River Forest to let SafeSpeed contract expire

But village will seek to continue red-light camera program in the future

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Contributing Reporter

River Forest officials appear committed to keeping the three red-light cameras in the village, but they apparently will not be operated by SafeSpeed LLC.

At the Feb. 24 village board meeting, Village Administrator Eric Palm informed officials that staff intend to decline to renew River Forest's contract with SafeSpeed, allowing the contract to expire July 1. 

Separately, staff intend to issue a request for proposals for services to consider other vendors. The village originally contracted with SafeSpeed in 2011.

In addition to River Forest, SafeSpeed LLC operates red-light cameras in more than two dozen municipalities in northern Illinois, generating millions of dollars in fines, predominantly from people failing to make a complete stop before turning right.

One of River Forest's red-light cameras is at Harlem and North avenues and the other two are at Lake Street and Harlem Avenue. 

Fines for red-light camera violations are set at $100 per ticket by the state. Under the current contract with SafeSpeed, River Forest receives $60 from each ticket.  

SafeSpeed is reportedly at the center of a federal investigation that led former state Sen. Martin Sandoval to plead guilty to accepting $70,000 bribes in exchange for protecting the interests of the red-light camera industry in the Illinois General Assembly.

Sandoval remains free on bond and is cooperating with federal investigators in what appears to be a wide-ranging corruption probe involving local politicians and large contributors, including SafeSpeed, and lobbyists.

In response to a question from Trustee Erika Bachner on Feb. 24, Palm said there are three other red-light camera vendors with contracts with other municipalities. She expressed a desire to avoid firms that "trick" drivers into making illegal turns. 

Palm said the village's contract with SafeSpeed gives River Forest officials control of whether tickets are issued. 

Trustee Bob O'Connell asked if SafeSpeed would be eligible to bid, but Palm said he believed the firm's "current difficulties" made that seem unlikely.

In response to a question from Trustee Patty Henek, Palm said multiple bills are pending in the Illinois General Assembly that would outlaw red-light cameras, but noted at least one would affect only non-home rule municipalities, including River Forest.

Two bills are pending in the Illinois House and one in the Illinois Senate that were introduced last fall and are still awaiting committee assignments. All three reportedly have bipartisan support.

At least one town that has partnered with SafeSpeed in recent years, Oak Lawn, has pulled the plug on the devices. Cameras in that southwest suburb went dead on Jan. 1, after the village board voted not to renew its contract with SafeSpeed, and Tinley Park's village board signaled in December that it may follow suit.

Should River Forest choose to end its red-light camera program, it would eliminate a revenue stream that's used to fund capital projects.

Over the past five years, River Forest has collected more than $4 million in red-light camera fines, according to village budget documents.

New state Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), meanwhile, is calling for a "full review of the red-light program in Illinois" after the latest revelations involving Sandoval.

"What I read in the [Sandoval] plea agreement is disgusting," Harmon said in an email message to Wednesday Journal. "These cameras were meant to protect the public from irresponsible drivers. Running a red light is incredibly reckless and dangerous. That public safety goal, unfortunately, appears to have been lost.

"There is legislation already pending in the Senate for a review of red-light cameras, and I plan to talk to my colleagues to see how to best address this troubling issue."

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Reader Comments

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Tommy McCoy  

Posted: February 26th, 2020 12:07 PM

Chris Johnson some of your story has some holes in it although I get your point and if you notice it has some thing to do with cell phones and the way people have been taught to drive and also if you are a walker you should already anticipate a driver may not notice you. We are in a different time and until the new technology is added to vehicles that stop for the driver at stop signs or for crossing pedestrians then it is going to be the responsibility of the pedestrian in protect from being hit by a moving vehicle. There are also uber and lyft drivers who are getting their hustle on who will back down major streets and have no time to observe pedestrians. The one thing that I do not understand is how are real businesses like UPS being allowed to route through T alleys when the company knows that is not allowed

Chris Johnson from OP  

Posted: February 26th, 2020 11:31 AM

Susan - I completely get what you mean. BUT... I'm just getting old and I get really annoyed when cars turn on a red and nearly hit people crossing. Then think its the person's fault. I feel that we should have speed cameras and stop sign cameras as well. Just yesterday someone blew a stop sign weaving to miss a middle/high school student and then missed a 70ish year old woman by a foot. Proceeded to blow through EVERY stop sign down the street. I had someone get so frustrated because I actually stop at those silly things. They swerved to go around me and ended up driving through someone's lawn... then blew the next stop sign. As a pedestrian (and often runner) I have been clipped by mirrors because people think signs are optional. Heaven forbid they actually take blame. I'm often the one being yelled/sworn at. My favorite was while walking. I waited for a stopped car to proceed, then I started to cross. The next car must have thought that person was just crazy for stopping randomly because he accelerated through the intersection. He was on his phone. I was pounding on his windshield for his attention because he had no idea what was going on. But, it wasn't his fault. The "sun was in my eyes." I told him that doesn't matter, if he had stopped I wouldn't have been hit. But he didn't care. Another woman nearby just backed up his story that the sun was in his eyes. I pulled out my phone and asked both to stay there while I called the police. Lady took off very quickly and the driver then immediately started to apologize. I had severe bruising up my whole left side and found out later my laptop had a crack in the case.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: February 25th, 2020 10:06 PM

Red light cameras really are helping because people are learning not to turn when there is a red light camera. Since it was not mentioned in the story, there are not speed trap cameras in Chicago, so River Forest may want to check into placing some speed trap cameras in some bushes and find out if any money can be collected in that effort. I understand Mr. Harmon thinks the red light cameras are suppose to help protect people although a little surprised that this seems to me new to him. Good think he will be checking until it

Susan Montgomery from CHICAGO  

Posted: February 25th, 2020 4:30 PM

I grrew up not far from the Lake and Harlem intersection. After getting one ticket for not coming to a complete stop, I now avoid that intersection at all costs! Seriously? This is really helping with traffic control and public safety? No, it's adding to the village coffers!

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