Alberta banning ‘cash cow’ photo radar on Edmonton and Calgary ring roads

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Alberta banning photo radar on Edmonton and Calgary ring roads
The Alberta government has banned photo radar on Anthony Henday Drive, where Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen said it was used as a cash cow rather than to improve safety. Kabi Moulitharan has more on the changes. – Nov 23, 2023

Photo radar is being used as a cash cow in some places across Alberta — not to improve safety — the province admitted Thursday after spending the past four years looking into automated traffic enforcement.

Ray Gibbon Drive and Anthony Henday Drive in northwest Edmonton is one such “fishing hole,” Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen said at a news conference near the interchange, adding that about 6,000 tickets get issued there each year — generating about $800,000 of revenue at that one location alone.

“That’s about 11 times the average site in the city of Edmonton and there are other fishing holes along the Calgary and Edmonton ring roads — so Stoney Trail and Anthony Henday Drive — now these sites are focused on revenue generation rather than traffic safety.

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To that end, come Dec. 1, the province is banning photo radar on ring roads in Calgary and Edmonton.

A City of Edmonton photo radar truck conducting Anthony Henday Drive traffic enforcement on the Yellowhead Trail overpass in northwest Edmonton on Thursday, November 23, 2023. Global News

Over the next year, the Alberta government said it will engage with municipalities and law enforcement to remove all “fishing hole” locations — spots where there is no clear safety reason for photo radar and it’s only being done to collect money.

“The definition of a ‘fishing hole’ really is going to be the ongoing consultation that we’ll have, because there will be some that will say a high frequency area of speeding obviously should be justified of having a photo radar,” Dreeshen said.

“And then others will say, ‘Well, maybe the speed limit isn’t right or maybe that is actually a fishing hole and people keeping up with a consistent flow of traffic is safer than slamming on their brakes because of photo radar.'”

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Calgary’s ring road has eight photo radar sites and Edmonton’s ring road has 22.

Dreeshen said photo radar needs to be utilized in spots where data shows there are safety issues such as a lot of collisions.

“But when you have certain beautiful highways that are built very, very well and engineered very well and you’re not seeing any accident data or low accident data, but yet hundreds of thousands of dollars of ticket revenue — that, I think, in most people’s mind is a fishing hole.”

The minister noted red light intersection cameras have been left out of the review process because they have been proven to prevent T-bones and similar collisions that lead to serious injuries or death.

A City of Edmonton photo radar truck conducting Anthony Henday Drive traffic enforcement on the Yellowhead Trail overpass in northwest Edmonton on Thursday, November 23, 2023. Global News

Edmonton and Calgary will have the option to redeploy the photo radar units previously used on ring roads to areas in the cities where they have a safety impact — in school, playground and construction zones.

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The province said that means that Calgary can select eight high-risk areas and Edmonton can select 22 high-risk areas.

Initially, it will be limited to the above-mentioned three sensitive zones but Dreeshen said as the province engages with all 26 municipalities that run photo radar, it’ll look at existing traffic data to see where enforcement should remain on regular roads.

“If photo radar, even though it may be outside of a sensitive area, is having a positive impact in safety, then then it could remain.

“But we’re going to be painstakingly going through the 2,400 photo radar sites within these 26 municipalities to figure out where they ought to be and to remove the fishing holes where they are.”

Potential abuse of photo radar has been debated for years in Alberta.

Municipalities have been doing photo radar for more than 30 years, the minister said, but changes or expansions have been on hold for the past four years.

In 2019, the then-NDP government introduced a freeze on new locations and banned photo radar in transition zones: spots where the speed limit changes on highways.

Click to play video: 'Alberta review finds photo radar used as cash cow'
Alberta review finds photo radar used as cash cow

Photo radar was also banned on high-speed, multi-lane highways unless there was documented proof of safety concerns.

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The freeze was then extended when in 2022, the UCP said no photo radar was allowed on residential roads with speed limits below 50 km/h. Keep in mind, many Edmonton streets are now 40 km/h.

Double dipping — issuing multiple tickets within five minutes — was also banned. Photo radar vehicles now also have to be highly visible.

Cities couldn’t run photo radar in construction zones except when construction workers were present and it was only allowed in school zones when classes were in session.

Municipalities were also obligated to provide data on collisions and safety to justify why they are running photo radar at certain locations.

Click to play video: 'Photo radar rules to change in Alberta'
Photo radar rules to change in Alberta

On Thursday, the province said the cap on any new photo radar equipment, programs or new photo radar locations will be extended until the one-year consultation with municipalities is complete on Dec. 1, 2024.

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Alberta’s first photo radar units were introduced in 1987 and now there are about 2,387 photo radar sites across the province.

“Alberta has the highest usage of photo radar in Canada, and these changes will finally eliminate the cash cow that affects so many Albertans,” Dreeshan said.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton unveils easy-to-spot photo radar vehicles'
Edmonton unveils easy-to-spot photo radar vehicles

Photo radar generated $171 million across Alberta in 2022-23, the province said. The revenue is split between the province and municipalities, with the province receiving 40 per cent and municipalities receiving 60 per cent.

“I can certainly appreciate that municipalities across the province are struggling to cover policing costs, but using photo radar strictly as a revenue generation tool is not the solution to that issue,” said Kara Westerlund, the vice-president of Rural Municipalities of Alberta.

She said identifying high-risk areas in rural Alberta will look different than in Edmonton and Calgary.

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“While photo radar is a tool that is most commonly used in large urban centres, it does play a role in rural areas as well.”

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