Overhauling or Scrapping Photo Radar

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photo radar in Spruce Grove

When you want to get a reaction out of a Spruce Grove resident, ask their opinion on photo radar. This is an issue that can greatly divide opinions, but is there a middle ground?

Photo radar is also known in Spruce Grove as Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE). Of course no one calls it that but if you’re looking for specific information about it on the city website, look up ATE instead.

Check out my video on photo radar and next steps on my Facebook page.

When we discuss photo radar, pieces of information seem to be lacking. There is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to communicating to the residents of Spruce Grove about photo radar. The transparency in the program is almost nil. Other than the lists of approved location and the presentation given to council reviewing photo radar (which lacked a lot of detail), we don’t know much else unless we ask for it.

I’ll address this in another post but if we were an open data city, and had an open data portal, we could pull the data we need to determine on our own (and not a heavily edited presentation document) whether photo radar works and where it works.

For or against photo radar?

In its current form, I’m against it. I think it’s a questionable program at best and there is a serious lack of accountability and transparency about the current contract and its effectiveness. If there were to be no further changes to how the program is operated, I would be in favour of scrapping it altogether.

I could, and I only say could, because I don’t have enough facts and objective information to review yet, where it’s possible photo radar in Spruce Grove could be acceptable. There are valid reasons why photo radar was introduced in Alberta in the first place- to curb excessive speeding and reduce serious injury and deadly collisions in high collision intersections and stretches of road. Photo radar is meant to change behaviours of drivers to be aware and understand consequences of high speed. But the concept of speed and what speeding is, has been abused for profit. If we examine photo radar and go back to its original intent, perhaps residents could accept it here.But there are a number of conditions. Until conditions are met, I’m not comfortable supporting the program.

Conditions

 

There are conditions that must be met first. And this list is in no-way complete. I’ve written these to show the complexity of the issue and that we must be absolutely sure this program is working and that it is the best option for what concern we’re trying to solve.

  1. Bring the program in-house. This is a no-brainer. There is a lack of trust with it being executed  by a third party vendor. It is a for-profit company so of course, to stay in business, they have to issue tickets. I’m not accusing them of rigging the system, they are able to take advantage of the lax system we have now. For me and other residents to have more control of this program, to see accountability and transparency of this program brought forward, it has to be an in-house program.
  2. The public (residents) have to have input into where photo radar can set up and be located. This includes red light cameras as well. Currently, some of the locations lend themselves to us questioning whether this program is about reducing harm or generating revenue. There are locations where there have been zero collisions and if there is speeding, it’s only a few km over the posted speed limit. Why would you set up a location there? Many of us are okay with areas like school zones, construction zones and high collision intersections having photo radar set up. But mark the locations well so people see signs and actually slow down! These zones are important (and should be mixed with in-person enforcement) that people understand that speed can seriously harm or kill a person in these locations.
  3. Residents should be able to request photo radar be set up in the neighbourhoods where speeding on side-streets is an issue and much more of a concern. Someone doing 65km/hr on a 60km street is not as worrisome as having someone do 65km/hr down a residential street, where kids have a higher chance of running out into the road and being hit. Residents should be able to ask for specific times and locations, to help curb behaviour and increase street safety in their neighbourhoods.
  4. We have to make the statistics of this program publicly available. If city council wants the residents to trust their judgment on this program, they need the statistics. There can be no question raised within the stats as to whether it is photo radar making the impact or whether it’s other factors that is influencing the reduction in speeds and collisions. I work with statistics all the time and know how easy it is to cherry pick statistics to make it work for your point and ignore others that work against it. There’s also ways to interpret data differently so we need to be open and forthcoming about the program.
  5. It is a revenue generator and we have to admit that. But let’s be smarter with the revenue. Do not put it into general revenue (that is questionable) but earmark it for projects like increasing traffic safety (more crosswalks and highly visible ones or building parks or public works etc.). With the Government of Alberta reviewing the photo radar program for the province, we cannot count on this revenue as part of the budgeting process, because the provincial government could scrap the program altogether.

Don’t speed, don’t get a ticket?

Some people believe this is an easy solution- don’t speed, don’t get a ticket. But is it that simple? I don’t think it is. Some roads are artificially low in speeds and it’s not appropriate to ticket someone going a few km over the speed limit. We need to review road speeds instead if we’re seeing a consistent speed being caught with photo radar.

We also know some people look for photo radar locations or red light cameras and slow down way before they get there, often under the speed limit. So their behaviour has changed to anticipate the camera, rather than watching what traffic is doing around them. We’ve all been behind someone who slams on their brakes at an intersection, nearly causing an accident, when the safest procedure for them would have been to enter the intersection on the yellow light. I myself have been behind people who slam their brakes on and drive well below the speed limit because they’ve spotted a photo radar van. How is this safe?

Referendum

Maybe this issue is big enough and serious enough we need a referendum on it and decide once and for all. We need to present all the facts, though and deliver it in a neutral way.

Let’s understand the revenue loss if it leaves. Let’s get an understanding of what we’ll do should collisions and speeding start to creep up again. Let’s research how much money it would cost to hire more peace officers to be ou to on the streets. Let’s know if it’s true that people avoid 16a and take Yellowhead because we’ve developed a reputation of putting photo radar on a highway.

Regardless of what any of us feel about photo radar, it’s good to discuss and we have an opportunity to make changes if warrranted when the current vendor contract expires.