In a speech Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel attempted to make the case that he has stanched the deterioration of Chicago's infrastructure by prioritizing long-neglected improvements to city streets and public transportation.
(TNS) Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday appeared open to the idea of adding countdown timers to let drivers know how much time is left on green lights at intersections controlled by red light cameras.
The topic came up in response to a question about what the mayor meant this week when he said he would reform the troubled and unpopular red light camera ticketing system. Emanuel offered no specifics Thursday on a timeline or where he would find the money to add the new technology at intersections across the city.
"Finally, I also think if we look at the countdown, I want to make sure we have the countdown clock throughout the system," Emanuel said. "That's another additional reform."
Last week, two aldermen introduced a plan requiring countdowns be put in at all intersections with the cameras. That came after the Tribune reported last fall that the Emanuel administration quietly issued a new, shorter yellow light standard when the city began the transition from red light camera vendor Redflex Traffic Systems to Xerox State & Local Solutions in February 2014.
The switch to a 2.9-second yellow came after the city had long set the standard length for yellow lights at three seconds. About $7.7 million in tickets were issued to motorists caught driving through signals with yellow lights that were at least 2.9 seconds long. The city later returned to a three-second yellow light standard.
Last month, the Tribune published a story in which researchers it hired to analyze the effects of the city's red light cameras found that at nearly half the intersections in the study, the cameras did nothing to make drivers safer and may have caused an increase in injury-related crashes.
A re-election-seeking Emanuel turned Thursday into an Infrastructure Day of sorts as he gave a City Club speech on the topic, announced endorsements from several unions and plans by Amtrak to spend $12 million to renovate parts of Union Station. The tightly planned series of events and announcements helps Emanuel try to keep the focus of the day on the themes he wants to discuss, forcing the other mayoral candidates to react to him.
At the City Club, Emanuel attempted to make the case that he has stanched the deterioration of Chicago's infrastructure by prioritizing long-neglected improvements to city streets and public transportation and wringing money out of Springfield and Washington, D.C., to help pay for it.
The mayor emphasized the upgrades he has made to public transit in African-American neighborhoods. He's been working to shore up African-American support heading into the Feb. 24 mayoral election, where he faces four challengers who have hit him repeatedly on what they say has been his focus on the downtown area to the exclusion of poorer outlying neighborhoods.
"We also completely rebuilt Red Line south, on time and under budget," Emanuel said, referring to work to improve the Chicago Transit Authority line that serves several neighborhoods with large African-American populations.
He also touted sewer main work and pothole filling, and talked about a playground renovation program. The mayor argued that while infrastructure work "isn't so sexy," it helps position the city for the future.
Emanuel, however, did not mention the doubling of city sewer and water rates in his first term that covered the cost of much of the recent street work.
The overflow crowd at the City Club included many city department heads, lobbyists and contractors, who laughed along with the mayor and applauded him repeatedly during the speech.
Emanuel defended the controversial plan for bus rapid transit he has proposed for portions of Ashland Avenue as a key way to improve transportation options in the city, but his talk did not include the fact that he shut down several low-ridership bus lines after taking office.
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