Spruce Grove council discusses photo radar future

Improvements sought for program already compliant with province

A robust discussion on the city's use of photo radar carried long into the night for Spruce Grove city council Monday night.

A report from staff summarized the city's past and present use of Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE), along with a series of recommendations going forward.

The city says the numbers are there to show that photo radar reduces the number of accidents, as council agreed that they've seen the system affect driver behaviour first-hand.
Mayor Stuart Houston says an intersection along Highway 16A is a prime example of changing habits.

"We talk about the intersection (of Highway 16A) at Jennifer Heil Way and Campsite Road. When we first implemented photo radar cameras at those locations, that was the most serious accident/injury location of any intersection in the city," he said.

"That's changed - people's driving behaviours have changed. We've had two red light infractions in the last month, and when we first started we had 42."

After being first place for crashes in 2016, that intersection has fallen to fourth.

2018's numbers show the new collision leader as the intersection of Century Road and Grove Drive 

A large part of the discussion also focused on changing people's perception that ATE is meant to be a cash cow.

Councillor Dave Oldham questioned the city's use of the cameras installed at stop signs, as drivers who don't come to a full and complete stop receive a fine for $388.

He says he'd like to see a human element added to that enforcement, as a slightly rolling stop currently incurs the same fine as a driver who blows through a stop sign completely.

Councillor Erin Stevenson also raised the possibility of sending warning tickets to first-time offenders for the more minor offences, which staff confirmed was a possibility.

Further statistics showed that more than two thirds of people who get the tickets don't live in the city.

Houston also spoke about the biggest change he'd like to see added in.

"High-visibility electronic signage at the entrances to our city that says 'Automated Traffic Enforcement Zone: You will be ticketed, slow down.' We have a number of people from out of town that come through our city, and they're shooting that intersection (on Highway 16A), some of them, at 115 km/h," he said.

"I'd like to see a full couple-month test of where we put these signs throughout the city, and see what that does in regards to tickets. I don't want to give people tickets in this city anymore."

Another major sticking point came with the money generated by the fines, which added about $2.5 million to the city's general revenue for 2018.

While multiple councillors spoke about potentially separating this money into its own reserve fund to be more transparent about its use, staff warned about large implications to the budget.

Houston says he thinks the money can stay in the budget, but that more communication on where it's going is needed.

"If you took that money right out of the budget, the cost implications to the community would be fairly significant," he said.

"I think showing that the revenue streams that we utilize are used for items to support our very expensive Protective Services budget, is something that we need to share a little bit more of." 

Administration says it wants to see photo radar continue to be used as an enforcement tool, along with the creation of an advisory committee that would include members of the public.

They also talked about the potential to add an interactive map, allowing people to see exactly where photo radar is installed.

Council will decide on how to move ahead with the program at an upcoming meeting.

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