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Jeff Ward: If Geneva Red-Light Camera Revenue Quacks Like a Duck ...

Alderman Sam Hill was half right about the red light cameras!

We’re a little late with this one because I had to wait for somefrom the city of Geneva. For those who didn’t already know, government agencies generally have at least five days in which to comply with a Freedom of  information Act request.

With the revenue data now in hand, we’ll once again turn to that most heinous of all municipal money making devices, the patently unconstitutional red-light camera.

But first, I want to thank state Sen. Chris Lauzen for reminding me just how much I appreciate my semi-sedate kind of life. To paraphrase Beacon-News reporter Matt Hanley, there’s nothing like standing on a muddy street corner while vehicles whiz right by you at 50 mph to make you feel truly alive.

Lauzen called his on the northeast corner of Williamsburg Avenue and Randall Road to highlight the support of those cameras by his GOP primary opponent, Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns.

Geneva has one set of cameras located at that corner and another at Fargo Boulevard and Randall.

Guest of honor state Sen. Dan Duffy discussed his pending anti-camera legislation, lauded Lauzen for his opposition to the scurrilous devices, and then endorsed him over Burns for Kane County Board chairman.

Of course, as has become par for the course, the wife and daughter of Burns’ long-time campaign contributor, Doug Cuscaden, also showed up holding “Burns for County Chairman” signs, such that passing motorists could clearly see them.

As the group dispersed, Alderman Sam Hill challenged me to write “the truth” about the red-light cameras. And you all know just how much I love a challenge.

“Our income from red-light cameras in negligible,” he told Kane County Chronicle reporter Brenda Schory, “In November we received nothing and in October we received $4,000 and in September we received nothing. It’s not a money maker for us … ”

And thus, the impetus for requesting the 2011 Geneva red-light camera revenue numbers.

While you can see that Alderman Hill was dead on as to the autumnal figures, the fact that he cited only that period was pretty disingenuous because his contention the cameras weren’t a “money maker” is clearly not true.

The truth is, Geneva received $177,223.31 in camera revenue which ain’t exactly chump change. I wouldn’t mind “not making” that kind of money.

“But Jeff! How can both you and Alderman Hill be correct?” My readers always ask the best questions!

As I studied the numbers, I noticed the same trend you did. While the city took in $162,034, or $27,000 a month, for the first half of the year, it only made $15,189.07, or $2,532 a month, in the second half.

Trying to get the actual formula for how Geneva and Redflex, Inc. split the cash was like pulling chicken teeth, but what we can say with certainty is that Geneva saw a 91 percent intra-year drop in monthly revenue. City Administrator Mary McKittrick explained that it was the result of fewer citations being issued.

This can only mean one of two things. Either you all finally figured out how to drive, or a major municipal policy shift occurred in June. And considering I live within spitting distance of Randall Road, I know it ain’t the former.

Whether there's a connection or not, red-light revenue started tanking right around the time Mayor Burns was considering running for the county chair, and it took a complete nose dive when he announced in August.

The average Geneva intake for the last five months of the year was just $1,475 which is a mere 10 percent of the $14,769 2011 monthly average.

“I believe the figures you have been provided show what the City Council, Police Department and community had hoped for—people's behavior along Randall Road—particularly at the intersections noted—have changed for the better,” Mayor Burns said in an e-mail. “Motorists understand, recognize and appreciate that these two intersections are indeed dangerous and they have adjusted their driving habits accordingly. Hence, the reduction of incidents, violations and tickets issued.”

If that really is the case, then I think the mayor has a bright future in the behavior-modification field because he and the city have managed to accomplish something few of us ever have—changing motorists' conduct overnight.

Most of us would’ve expected, as it was with Aurora’s recent red-light camera report, that revenue numbers would’ve declined much more gradually.

In an effort to give the mayor’s theory the benefit of the doubt, here’s my plan. Once the primary passes, the political pressure will be off. Especially when you consider who’s running, no Democrat will be sitting in that main County Board chair any time soon.

I’ll re-FOIA those Geneva red-light revenue numbers at the end of 2012, and if that revenue starts spiking back up in April …

And some of you have the nerve to say that I'm one can short of a six-pack.

Steven Sheehan February 29, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Nice piece Jeff. I think one more data point supports or refutes the City’s position. Amend your FOIA and request the zipcode for where the car is registered. If a significant % (say 70%) of the tickets issued were against motorists with a tri—city zip code, that would lend credence to the City’s explanation (behavioral). Conversely, if 70% of the tickets are issued to transients (just passing through the tri—city zipcodes) in the first half, then you would expect that trend to continue. You would also expect a spike for tickets issued to transients in November and December as their traffic volume increases around holiday shopping. Why wait a year when you can bring more transparency and accountability today?
Colin C. February 29, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Jeff, I don't know if others' experience is the same as mine but, speaking just for myself, I know where all the local red light cameras are, I avoid those intersections whenever possible, and if I do have to drive through one I am very, very careful. I will not drive in Chicago at all anymore, My behavior has been modified. Thank you B.F. Skinner!
John Smith February 29, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Really?!? What is the issue here? Are you honestly advocating that we only have to follow the law if the police are physically present? I would love to see a comparison of Geneva cameras versus other jurisdictions and how many people feel they were improperly ticketed. I was a prosecutor and the stop light law requires a full and complete stop before turning right on red. How many videos have you watched? I have watched dozens of these and in EVERY case the driver did not come to a complete stop. Many slowed and some like my spouse slowed significantly but clearly did not stop. The same theory applied to other crimes theft caught on surveillance tape shouldn't be prosecuted? What about passing bad checks, the cops don't witness it should they go free? The list gets crazier the further you go along this is a smoke screen for no reason other than to make an issue out of something that really shouldn't be an issue at all, unless you advocate the running of stop lights and stop signs.
Paul Ronald February 29, 2012 at 05:25 PM
John, this sounds really great, a society that conforms to the rules without question. No wait that might not be so good. While in Germany in the early 90s I drove the autobahn frequently and was somewhat dumbfounded that a group of cars would go 250 clicks/hour in the non-posted section and then slow to exactly the posted limit in those sections. In the US I would expect at least 10 over. From other general observations I believe their society conforms to regulations much more than we do. Is that good or bad? Maybe it explains how the German people let WWII happen? Maybe thinking outside the box is not so bad after all. In either case where does your theory stop? I gota find those library books before I am arrested for theft?
T February 29, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Who gets the ticket?? The driver who runs the red light or the owner of the car who may not be present at all?
Jim February 29, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Who needs cameras, anyway? They (indirectly) block emergency vehicles - because cars stopped at a camera hesitate to get out of the way! Other side effects: Rearenders, local $$$ sent to Oz, AZ or Goldman-Sachs, where it won't come back, and tourists and shoppers driven away. Worse, a false expectation of safety, because cameras can't stop the guys who cause the accidents, the real late runners. (If cameras worked, camera sellers wouldn't have the crash videos they supply to the media.) Want safety, no side effects? To cut car/pedestrian accidents, train your kids (and yourself) not to step out just 'cuz the walk sign came on. To cut nuisance running (a fraction of a second late), lengthen the yellows. It's cheap to do so can be done all over town. The reason the dangerous real late (multiple seconds) runs can't be stopped by the mere presence of a camera is because the runner won't know (a tourist) or won't remember (a distracted or impaired "local") that there's a camera up ahead. They're not doing it on purpose! To cut these real late runs, improve the visual cues that say, "Intersection ahead." Florida's DOT found that better pavement markings (paint!) cut running by up to 74%. Make the signal lights bigger, add backboards, and put the poles on the NEAR side of the corner. Put brighter bulbs in the street lights at intersections. Put up lighted name signs for the cross streets. Who needs cameras and their side effects?
Justin Eggar March 01, 2012 at 12:06 AM
When somebody borrows your vehicle and parks in a no-parking area, who gets the ticket? The drive who parked illegally, or the owner who might not be present? I'm not endorsing the cameras, just trying to keep us on track here.
Karl Brubaker March 01, 2012 at 03:44 AM
John, To quote Justin in a previous article- did you drive 1 mile per hour over the speed limit today? How many times? Do you realize you are breaking the law and, even though there were no police watching, you were indeed breaking the law and were a danger to your fellow motorists?
Sue Tills March 04, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Jim, I totally agree with you. Here's another one, when the pedestrian lights count down the seconds until the light turns yellow, then even the drivers can see that the light will change in 3, 2, 1 second. If they are close they have a few seconds to judge whether they need to start slowing down. Also, if right turns are so dangerous why not just make them "no turn on red".

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