Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbors’ Goods with Red Light “Scameras”

red_light_camera.jpgSeven years ago, I led a protest against red light cameras in Lombard, at the local headquarters of a multinational red light camera company. Organizing mostly on the internet, we worked with folks across Chicagoland to stop the spread of these cameras, urging that red light cameras are “unsafe, unwanted, and unnecessary.” Soon thereafter, plans were shelved in neighboring communities to expand red light camera usage, and the cameras came down in Lombard. Some towns even followed Lombard’s example and removed their cameras altogether.

Well, red light cameras are back in a big way—at the primary intersection serving Oak Brook Mall, Route 83 and 22nd Street. The story is a strange one, stemming from the unique geography of municipal boundaries near the mall. You see, that busy intersection is inside the boundaries of Oakbrook Terrace, while the neighboring mall is inside of the Village of Oak Brook.

In 2012, the city fathers of Oakbrook Terrace tried to put up a red light camera at the intersection, hoping to cash in on visitors to Oak Brook Mall. However, since a state road is involved, the approval of the Illinois Department of Transportation was required.

After a long delay, the request was denied earlier this year by IDOT, on the basis that there were not sufficient safety reasons to have cameras at that intersection. However, Oakbrook Terrace tried again, and without warning to the public, IDOT reversed course and approved the cameras, on the basis of “violations”—in other words, because the cameras would be able to snag a lot of folks turning right-on-red without coming to a complete stop.

Yes, IDOT approved the cameras solely because they’ll make Oakbrook Terrace a lot of money, and despite finding that there are not sufficient safety reasons to have cameras at that intersection.

The danger in putting up cameras right at the entrance to Oak Brook Mall is that folks will boycott the mall, just as many did when Schaumburg put cameras outside of Woodfield Mall. After less than a year, facing massive protests and loss of shoppers at their mall, the village fathers in Schaumburg wisely removed the cameras.

The fear here is that, unlike the Schaumburg situation, where that village was losing sales tax revenue because of its red light camera, Oakbrook Terrace may not feel similar pain if sales decline substantially at the neighboring Oak Brook Mall.

There may also be further impact throughout the area, since over the past ten years, a wonderful shopping corridor has developed along Butterfield Road and 22nd Street, anchored by Oak Brook Mall and Lombard’s Yorktown Mall. That corridor benefits all of our local communities, in a variety of ways, whether making our communities more appealing places to live, providing jobs, or bringing in needed sales and property tax revenue. The friendly competition between municipalities to bring in the latest and most exciting restaurants, shopping opportunities, and hotels is rightly a source of pride for all of our towns.

But a red light camera doesn’t add any economic value to our shared corridor—a red light camera at an entry intersection to our corridor is a parasite, intended only to suck money out of unsuspecting shoppers and commuters. Such a camera does nothing to improve safety but instead risks harming all of the businesses and towns along the corridor.

At this point, I’m hearing rumors of boycotts of Oakbrook Terrace businesses, but that seems a bit premature to me. I think the first thing folks should do is contact the city officials in Oakbrook Terrace to respectfully express your displeasure. You can call Oakbrook Terrace at (630) 941-8300.

I also intend to put forward legislation to prevent IDOT from allowing red light cameras at this intersection—or at any intersection where there is no proven safety reason to do so. Legislation takes a while, though, so the quickest way to remedy this situation is for Oakbrook Terrace to reverse their current course of action.

Illinois is broken, and we all have a responsibility to work together to fix it. More red light cameras won’t help us grow jobs or reform government. They’ll just take more money from hard-working Illinoisans, without providing any benefit in return.