Departing Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein told aldermen Wednesday that drivers who get speed camera tickets are either distracted by their phones or have been drinking.
The comments came as Klein testified at a City Council budget hearing where he said Mayor Rahm Emanuel's controversial new ticket-issuing devices are helping to reduce speeding where they're up and running.
Klein asserted that because only warning tickets are first issued for 30 days, everyone gets a first-time warning once the cameras are "live" and flashing speed indicator signs warn drivers, the only way to get a ticket is if "you are just not paying attention."
"So you literally have to be on your phone or drinking if you get a ticket," Klein said.
Nevertheless, Emanuel is counting on collecting $65 million to $70 million next year from the cameras going up near parks and schools across the city. Sometime next year, they will be up in 50 so-called safety zones, all with cameras.
"Right now, we have 18 cameras that are live," said Scott Kubly, the transportation official overseeing the speed camera program. "It looks like seven of those are issuing citations at this point, and 11 are issuing warnings."
It was likely Klein's last time testifying before the council because he plans to leave City Hall at the end of the month. Some aldermen suggested that was a good thing, contending that under Klein the Transportation Department has done a poor job of communicating when streets are being repaired, bicycle lanes are going in or speed cameras are going up.
In some quarters, Klein has been criticized for his emphasis on bike lanes, the Divvy bike-sharing program and other alternatives to automobile travel. In others, he's been called progressive and farsighted.
Even Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, a Klein supporter, suggested work will need to be done in the department. "I would respectfully submit that you need to place a greater premium on really engaging on a direct level each alderman and our offices to help you make the good decisions," Reilly said.
At times, Klein seemed bemused by the criticism. The most light-hearted moment came when Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., 27th, said the department needed to better coordinate various projects, then added: "And you gone, so it don't really matter."
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