Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Radar unit speeds are right: police

Drivers challenge Grant readings

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City police are standing by their photo radar units and where they put them.

And if drivers don't like it, they should just slow down.

"We're absolutely 100 per cent confident that those tickets are 100 per cent legitimate," Sgt. Doug Safioles of the central traffic unit said Monday after dozens -- if not hundreds -- of drivers complained a police mobile photo radar unit wrongly ticketed them for speeding on Grant Avenue.

"They're still speeding like crazy (Monday)," Safioles added. "It's a big problem speed area. It's a huge complaint area. A lot of the people from all the residential apartment blocks phone us on a regular basis, saying they can barely get across the street at the crosswalk because of all the speeders."

The mobile camera at Grant near Nathaniel Street is the latest target for critics of photo radar. It's parked on a service road just off Grant immediately west of Nathaniel and across from Grant Park High School, where the speed limit is 50 km/h.

WiseUp Winnipeg's Todd Dube and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's Colin Craig said the photo radar unit is positioned too far off Grant to get an accurate reading of how fast vehicles are travelling as they head west on Grant from Nathaniel.

Craig and Dube said together they fielded about 300 calls and emails from angry drivers who got tickets when they were certain they were obeying the law. Craig and Dube are encouraging drivers who have been ticketed by the mobile camera to plead not guilty so the tickets can be fought en masse in court.

"When I received the ticket in the mail, I could not believe that I was travelling at the speeds they clocked me in at -- 72 km/h -- and fined $329 for this," Eric Zipman said. "There is no way on God's green Earth I was travelling at that speed. And to further this, if I was, the picture of the exhaust fumes behind my vehicle would not look close to what they are showing. The fumes would've been streamlined like a jet. In the picture, they look like a balloon."

Zipman said he plans to plead not guilty today.

"I pride myself on my driving record and certainly understand the concept: Don't speed, obey the rules of the road and you won't have to worry about yourself, just the other drivers."

Grant Park High School phys-ed teacher Donna Alexander said she'll also fight her ticket. She was caught Oct. 25 by the camera going 75 km/h just after she had turned left off Nathaniel onto Grant. She said several other staff members have gotten tickets.

"I'm not pleading guilty to something I didn't do," she said. "I'm not a speeder."

Dube of WiseUp Winnipeg said he believes the unit wrongly issued the tickets because it's parked 46 feet away from Grant on the service road and its camera was not properly calibrated to account for that distance and the cosine effect -- the angle of the camera to Grant Avenue.

Dube said he wants to take the protest to city hall as early as Friday so angry drivers can seek an audience with Mayor Sam Katz.

"We want to occupy city hall for a period of one hour," he said. "We are going to have a list of demands on this program."

Craig of the CTF said what gives these complaints merit is the number of drivers who have stepped forward to complain about a single camera.

"It's either a giant conspiracy among 300-plus random Winnipeggers to question the readings of a photo radar vehicle at one particular location, or the machine's readings were off," he said. "We're leaning towards the latter."

Safioles said the problem has more to do with people not understanding how the cameras work and when they snap their pictures. Mobile units have been set up at the site since the photo enforcement program started in 2003, with no issue until now.

"We want to be as true to the number (speed) as possible to ensure we give you the accurate fine," he said.

He added police verified the camera's numbers last week and on Monday using a speed laser gun.

"He cannot keep up to the offenders," he said of the officer using the laser on Monday. "They're all making the left-hand turn (off Nathaniel). You can easily get up to above the speed limit."

Driver Roberta Baty said she got two tickets from the photo radar unit and a single ticket from the stationary intersection camera at nearby Wilton Street and Grant in the past year.

"My charity has become the City of Winnipeg police," Baty, 62, said. "I went and bought cruise control simply so I can learn to drive at the 50 km/h speed limit.

"Everybody says to me, 'How did you get the ticket?' because I'm known to be a slow driver. Well, people are really going to hate me because I'm really driving like an old lady now."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2011 A4

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