November 13, 2014 5:02 pm
Updated: November 14, 2014 2:11 pm

‘The first problem with photo radar is that there is not enough’: Dr. Francescutti

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Watch above: Edmonton’s transportation committee heard details of a report into the photo radar program. As Shallima Maharaj reports, speakers demanded more transparency.

EDMONTON – The transportation committee heard from some Edmontonians Thursday, as it discussed a report on the photo radar program.

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About a dozen people came out to speak on the issue of traffic safety, many of them wanted to talk about speeding enforcement in residential neighbourhoods. A handful of speakers wanted to discuss the current photo radar program.

Dr. Louis Francescutti was one of them.

The emergency and preventative medicine physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital and former president of the Canadian Medical Association said the first problem with photo radar is that there’s not enough of it. The second problem, he told the committee, is that there are no demerits for it.

“The only people that I know who complain about photo radar are the people who get the tickets,” said Francescutti.

He said Edmonton’s current motor vehicle injury statistics are horrible, and encouraged the committee to continue work with the Office of Traffic Safety to change the public perception on traffic safety and enforcement.

“I think what council is struggling with is the line between traffic safety and public support,” said another speaker, Edmontonian Nathan Smith.

“The optic that hidden photo radar vans are ticketing people – and the target for next year’s revenue from photo radar tickets is $40 million – that’s a very bad optic and I think that damages their hopes for traffic safety.”

“This whole notion and perception that people are getting tickets going a few kilometres over the speed limit is not the right information, that’s not the case,” said councillor Amarjeet Sohi.

While the 2014 statistics are not yet available, numbers from 2011, 2012, and 2013 are.

“Those numbers do suggest that people who drive up to five kilometres over the speed limit, none of them have got a ticket.”

“But if you’re going from five to 10 [kilometres over the limit], maybe two per cent of the people have got tickets,” Sohi added.

“The vast majority of the tickets being issued through photo radar are being issued to those people who are over and above 15 kilometres over the speed limit.”

“Having said that, we have a zero tolerance for speeding.”

Mayor Don Iveson said the majority of tickets – nearly 50 per cent – were handed out to drivers going 16 – 20 km/h over the posted speed limit.

During Thursday’s meeting, city administration said in 2013, 12,433 tickets were handed out to drivers going between six and 10 km/h over the limit.

That year, a total of 422,000 photo radar tickets were handed out.

There had been some criticism that the report previously left out some key information about photo radar ticketing in Edmonton.

READ MORE: Information withheld from photo radar report 

Sohi said the city needs to do a better job of explaining how the program works, why tickets are issued and where the ticket money goes.

Another speaker told the transportation committee he was concerned about a blurring of lines between public safety and revenue generation and said the city has a conflict of interest.

“It’s like asking a barber if you need a haircut.”

“Keep the cameras, keep the speed traps,” he said, but asked that all revenues be kept out of government hands.

“We don’t take a single cent out of the photo radar revenue to fund city services,” said Sohi. “All the money goes to improving safety on the roadways and the neighbourhoods, around schools, around playgrounds.” He said that isn’t changing.

The revenue supports the operation of the program and police, said mayor Don Iveson, emphasizing that council has never run the photo enforcement program as a revenue-generating operation.

“If we directed them to run this as a revenue-generation program, we could make a lot more than $40 million.

“But we’ve never given them that directive. I mean, I understand why people have got that idea now, because it keeps getting repeated out there. But, this council has never given that direction, prior councils have never given that direction.”

The report shows revenue also helps fund school zone limits installation and education and residential speed limit reductions, among other initiatives.

(You can read the full report below)

Another public speaker was the city’s research chair of urban traffic safety.

Dr. Karim El-Basyouny said his research looked at the city’s mobile photo enforcement program and its effect on city. He said as the number of tickets increased, the number of serious crashes went down too.

El-Basyouny said research found the total number of collisions on arterial roads with mobile photo enforcement was reduced.

However, Smith told committee he’d like to see an end to using unmarked photo radar vehicles.

He called the city’s practices “underhanded,” saying that council cites traffic safety statistics selectively.

“I’ve never seen a child wandering on a freeway needing unmarked photo radar protection,” he said.

Another speaker argued the photo radar program is being mismanaged.

She said she’d like more transparency about the program’s operations and its effectiveness. She’d also like to see it used in neighbourhoods to make communities safer.

There are 989 active photo radar sites in Edmonton, and 356 of them are in school zones.

The report outlined how photo radar locations are chosen. The sites are determined by set provincial criteria that includes: high-risk, high-frequency and high-collision locations.

“It needs to help with safety, not making money,” added another speaker.

Automated Traffic Enforcement – Photo Radar Data

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