the charade.

Stephen April 11, 2012 at 06:41 PM
You could go a billion miles before getting into a wreck making a right turn on red. http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/26/2693.asp "Red light camera supporters insist that the devices are needed to prevent the common and deadly T-bone style of accident at intersections. In practice, however, automated ticketing lenses are more often positioned to photograph a different type of violation, one that rarely causes accidents. A review of US Department of Transportation statistics shows that an average motorist could drive a billion miles -- the distance from Earth to Jupiter and back -- before being involved in an accident that resulted from a motorist making a rolling stop on a right-hand turn." It is very obvious the right turn on red rlc are a scam. It looks like the Mayor got caught in his own “statement” by comments from the reporter too! www.banthecams.org
James C. Walker April 11, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Mr. Ward's analysis of the cameras and their purpose is "right on the money" (pun intended). Ticketing actions that virtually never cause a safety issue, such as the 40% of tickets for slow rolling right on red turns, is 99.99999% about the MONEY and maybe as much as 0.00001% about safety. It is also very likely that the 60% of tickets for straight through violations could be drastically reduced by using safer, longer yellow intervals on the lights. Other cities that have added 0.7 to 1.0 seconds to the yellow intervals have seen drops in violations of 60% to 90+%. So, why do cities not lengthen the yellows to have many fewer straight through violations and why do they ticket safe right on red turns? Mo$t ob$erver$ $ee the rea$on$ for the$e predatory policie$ ea$ily. Any why are some officials so free and easy with false statements about the reasons for cameras and their effectiveness to try to build support for the cameras under false pretenses? The$e rea$on$ are ea$y to $ee a$ well. Consider one thought. IF red light cameras actually prevented most violations - something they were NEVER designed to do - how would the red light camera cash register companies ever make much money? They couldn't of course. The entire red light camera industry is based on improper traffic light engineering and unethical traffic management policies. See our website for the science. James C. Walker, National Motorists Association, www.motorists.org, Ann Arbor, MI
Jack April 11, 2012 at 10:01 PM
re: "Whenever an elected official issues a statement along the lines of, “My God man! We would never (fill-in-the-blank),” the least the folks of the fifth column can do is make the minimum effort to verify it. No wonder people are losing faith in the press." Brittanica Online Encyclopedia says: fifth column: clandestine group or faction of subversive agents who attempt to undermine a nation’s solidarity by any means at their disposal, perhaps verifying what many have suspected WRT The Press. Still, I'm thinking "Fifth Estate" could be a better fit for the Patch, The term Fifth Estate has no fixed meaning, but is used to describe any class or group in society other than the clergy (First Estate), the nobility (Second Estate), the commoners (Third Estate), and the press (Fourth Estate). It has been used to describe civil society (including trade unions) and the poor or the proletariat. It can also be used to describe media outlets (including the blogosphere) that see themselves in opposition to main- stream media (the official Press) <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifth_Estate>, and (hopefully) what Jeff Ward meant to say.
Jeff Ward April 12, 2012 at 12:14 AM
Jack, You're right. I meant fifth estate. Good catch! Jeff
Patty Donahue April 12, 2012 at 04:11 AM
How many of the ROR tickets were for people who actually stopped first, looked, and then turned on red? As far as I know, a red light means stop. Personally, I'm sick of driving through the green at a normal rate of speed just to have someone "roll thru their red" right in front of me & mess with my rightful passage. Forget the political BS. Let's talk rules of the road. Just sayin' ... Oh, and don't even get me started on left lane usage and turn signals!
James C. Walker April 12, 2012 at 04:28 AM
For Patty Donahue: The people that roll through the red in such a way as to interfere with your rightful passage on green are NOT the ones we are talking about. They deserve a ticket for disturbing your smooth right of way. What we are talking about is the vast majority of rolling right on red tickets where there was NOTHING in the way, where the driver could completely accurately judge the way was clear at 5 mph, just as well as from an unnecessary 0 mph stop. Red light violations account for only about 2% of traffic fatalities and rolling right on reds account for maybe a few hundredths of one percent of total fatalities. Most right on red tickets are given to safe, sane, sober, competent drivers who DID view the situation correctly and turn safely with no safety hazards for anyone. THAT is what is wrong with the automated system, no officer is present to view that the move was safe or unsafe - and safety is the ONLY valid reason for a ticket. James C. Walker, National Motorists Association, www.motorists.org, Ann Arbor, MI
Jack April 12, 2012 at 04:29 AM
Cameras can only be money-makers if drivers disregard the rules of the road. If they do not make a difference in drivers' behavior, then it must be that the fines are not high enough. I often see drivers flout the rules requiring a stop before turning right on red, and it is getting worse as time goes by. If anything, we need more cameras at intersections. One of the worst intersections is Randall/Kesslinger, and yet we have no camera there.
Jack April 12, 2012 at 05:54 AM
WRT Mr Walker's comment, "...safety is the ONLY valid reason for a ticket," I think we would agree that safety is a sufficient reason for our traffic rules. I believe we would also agree that very few traffic laws are not essentially, though unavoidably, arbitrary. Certain behaviors are construed as generally unsafe, and so are prohibited. Of course, enforcement is a matter of prioritization of resources, and so we have well-trained Police who follow the policies of their department in tune with the expectations of our community. The Libertarian approach to traffic enforcement may be appealing in the abstract, but it is not likely to meet the expectations of our citizens. It is even less likely to create the fluid context in which all drivers -- local and transient, experienced and inexperienced, diligent and distracted -- have a fair chance to survive unscathed. In the RTOR debate, a very important aspect of the full-stop requirement is often ignored, and that is pedestrian safety. Determining that one can safely proceed with a rolling right-turn-on-red WRT to crossing traffic may sometimes be trivial in itself, but when the permutations of pedestrian, emergency vehicle and bicycle traffic are added to the mix, extreme caution must be exercised. Approaching intersections with an expectation of rolling around the corner without a full stop does not allow for that degree of care.
Jim MacRunnels April 12, 2012 at 11:48 AM
Most dangerous intersections in Geneva... Randall and Kessilnger, Faybian and Kirk and Kirk and 38. And guess what....no red light cameras. Cameras for safety or cash?
James C. Walker April 12, 2012 at 12:46 PM
Anyone who still believes ticket cameras are safety devices has not been following the investigative reports and the academic research over the last several years. The only real answer is a total ban on the cameras so engineers have no temptation to engineer for anything but safety. James C. Walker, National Motorists Association
James C. Walker April 12, 2012 at 01:12 PM
For Jack: On the RTOR issue, I guess I would counter with the British experience where the Stop sign is almost unknown. The protocol in Britain is almost always Yield, not Stop, when you approach intersections. Many are roundabouts where you yield to traffic already in the roundabout. At places where minor streets meet major ones, the traffic on the minor street yields to the major one. In both types of intersections, if the way is clear you not only don't have to stop, it is expected that you will NOT stop to not disturb the smooth traffic flow coming behind you. And, in a crowded country with more intense and often faster traffic than the USA, their fatality rate is lower than ours. Remember that all red light violations account for only about two of fatalities and the RTOR ones are only a few hundredths of one percent. James C. Walker, NMA
Donald Ramsell April 12, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Two things stand out here: I never even knew the name of Geneva's mayor until 2 moths ago, and now (in additon to the emails revealing his true character) he is caught lying to the public. Dump this guy. Additionally, those who have saddled their own citizens with cameras to watch their conduct should be thrown out of office. They have sold our privacy rights in exchange for political shim-sham - avoiding fiscal responsaibility by fleecing drivers.
Jack April 12, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Donald, if you didn't know the Mayor until so very recently, whose fault is that? A late-comer to community concerns isn't always wrong, of course. You apparently felt, and still feel, that Geneva is a good place to invest and to live. You should understand that Mayor Burns has done a great deal to keep our city a fine place to raise a family. In this, an election year more significant than most, one must be very careful to avoid emotional responses to complex problems. Manipulation of all of us by antagonistic interests is the order of the day. WRT to using cameras rather than Police Officers to monitor traffic violations, which would you prefer: devices which do the job 24/7 and cost the city nothing, or personnel (perhaps four officers per intersection, per day, per year) at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars? Why does traffic enforcement suddenly get a bad name when it comes at no cost to the community? Or would you prefer no enforcement at all? As a resident of Williamsburg Avenue, I see speeders every day who endanger the lives and property of my neighbors, in spite of the frequent presence of speed enforcement Officers. These Officers apprehend one or more speeders each time I see them monitoring our street (there goes one now, as a matter of fact, being pulled over by the Patrolman as I write -- love it!). I would much prefer our LEOs catch these speeders than watch intersections. Cameras can do that, and help pay for more speed enforcement too.
James C. Walker April 12, 2012 at 06:56 PM
For Jack, the big problem with camera enforcement is that it is not profitable unless the posted limits and the yellow intervals are set improperly at less-safe levels. And neither the camera vendors nor the cities will install them if they are not profitable. So, when you see a profitable ticket camera program, know you are dealing with improper engineering that raises accident risks. James C. Walker, NMA
Jack April 12, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Good point, Jim. We need additional cameras at these high-threat intersections.
Jack April 12, 2012 at 07:30 PM
James, safety engineering is essential. But in an established community like ours, how much re-engineering can we do -- can we afford to do, even where it might be practical? Snap-shot scenarios are not so difficult to analyze and problem-solve, but in life as we change one factor, other relationships change. Your interesting examples from England demonstrate only that British drivers have different expectations. They tell us nothing about how our own drivers would adapt to new ways. WRT to yellow light intervals, it is reasonable, I believe, to forecast that our drivers will adapt to longer Y-L intervals and ultimately behave in such a way that traffic problems remain unimproved. That is to say, they will make as many bad decisions concerning whether to stop, continue, or to (illegally and unwisely) accelerate through the intersection as they have always made. We may do better simply by making sure that all yellow intervals are the same within a given speed-limited section of road, and perhaps all similarly speed-limited roads within the state. In fact, the only way to prove your hypothesis may be: that communities install the cameras, and keep ALL the money for themselves, AND they adjust Y-L intervals to your recommendations. Then we'll have some real information to work with. Until then, we mostly have bits and pieces of irrelevancy, and speculation.
James C. Walker April 12, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Jack, the safety engineering is terribly simple and very inexpensive. It is easy to survey speeds of free flowing vehicles under good conditions, and set posted limits at the 85th percentile to maximize safety and smooth traffic flow with the fewest accidents. (Yes, there are a few exceptions.) Then set yellow intervals using those ACTUAL 85th percentile speeds. The suggestion to just add 1.0 seconds is for communities that refuse to calculate 85th percentile speeds to accurately set yellows and limits. You are correct that the yellows should be the same on any stretch(es) of roads which have the same ACTUAL travel speeds. Note the posted limits should be completely irrelevant in setting yellows, since they often do not reflect actual travel speeds. (Posted limits have almost no effect on travel speeds.) The claim that drivers significantly adapt to longer yellows and make the same sort of bad decisions has been dis-proven many times. They adapt very slightly, but not enough to damage the safety benefits of longer yellows. Here are a couple of examples: http://www.motorists.org/red-light-cameras/fairfax http://www.motorists.org/red-light-cameras/effect-yellow-timing I would have NO problem with cities having to buy the equipment and keep all the money -- IF the engineering was required to use 85th percentile posted speeds and yellows calculated that way. There would be no cameras, they would lose too much money. James C. Walker, NMA
Donald Ramsell April 12, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Jack. I admit that I paid little attention to Mayor Burns until recently, but that does not detract from the fact that he was willing to lie to Jeff Ward about these redlight cameras. And any other 'good deeds' he has performed do not allow him to mislead citizens about how these cameras are being used by his town, nor does it mean he can use 'company time' to work on his own promotions to bigger offices. As far as your other comments, such as cutting out real police and expanidng the use of cameras to catch speeders on your street, I think you are in an extreme minority there too. I doubt if the citizens of Geneva are actually in favor of installing cameras for the purpose of monitoring their behavior - and as Thomas Jefferson said in so many words "Those that are willing to accept less liberty for more security are deserving of neither."
Jack April 12, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Donald, thanks for your response. I believe you may have misread my comments WRT cameras/speeders when you write: "As far as your other comments, such as cutting out real police and expanidng the use of cameras to catch speeders on your street, I think you are in an extreme minority there too." Here's my actual comment: "As a resident of Williamsburg Avenue, I see speeders every day who endanger the lives and property of my neighbors, in spite of the frequent presence of speed enforcement Officers. [....] I would much prefer our LEOs catch these speeders than watch intersections. Cameras can do that, and help pay for more speed enforcement too. Perhaps this would have made my meaning more clear: "I would much prefer our LEOs catch these speeders than watch intersections. Cameras can _watch intersections_, and help pay for more _human_ speed enforcement too." If you disagree that my neighbors appreciate as I do Geneva Police Dept efforts to cut down on speeding on Williamsburg Ave, I invite you to come and talk to them personally about the problem. Surely you do not ignore irresponsible driving in your own neighborhood, do you?
stix slavinski April 13, 2012 at 01:08 AM
seems as though our mayor is continually getting "caught" doing something ignorant, so why is he still here? don't we have some local talent around here that can move him out in the next election?
stix slavinski April 13, 2012 at 01:15 AM
What do you think of geneva's mayor burns? O we should get rid of him now! O we should keep him until his contract expires—and don't replace him with anyone so incompetent in the future... O we should try to find a way to keep him. we need more time to prove whether he's really as big a fool as he comes off as being
John R April 13, 2012 at 02:18 AM
My God man you nailed it! It's all about the revenue. The city needs it and red light cameras sure are gold mines. With the city of Chicago taking the lead on the installation of speed cameras expect to possible see them as well. Randall road is a good location for these cameras as the local residents are more likely to be aware of them. I would gander a guess that most of the citations are to non residents. I've personally gotten one ticket in melrose park and my wife recently got one in west Chicago. Both being rights on red. Now when I come to a camera I pound on my brakes when it turns yellow. I've seen numerous cars and trucks coming to screeching halts. Sometimes dangerously so but what can you do it's costly.
Jack April 25, 2012 at 01:17 PM
What can you do? Slow down.
Jan May 25, 2012 at 01:23 AM
Parking meters are next.

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