Need for Speed…Camera Reform: Chicago’s Robot Enforcement Goes Too Far

By Micky Horstman

July 10, 2024

White flash. Orange envelope. Groan. Repeat.

The quintessential cycle of getting a speed camera ticket in Chicago.

In 2023, this cycle raked in $102 million for the city as one speed camera ticket was issued every 20 seconds.

Ever since former Mayor Lori Lightfoot reduced the ticketing threshold to speeding 6 mph over the limit from 10 mph in 2021, Chicago’s 169 automatic speed cameras have become increasingly predatory towards drivers. And there seems to be no stopping them.

On the campaign trail, Mayor Brandon Johnson pledged to “phase out” the cameras and reduce the citywide speed limit as an alternative.

But Johnson’s campaign promises were meant to be broken. He doesn’t seem to be weaning the city off speed cameras any time soon. When there’s profit on the line, Chicago is addicted to automated enforcement. In fact, the mayor’s going to rely on it more. Drivers beware.

Johnson’s 2024 budget banks on residents being issued $348 million in fines and fees from parking, speed camera, red-light camera and other traffic tickets. That’s $46 million more than he budgeted last year. Relying on fines to fill a budget hole is not only fiscally irresponsible, it’s immoral.

And holes there are. The city faces a $52 billion shortfall in pension debt, while Chicago Public Schools is looking at a $391 million budget gap and the Chicago Transit Authority is facing a $576 million deficit in 2026.

Instead of working to address these problems, such as by removing the wildly unpopular CTA head Dorval Carter, Johnson has been too busy trying to close magnet schools and directing $32 million in federal pandemic aid towards restarting a guaranteed income pilot program for 5,000 families.

We have a city whose leaders prioritize political whims, pet projects and nickel-and-diming tactics over financial prudency.

To make matters worse, the city is toying with fining people just for driving – not even over the speed limit.

The Chicago City Council Office of Financial Assistance has recommended adding a New York City-inspired “congestion tax” to pad its budgets, which would  automatically charge drivers in high-traffic areas. COFA’s “congestion pricing” model might include the addition of new priced lanes, a toll on non-carpool vehicles using high-occupancy lanes or a fee to enter congested areas.

Aldermen, such as Ald. Andre Vasquez, 40th, also already support a congestion tax, claiming it could generate new revenue for street repairs from suburban drivers. Imagine being taxed for the pleasure of being stuck in traffic.

With so many budget holes to fill, it’s no surprise Chicago can’t stop milking its cash cows. Even when it hurts people who leaders claim to want to help.

Automated speed and red-light cameras disproportionately affect minority and low-income communities. Even Lightfoot admitted that.

In 2023, over half the speed camera revenue came from tickets accompanied by late fees. These tacked-on fees have been linked to bankruptcy and long-lasting ticket debt for Chicago’s Black and low-income communities. Three of the five cameras that generated over $2 million in revenue for the city were located on the South Side – issuing over 138,000 tickets combined. Chicago collects the highest fines from people who can least afford it.

Those people include Ingrid Walker, 64, who’s on a fixed income of about $800 a month. Walker had never received a speeding ticket until she found herself trapped in the speed camera cycle.

She received two speed camera tickets at the same intersection, and by the time she figured out how to pay the city, she incurred a late fee, doubling the fine.

“It felt more like a punch in the face than a slap on the hand.”

While the city claimed during their implementation that speed cameras were for safety, when University of Illinois-Chicago researchers investigated, they concluded “there was little relationship between the number of tickets issued and the safety impact of cameras.” Other research has shown safety at intersections with automatic camera enforcement is mixed at best.

It’s no coincidence Johnson and City Hall recently floated a citywide initiative to lower the speed limit to 25 from 30 mph. This would undoubtedly spur more speed camera tickets, which would make the city more money – but not any safer.

If city leaders wanted to focus on safety, they could implement effective, non-punitive speed reduction strategies such as traffic circles, speed bumps or “your speed is” signs. That could allow city leaders to eliminate the speed cameras, just like Johnson promised he’d do on the campaign trail.

At the very least, the city should void the mistakes of the Lightfoot administration and rework their speed camera ticketing policies. The city can do better than allowing robo-cops to indiscriminately prey on Chicagoans and the city’s visitors. But perhaps that’s wishful thinking for Chicago politicians.

Unless they find another way to line their pockets and “balance” their budgets, the city will keep taking from those least able to afford it.


Micky Horstman is the communications associate for the Illinois Policy Institute and a contributor to Young Voices. He can be reached at


Comments 29

  1. That is a good idea, and the easiest to do, Mark. An even better idea is to just avoid Chicago entirely. When the Democrats succeed in driving everyone with any money away with their fines, fees, and taxes, just the voters who support the Democrats will be left. The voters will receive both their just rewards and what they deserve.

    1. Just gate entrance into da city and have armed guards charge everything coming and goin a fee.
      Take da cash and steal it.
      Kinda like east Berlin in some places already. Chicago sicker than jojo

  2. The entire camera idea of which I was a contributor when they originally manifested in the city is not 100% absurd. Asking people to slow down in a school zone is reasonable. The system most definitely needs to be reworked. There are definitely flaws. Do people speed? Yes. Do kids run out into the street? Yes. From a safety perspective the idea has merit. To merely pad the budget is unacceptable. The talking heads need to reconvene and iron out a plan that is not a hard core offensive money grab. It can be done, they just have to want to get it done.

  3. While I am not a fan of speed cameras or red light cameras, with me being on the road all day long, I find that they are a necessary evil. The rules of the road have been thrown out the window. Drivers have become more reckless and distracted which makes them more dangerous. I’ve been dinged a few times by them, I am not immune. After a couple tickets, it changes your habits. If it doesn’t, then that’s on you.
    As far as a “ congestion tax”, I think that is overreaching.Our company already adds on a “ city surcharge “ for service calls run in the city ( south of Irving, east of Pulaski) simply because of the amount of additional time technicians spend behind the wheel sitting in traffic, circling neighborhoods looking for parking, time spent walking 2-4 blocks with their tools and equipment, etc…
    We also bill all parking charges incurred back to the customer as well. These added charges don’t sit well with a lot of our clients, but most realize as a business, it must be done. If the congestion tax gets implemented, we will tack that on to our bill too. I urge all city residents to contact their aldermen to squash this idea of the congestion tax. In the end, the residents will be the ones footing that bill, and the city leaders will be forcing even more businesses and residents out.

  4. Strong column by Horstman and a great comment by Nitzsche.

    For decades now, Chicago’s many employees have enjoyed a rushed early retirement with a cushy pension they could never get in the private sector. Now increasing numbers of Chicago citizens are rushing to move to Wisconsin or Indiana so they can stop paying for those pensions (also stop living in a shooting gallery).

    So the CTU Mayor thinks he can pay the huge, mounting tab by charging more speeders? Better hurry, Brandon.

  5. I’ve gotten nailed several times but now know we’re the traps are. But u kno what: OBEY THE LAW FOOLS. REDUCE THE CITIE’S INCOME FROM THE TRAPS BY OBEYING THE LAW. Conservatives are about the law, obey the law. Well, obey the damn traffic laws and reduce the cities income. Great way to stick it to them. Besides your not going to get somewhere quicker by going over the limit.
    The state of Illinois could reduce their debt in a year if they ticketed all the a holes speeding and risking others lives.

    1. Could not agree more! You NEVER get anywhere faster by taking risks, speeding or otherwise. The reward, on average is exactly nill, the risk exponential. Driving in the city is like a living video game. Screw the City and the State. But more importantly, as Mr. Rudd points out, adopt conservative values, escape the Democrat stranglehold. Learn how happy you can be as a conservative, by obeying the law, I mean its the BOMB! Its a guaranteed ROI.

  6. Given our state & local politicians prioritizing their “political whims, pet projects and nickel-and-diming tactics over financial prudency.”, these speed cameras are not going away.

    Just like drug junkies, our IL politicians always need & get their next “fix” of tax money at society’s expense. Case in point, for their next fix I just got a 23%+ property tax assessment increase. I guess they finished pissing away the Covid money handout from grandpa Joe in DC, leaving nothing to show for it, just like a junkie.

  7. As soon as I retired I left that wretched city. Whenever I visit I’m especially careful of the speed traps. There are phone apps that are pretty good at alerting you also. Many are free to download on your tracker( cellphone). AND THEN I SPEND ALL OF MY MONEY IN THE STATE OF INDIANA. I spend nothing in the city of Chicago or the State of Illinois. If you unfortunately rent a car at O’hare, that car would cost you half the rental in Indiana. Chicago is on the process of gutting the golden goose. As they drive away the taxpayers hopefully the fools that remain get what they deserve.

  8. Quit giving the unions everything that they want. Especially the CTU, but that will NEVER happen because of the concern that the mayor has for his former employer. The CTU is also who got him elected.
    No conflict of interest in this incestuous relationship. The people have to be nuts to vote for this guy.

  9. I’ll give you automated enforcement. I received the red notice from the City of Chicago for a parking violation. $100 fine for allegedly parking on the wrong side of the street (in Bucktown.)
    Problem was, the rental car in question was not in Chicago on the day. It was never in Chicago except to be dropped off at O’Hare. I provided written documentation of the car’s location from rental in Duluth, Mn, through LaCross and into the rental car return. During my written communication with the court, I was told that to contest the fine, I would need to come to court, wiping out a whole work day. As I could not afford this, I paid the fine. Justice in Illinois!!!

  10. I’m speculating here but I bet it’s a royal pain if your car is stolen and the criminals run up a bunch of speed camera tickets. Given Chicago’s past performance I imagine it’s extremely difficult to get them to cancel the tickets.

  11. Great Column.

    Im for practical law and order. I want safety in a school zone.

    But guess what we get nothing. I tell my children who work in the city, break every law known to man when driving, do not get stuck in traffic and become a victim. These hoodlums prey on people in traffic and at red lights.

    Your alive, not hurt, and live to pay the stupid tickets.

    We cant get the police to respond to burglars in your home, dispatchers says let them run away, and you call six times and get a blue and white six hours after the fact. Then they tell u not to touch anything, you will get a evidence technician in one or two days. No evidence technician ever shows up.

    Guess what Chicago if your in trouble, run, drive like hell. Even worse in an emergency, in a crash, call and say your cars on fire and ure in distress, because you will get five brave firemen in four or five minutes, than waiting in a dangerous area for a police department that does not have the resources to respond.

    Its a fact. Your on your own.

    This is the society we have become. The city thorough fares, boulevard’s, and the expressways are not safe, and never will be again in my life time.

  12. You know, if they were really serious about speed cams, they’d put ’em on the freeways/tollways. They’d make a mint during those (admittedly short) times when traffic is flowing…

  13. Got a warning for going 35 in a 25 on Irving Park Rd. Normally, the speed limit is 35, but it drops to 25 because of a park near the river. Beautiful speed trap. My daughter has lived in Chicago for 4 years and hasn’t received one ticket. Do I think they target non-Chicago residents? Of course! My advice. is bring the GPS which shows all the speed camera locations. Or better yet, if possible, don’t go to Chicago.

  14. Should I go to dinner in the city or stay in the suburbs? Staying in hte burbs.

    Go into the city for sporting events? No – I will DVR it and watch it when I can.

    Pay for gas in Cook County or IL for that matter? I’m in the northern suburbs and 15 minutes away from the WI border, where gas has been $0.80 per gallon cheaper. IL is the 2nd highest tax rate on gas in the country – around $0.85 per gallon. No – I make the drive and give it to WI.

    Let’s see – IL has legalized gambling and makes additional money here.

    It has opened up numerous gambling casinos throughout the state – new additional money here.

    IL is now the drug dealer also – opening up dispensaries on every other block where legal. Big time revenue source here for Chicago and the state.


    The answer is easy – when you have one of the most corrupt governments in this country sitting in Chicago and Springfield – AND YOU KEEP ON VOTING THESE PATHETIC REPRESENTATIVES FOR US INTO THEIR JOBS, YOU GET WHAT YOU DESERVE.


  15. I quit driving in Chicago years ago. I have very little need to go there anymore except to see my daughter, but I take an Uber when I go visit. I miss the city sometimes but in the North Suburbs you can eat in restaurants just as good and the parking is free. Also, no gangbangers up here.
    The city I grew up in and loved has been dead for a long time now.

  16. The big problem with the cameras is being stuck behind a slow moving slug turning left while trapped as the light goes red….guilty as charged.

  17. I forgot to mention the temple pounding enactment a few years ago of silently shortening the yellow a fraction of a second. Feel safer ?

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