The Chicago Tribune has been plugging away on the scandal of Chicago's red-light camera program. Yesterday the city's Inspector General weighed in:
Inspector General Joseph Ferguson reported that city transportation officials identified likely causes for just three of the dozen most dramatic spikes cited in the Tribune's 10-month investigation, putting the blame on faulty equipment and inaccurate camera settings.
Ferguson said his office was unable to find reasons for any of the other anomalies, citing missing or destroyed records and his office's desire to quickly respond to public concerns raised by the Tribune's July report. The inspector general relied heavily on work conducted by the city Transportation Department and longtime camera operator Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., which was fired amid charges top company executives paid up to $2 million in bribes to win the Chicago contract.
At the same time, Ferguson said City Hall's oversight "was insufficient to identify and resolve the types of issues identified in the Tribune report."
Yes, that's right. The IG couldn't find anything because the relevant records had been destroyed. Well, except for this:
The inspector general did resolve a more recent controversy involving the red light program — disclosing that the Emanuel administration quietly issued a new, shorter yellow light standard this spring that generated 77,000 tickets that would not have been allowed before the rule change.
The administration defended the $100 tickets as valid but agreed to Ferguson's recommendation to end the new practice of issuing citations with yellow light times below 3 seconds.
Yes, Chicago's yellow lights are only 3 seconds long. That may be fine at a small intersection between two-lane roads, but it's completely inadequate for larger intersections, according to proposed standards.
It's also dangerous. And when intersections become less dangerous, red-light cameras cease to be effective. It's a strange phenomenon.