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Morinville to debate photo radar ban

Radar tech makes road safer, say experts

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Dec 18, 2013 06:00 am

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Town council will debate a motion to get rid of photo radar next month now that a local man has successfully petitioned the town to do so.

Debbie Oyarzun, Morinville’s chief administrative officer, told town council last week that a petition by resident Cliff Haryett to “have all traffic enforcement done by either RCMP or the community peace officers, thus eliminating the use of photo radar or red-light camera enforcement” was valid.

Council is thus legally obliged to give first reading to a bylaw on this subject within 30 days (i.e. by Jan. 9).

As there is no council meeting scheduled for that date, council has also asked Alberta Municipal Affairs for a five-day extension so it can introduce the bylaw at its Jan. 14 meeting.

Oyarzun said she is confident based on talks with the province that the town will get this extension.

Ban photo radar, says local

Morinville has had photo radar in the form of speed display signs and officers with speed guns since 2009. The program is run by Integrated Traffic Services (ITS).

The Municipal Government Act allows residents to petition council on any matter within its jurisdiction provided they get at least 10 per cent of their community to sign a petition – 856 signatures, in Morinville’s case. Council has 30 days upon receipt of a petition to determine if it has enough valid signatures.

Haryett submitted his petition on Nov. 15. Of the 948 names on the petition, 874 of were found to be valid as of Dec. 10.

Haryett said he launched the petition because he didn’t like how the town’s photo radar program is run.

“I figured it was a big cash grab for them to pad their pockets,” he said.

Haryett said he’s collected a whole binder worth of “unethical deeds” by ITS officials that convinced him the company isn’t following the rules.

“Either play fair or you don’t get to play in the sandbox,” Haryett said.

He also criticized the town’s use of the cash it gets from photo radar.

Haryett said the photo radar program does not have any impact on safety in Morinville, and says officials have repeatedly refused to monitor speeds on his street.

Why go back to manned enforcement?

“It worked just fine for the first 25 years I’ve lived here,” he said. “Why the change?”

Haryett said the town should not hire any additional officers to cover the hours currently spent by photo radar contractors, even if police have to take time away from other duties to do traffic enforcement.

“That’s their problem, not mine,” he said. “Let’s see these guys go out and do some work every once in awhile.”

As for the lost revenue, Haryett said that council should either raise taxes by five per cent to make up for it or cut spending.

“Maybe it’s time for them to step up and tighten their belts?”

But it works, says experts

Keith Norris and Charmaine Enns, both volunteer members of the town’s traffic and pedestrian safety advisory committee, blasted Haryett’s proposal.

Audits by the solicitor general have found that the town’s photo radar program meets or exceeds all provincial standards, Norris said.

Photo radar brings in roughly $300,000 a year, Norris said, money the town would have to get through taxes or cuts without it.

“Only the people who break the law are actually paying,” Norris said. “Why should my taxes go up for someone who’s breaking the law?”

The town’s photo radar policy states that up to two per cent of photo radar revenue (up to $8,000) goes towards traffic safety programs. Enns said the town should look at increasing this percentage.

That cash has lead to the creation of many safety improvements in town, including high-visibility zebra crosswalks, warning lights for school zones, drunk driving education at local schools, and the annual Candy Cane Checkstop event, Enns said.

Information from ITS’s 100 Avenue eastbound speed display sign suggests that the number of speeders in Morinville decreased from 2009 to 2011 (from 90,814 drivers, or 9.5 per cent of all cars, to 83,636 or 8.2 per cent), which suggests an improvement in traffic safety (as speed is a leading cause of collisions).

That trend may have reversed, however – 109,698 cars (or 11.1 per cent of traffic) in town were spotted speeding from January to September 2013.

Strathcona’s experience

Strathcona County got rid of photo radar in 2011, noted former Morinville RCMP Sgt. Chris Narbonne, who is now stationed in Strathcona and chairs the Capital Region Intersection Safety Partnership. He will report to his council on the effects of that change on Jan. 14.

“Our collisions did not suddenly skyrocket overnight,” he said, but the change did affect his ability to police speeding.

“When we removed it, we also removed the ability to monitor large volumes of traffic in certain residential areas.”

Photo radar helped police find problem areas in need of manned enforcement, Narbonne said, and gave police more time to address other crimes.

“The photo radar guy in the van does photo radar,” he said, whereas police officers do everything. Drop the photo radar people and officers have to do more traffic.

“You’re going to have to steal from Peter to pay Paul,” he said.

Strathcona County also had resources that made it more feasible to abandon radar, Narbonne said. First, the county hired five new traffic officers, giving it 36 agents dedicated to traffic enforcement – a squad bigger than Morinville’s entire police force.

Those officers are backed by an active county engineering department that’s able to spot traffic hot spots, he continued.

“In Morinville, you may not necessarily have that ability, because it is a smaller community.”

Narbonne emphasized that photo radar is just one tool available to police.

“Any time you remove any tool, it has an impact.”

Council will consider Haryett’s proposal this January.


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