SAFE STREETS & PHOTO RADAR
posted October 6th, 2014
Last year, 23 people died in collisions on our streets. Thousands were injured in an average of 68 collisions per day, which altogether caused millions in damage and worsened congestion on our roads (source).
The good news is that injury and fatality rates are coming down, thanks in part to a suite of integrated traffic safety programs including Automated Photo Enforcement. Back in 2007, there were 7.44 such collisions per 1,000 Edmontonians. Last year that number was 3.89 per 1,000 people (source).
Meanwhile, Edmontonians recently said in the Edmonton Police Service’s Citizen Satisfaction Survey that their top safety concern – ahead of gangs and drug activity – was traffic, specifically speeding and careless driving (see page 7). Given this concern, it’s no surprise to me that Council has received overwhelmingly positive feedback about the re-institution of 30km/h speed limits in school zones as one example of action to improve traffic safety.
So why do we set and enforce speed limits? Borrowing from a recent City blog post on the topic: “according to Dr. Karim El-Basyouny, the City of Edmonton’s Research Chair in Urban Traffic Safety at the University of Alberta, the risk of a collision doubles at 5 km/h over the speed limit in a 60 km/h zone. The risk is four times higher at 10 km/h over and 10 times higher at 15 km/h over the speed limit
So that’s the need. What are the outcomes? Dr. El-Basyouny found that “on the roads where there was continuous enforcement, severe collisions went down by 32%, speed-related collisions were reduced by 27% and overall collisions were cut by 28%.”
Some people complain that enforcement is mainly on the busy arterial roads and what they’d really like to see is enforcement in their neighbourhoods. A few years back Council also saw the need in neighbourhoods and responded with the Safe Speed Vans which residents can request through their Community League, their Councillor, or even through 311 (see here for more info on this program). These are marked vehicles that provide a visual deterrent and still conduct photo enforcement where people continue to speed.
Given all this context, it’s unfortunate to me — just as we’re making progress — that some voices are calling for an end to photo enforcement.
I’ll admit that the Auditor’s report last month has, without a doubt, clouded the issue. (You can read the Auditor’s full report here and you can watch the Audit Committee meeting where we discussed the matter at length here.) It highlighted significant cost overruns within the program as they transitioned away from a private service provider, and administration has taken responsibility for not keeping Council abreast of these cost overruns. Thankfully, tax dollars were NOT used to cover these overruns, and while the original business case was deeply flawed and the transition costs were vastly underestimated, the city’s photo radar program is now fully transitioned and running efficiently. Council asked point blank questions of Transportation Services administrators as to whether they built a self-funding empire to cover their overruns, and the answer was no.
Nevertheless, there remains a powerful misconception that the City operates this program to earn revenue. In fact, the formula is more complicated than that and the breakdown is as follows (source):
15% of the total fine goes to Victims Services
16.67% goes to the Alberta Government
The remaining fine balance goes to the City
The balance that comes to the City does not go into general revenue; it is dedicated first toward covering the cost of automated enforcement, and what’s leftover goes to fund traffic safety education initiatives and to make physical modifications to roadways that improve safety.