Bloomington, Normal Police Diverge On Approach To Speeding Tickets | WGLT

Bloomington, Normal Police Diverge On Approach To Speeding Tickets

Dec 7, 2018

You don’t need to tell Glenda Jackson that people drive too fast on Hershey Road. She already knows.

She’s a crossing guard for Stevenson Elementary School on Bloomington’s east side, spending two hours every day helping kids at Hershey and Arrowhead Drive. That’s one of the most ticketed intersections in Bloomington for speeding. Jackson has seen lots of people pulled over—and plenty of close calls as her students try to cross.

“It could be because it’s a winding road. And perhaps motorists think they’re on a raceway rather than a regular road. I think they just like going around those curves,” she said.

Hershey is one of the hottest hot spots in Bloomington-Normal for speeding tickets, according to GLT analysis of citations from local police. That same analysis shows very different approaches to speeding by Bloomington Police and Normal Police.

Normal Police write a lot of tickets—over 2,600 last year, and they’re on a similar pace in 2018. That’s 10 times as many as Bloomington Police. Normal’s 2017 tally was also higher than other larger downstate metro communities such as Springfield, Peoria, and Decatur.

INTERACTIVE MAP: See the most-ticketed locations in Bloomington-Normal, based on data from Jan. 1, 2017, through Aug. 31, 2018.

Data from Bloomington Police, Normal Police, and ISU Police Department.

Bloomington Police wrote 274 speeding tickets in 2017—less than one per day. That’s a steep decline from just 10 years ago, when BPD would write over 2,400 each year. That was before Bloomington eliminated its traffic enforcement division.

GLT’s analysis of local speeding tickets shows:

  • If you’re driving in Normal, definitely obey the speed limit during the noon hour on Wednesdays. Especially on Main Street between the entrance to Fairview Park and Gregory Street. Those are the most frequently ticketed time, day, and location in Normal.
  • Six of the Top 10 most ticketed locations in Bloomington are on Hershey Road, led by its intersections with Arrowhead, Ridge, and Morningside.
  • The speediest speeder ticketed by Bloomington Police happened around 4:30 p.m. Feb. 9, 2018, at White Eagle and Sable Oaks in a residential area near Gaelic Park on the far east side. That driver was allegedly going 80 mph in a 30 mph zone.

Normal’s Approach

Normal Police’s traffic division includes two officers at a time, said Chief Rick Bleichner. Each work four 10-hour shifts, which means the town has officers devoted to traffic violations from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. throughout the week.

"I don't think traffic safety is anything we should apologize for."

“I don't think traffic safety is anything we should apologize for,” Bleichner said. “I think the fact that we, when we look at it year in and year out, and the number of fatalities that we have or we don't have, we have a relatively low number compared to other agencies. Again, it's nothing that I'm going to apologize for. I think it's certainly something that we would tout.”

Bleichner said 50 percent of drivers stopped are not Bloomington-Normal residents. A quarter live in Bloomington, and the rest are residents of Normal, he said.

Drivers caught going less than 10 mph over tend to get a warning, he said. NPD has issued over 5,300 written and verbal warnings this year, he said.

“So, once you get over 10 miles per hour, it's like 'eight or nine you're fine, 10 you're mine,' you're gonna probably get a ticket,” Bleichner told GLT’s Sound Ideas.

Normal’s most-ticketed areas between Jan. 1, 2017, and Aug. 31, 2018:

  • 700 N. Main St. between Fairview Park and Illinois State University, where 349 speeding tickets (or 8.2 percent of all tickets) were given out. That’s also a hot spot for ISU Police. Its Top 3 most-ticketed intersections are all in that area too.
  • College Avenue near Epiphany Catholic Church, approximately between William and Blair drives.
  • Vernon Avenue near Anthony Drive. That’s where Vernon curves, just east of Colene Hoose Elementary School.

“We look at the locations where crashes occur and the types, the causes that contribute to those crashes, and then we also look at factors that either contribute to the crash or contribute to the severity. And that's my opinion on speeding—that speeding does both,” Bleichner said.

Speeding Tickets - Downstate
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Bleichner said NPD’s data show focusing enforcement efforts in high-crash areas reduces crashes.

“That's what we attempt to do. Now I'm not saying that there aren't certain violations that are written that aren't tied to areas where we're having crashes, but we try and focus a lot of our efforts on locations where crashes are occurring. So, our goal is to, if we start to see a spike, we address that as timely as we can so that we can hopefully curb that.”

He says as a result of this, the spikes in speeding ticket hot spots will change over time. Two areas Bleichner says are almost always in the Top 5 are Main Street and Veterans Parkway.

“There's a heavy flow of vehicle traffic on that. Plus, we have a fair amount of traffic crashes in those locations. So from our standpoint, if we can direct some enforcement efforts in those locations our hope is that we're slowing people down. Again, hopefully reducing the number of crashes, and if there are crashes, reducing the severity of crashes.”

Bloomington Police officials also say crash data guide their enforcement decisions, though it led them to a different approach than Normal.

BPD’s traffic enforcement division was eliminated around eight years ago, to free up resources for other police priorities. The drop in speeding citations was sudden, according to BPD data. In 2009 BPD issued nearly 2,800 tickets. In 2010 it fell to 531.

These days, BPD Assistant Chief Ken Bays said enforcement is largely guided by complaints. If a neighborhood has concerns, BPD can deploy a speed-display sign that not only spooks drivers into slowing down, but also gathers data on the worst days and times of the week. BPD can later use that to deploy ticket-writers at the most opportune times. Officers can also check out radar guns whenever they have time.

When you get a speeding ticket, typically you pay at least a $120 fine. Normal and Bloomington’s different approaches to speeding tickets means they bring in different amounts of revenue. That exact revenue is difficult to track because neither municipality or the McLean County circuit clerk’s office reports just speeding-ticket revenue.

In 2017 Normal received around $478,700 in revenue from the courts, including speeding tickets but also other court fines unrelated to speeding. A Normal patrol officer's salary and benefits cost around $109,710 annually, according to Bleichner.

Bloomington received $272,443, down 45 percent from 2007 when the traffic enforcement division still existed, according to a tally provided by McLean County Circuit Clerk Don Everhart.

Speeding Tickets - Fines and Fees
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Bays said BPD’s current strategy on speeding is informed heavily by data. They haven’t seen any major uptick in the number of crashes even without the traffic enforcement division, Bays said. There were 2,060 accidents in 2017, and 2,185 in 2007, BPD reported.

“If we see an uptick in crashes as we monitor them, we may need to reconsider how we’re allocating our resources. But with no real drastic or huge change in the amount of crashes compared to the amount of enforcement, I think we’re best serving the public and their safety concerns by the allocations we’re doing currently,” Bays said.

Restoring a traffic enforcement division could cost $500,000 to $750,000, officials said.

“When you’re looking at justifying an expenditure of $750,000 to fully staff it, to have an impact on a stagnant number of crashes—I don’t know if that’s a proper use of resources compared to the other issues we deal with on a daily basis,” Bays told GLT.

Bays argues that BPD’s limited budget ($20.5 million) and officers (128) is better spent focusing on more serious crimes. He said that philosophy has contributed to four straight years of decline in so-called UCR (Uniform Crime Reports) offenses in Bloomington—serious crimes including homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and theft.

This year’s increase in fatal shootings has kept Bloomington officers busy. Seven people have been killed by gunfire in 2018—including 20-year-old Egerton Dover this week—and eight others were shot and survived, police said.

Alderman Diana Hauman said she was a little surprised to hear of how few speeding tickets were being issued. Her Ward 8 includes part of Hershey Road, which she said she’s a little hesitant to cross on foot because of the traffic.

Hauman said Bloomington Police are responsive to concerns when they do arise.

“Without the traffic enforcement division, our officers are pulled in a whole lot of different directions,” she said.

Solutions For Speeding

There are efforts underway to reduce excessive speeding in Bloomington’s residential areas—though nearly everyone involved says police enforcement isn’t a top priority. Several ideas are pending before the Bloomington Transportation Commission.

Surena Fish lives near the main entrance to Miller Park. She said drivers fly down Wood Street, where there are no designed stoppages between Center Street and Morris Avenue.

“There’s children, people walking, riding their bikes, with their dogs, their strollers. People tend to come down Wood Street and hit the gas, and in the summertime, all of a sudden the noise level goes up, the speed goes up,” said Fish, a well-known neighborhood leader.

Fish said she’d like to see the city create a designated pedestrian crossing in the area, perhaps tied to a stop sign with flashing lights, to improve safety. But she doesn’t necessarily want to see a massive increase in police writing speeding tickets.

“Right now, we have some other much more important things in this city to take care of, crimewise,” Fish told GLT.

The Bloomington Transportation Commission this fall evaluated six options to address speeding that may be recommended to the city council to consider. Two options have already been ruled out, including restoration of BPD’s traffic enforcement division.

“The Bloomington Police Department is wildly understaffed. The city’s budget issues are well-documented,” said Bloomington Transportation Commission chair Michael Gorman. “To add a traffic enforcement division would cost about $750,000, and that’s a very expensive proposition at this time.”

Instead, Gorman wants to see streets redesigned in a way that drivers would slow themselves down. He points to Bryan Street in Normal as an aspirational redesign. It’s a “bike boulevard,” with bumpouts (or curb extensions) at most intersections.

“What that means is that when you’re driving down the street, you feel more inclined to come to a complete stop. You feel like the street is just ever so slightly less comfortable to drive really fast on, which ends up curbing people’s speed a little bit, and making it safer for people outside of cars,” Gorman said. “So looking for opportunities to do that sort of thing in targeted neighborhoods in Bloomington is something we’re looking at.”

Gorman cites research he says shows a 90 percent survival rate when a pedestrian or bicyclist is struck by a car going 20 mph. That drops to 10 percent if the car is going 40.

“If you design streets well and make sure people are going to drive at a safe speed, then you don’t need much enforcement,” Gorman said.

Alderman Karen Schmidt from Ward 6 said residential speeding is a key issue for her and her constituents, including Fish. She initiated the commission’s work on the issue.

"How do we create the community we want, when it comes to our families and our neighborhoods?"

“We’re more of a vehicle culture in (Bloomington). How do we create the community we want, when it comes to our families and our neighborhoods?” Schmidt said.

Gorman said another option that’s largely been ruled out is reducing the city’s default speed limit from 30 to 25 mph. The commission may still recommend creating a process for certain neighborhoods to request that, but a citywide approach didn’t gain traction, he said.

Brad Williams likes that idea. He’s the president of the Dimmitt’s Grove Neighborhood Association and brought his concerns to Schmidt. Williams points to Front Street, where he said he’s seen drivers going 50 mph, taking advantage of its wide design and few stoppages.

“We’re not talking about slowing traffic down on Veterans Parkway. It’s just in residential areas where there’s a lot of people, a lot of pedestrian traffic. It needs to slow down,” he said.

Bays, from BPD, said it’s unclear whether a citywide change from 30 to 25 mph would actually slow things down. Those who break the law might just continue to do so.

“Ultimately, yes, it would be very challenging for us (at BPD to enforce),” Bays said.

A similar neighborhood-driven change happened in 2017, when speed limits were reduced from 40 and 35 mph down to 30 mph on the north end of Hershey Drive, generally between Rainbow Avenue and Fort Jesse Road. That change was supported by residents of the nearby Spring Ridge neighborhood and their alderman, Joni Painter. Painter declined to be interviewed for this story.

That’s one of the reasons why so many tickets are given on Hershey Road today.

Crossing guard Glenda Jackson sees that every day. She lives in the area too, and she’s gotten to know the BPD officer who is most often there on Hershey writing tickets.

“He is phenomenal,” Jackson said. “He catches those speeders left and right. I’ve seen him do as many as three or four speeders in the one hour that I’m there in the morning.”

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