A quick thought on automated traffic enforcement

November 17, 2012 at 10:11 am

I’m waiting for the bus on Clark St and Wilson Ave, an intersection where you can see quite a few drivers behaving badly in just a short amount of time (although not as badly as at some other intersections). Aside from the speeding, dangerous to others on this street which carries a lot of pedestrians and people on bikes on nice days like this, you also see drivers breaking numerous other blatant violations like running red lights and turning right in front of a bus.

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The intersection of Clark and Wilson in Chicago. Credit: Shaun Jacobsen.

As the light for traffic on Clark turned red (not yellow), a car still about 100 feet away sped up and blew through the red light. I commented to a friend about how blatantly obvious of a violation that was when I noticed a police vehicle on Wilson just turn the other direction and do nothing about it. Of course, the officer may have had other things to do — but this doesn’t make the driver’s action any less illegal.

I believe this is one of the strongest cases for traffic cameras, not only for red-light violations but also for speeding. If we can’t rely on the police to issue traffic violations to drivers that endanger, injure, and sometimes kill others, then we should entrust that duty to machines that can record these events. Police in major cities have a lot to do, and need to focus on bigger crimes. This is a contrast from where I grew up, a very small town where the police were mainly responsible for issuing traffic and parking citations. In a city like Chicago, there is a lot more going on — but this doesn’t mean those endangering our streets get off scot-free. On the contrary, major cities have streets with multiple uses by default, and the most dangerous users of these streets (I’m not saying that all drivers are dangerous, simply that tons of metal driving at higher speeds are inherently more dangerous to people on bikes and pedestrians) should be patrolled more heavily to ensure the safety and vitality of the street and its many users.