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Windy City Bids Farewell To More Red-Light Cameras

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has promised to remove 50 red-light cameras in the city. At the same time, he also announced plans to allow first-time offenders to take an online traffic safety course in lieu of paying the $100 fine. Not coincidentally, he faces stiff competition from Jesus "Chuy" Garcia in an April 7 runoff.

Mayor Emmanuel also promised to hasten the installation of countdown timers to reduce the number of people who suddenly slam on their brakes to stop at a light. The red-light camera program was the brainchild of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. In the past two years, the cameras have been the subject of a Department of Transportation investigation and a large bribery conspiracy.

Would-be Mayor Garcia has campaigned to end the " red light ripoff" and has said he would remove the cameras on his first day in office. Mr. Garcia has not indicated, however, how he would replace the $70 million in revenue.

Like so many other government programs, red-light cameras are not a bad idea. Many cash-strapped cities, like Bakersfield, were simply lured by the siren's song of easy money, and some officials made some poor decisions regarding implementation.

First of all, a city official instead of a corporate clerk should review the evidence and then decide who gets a citation and who gets a warning. Second, and this is already being done, the cameras should be recalibrated to reflect the actual speed at the intersection as opposed to the posted speed limit, so the yellow light stays on a fraction of a second longer. Third, the cameras should not operate 24/7/365. There is no point in issuing a red-light citation at 3:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

With these and other improvements, the system may still be salvageable. But, as currently constituted, it needs to go.