Chicago’s Red Light District

I came home on Monday to a letter from the City of Chicago. The giant, bold red, masthead spelled out the reason for the correspondence–it was a Red Light Violation notice. My car was tagged by one of the city’s stationary crimecams, this one perched at the intersection of Hollywood and Sheridan (the superbusy crossroads that serve as the north entrance to Lake Shore Drive).

“What?” I said. “That’s ridiculous.” Then I looked closer at the notice. There were three pictures of my car: The first was of my car tripping the camera at the crossroad line. The second was of my car in the middle of the intersection while the light was red. The final one was an extreme close up of my license plate. 

Things looked bad. But, I thought, maybe there was room to contest this. Maybe conditions demanded that I drive the way I did. Included with the notice was a flyer that read, “Video of your red light camera violation is available online at: http://www.cityofchicago.org/revenue.”; Not only were there pictures taken, they made a movie of my infraction. You Tube has nothing on the city of Chicago.

I clicked over to the city’s site, plugged in my citation and license plate numbers, sat back, and prepared for the show. 

As I watched the video, I became furious. Indignant. Angry to the point of slamming my fist down on my desk. My anger wasn’t directed towards the city; I focused it all on myself. They had me dead to rights. I clearly ran the red. I was guilty as charged, with a clear-as-day video to back it up.

Two lessons that can be learned from my experience:

1) You’re being watched. Nothing you do is confidential, private, or exempt from future exploitation or repercussion. Next time you’re walking around the city, look up. There are cameras everywhere, recording your moves like a passive P.I.

2) Don’t run a red light. It’s not safe, and it’ll likely set you back $100.

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