City Council Passes Smart Streets Ordinance that Includes License Plate Recognition 

By Edward LaSalle, The Chicago Times

March 15, 2023

CHICAGO – The City Council passed the Smart Streets Pilots Ordinance today that establishes two downtown pilot programs aimed to improve traffic safety, enhance protections for pedestrians and bicyclists, and speed up public transportation.

The ordinance, introduced in January by defeated Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and Aldermen Hopkins, La Spata, Martin, Reilly, and Vasquez, would authorize the City to use existing infrastructure and new technology to enforce parking violations, such as cars parked in bike lanes, bus-only lanes, bus stops, and crosswalks, and enable camera-based management of parking in commercial loading zones.

“The passage of this ordinance is an exciting step toward a safer and smarter transportation system.  While we continue to deepen our robust investments in infrastructure improvements, these pilot programs give us another tool in our toolbox to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as speed up our bus network.” Lightfoot said in a statement.

The Smart Streets Pilots is expected to promote safer driver behavior and better parking compliance with the goal of reducing crashes and pedestrian and cyclist fatalities while promoting use of Chicago’s network of bike lanes and bus lanes to their full potential.  Similar programs exist in cities around the country, including those already operational in New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.

The City will begin the process of selecting camera vendors and potential camera locations. The pilot programs will operate until June 2025 within the boundaries of Lake Michigan to Ashland Avenue and from North Avenue to Roosevelt.

The first pilot authorizes the City to ticket registered vehicle owners by mail for various infractions, including parking in bike lanes, bus-only lanes, crosswalks, bus stops, and no parking zones. This will help discourage drivers from illegally parking in places that put our most vulnerable road users at risk.  

The City Council believes this pilot will also promote a more reliable, efficient, and accessible bus service by deterring drivers from parking in bus-only lanes or at designated bus stops.  It is hoped that the program will discourage drivers illegally parking in dedicated bus lanes which often creates slowdowns for passengers stuck behind the parked car, and longer wait times at bus stops.  In addition, the ordinance authorizes the City to attach cameras to poles or City or CTA vehicles. 

“Once data is collected, it will be individually reviewed and then sent to the Department of Finance (DOF) to be processed. Warning notices without fines will be issued for the first 30 days after each new camera is installed and activated. Through the Clear Path Relief program, low-income drivers will continue to be eligible for reduced-priced tickets and other vehicle-related debt relief.” the Chicago Department of Transportation said in a press release.

A second pilot program will use license plate reading camera technology to facilitate more efficient driver or company payment within commercial loading zones designed for the loading and unloading of commercial vehicles. City officials say the pilot aims to prevent double-parking that puts drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians in unsafe conditions; decrease vehicle idling; reduce emissions; and create a more efficient system for payment and drop-offs for commercial drivers.  Some say this is an expansion of the mass surveillance state.