Traffic-ticket watchdogs get ear of city hall on Tuesday

WiseupWinnipeg argues some enforcement strategies aim to pad police budget

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It’s been a long, twisting, traffic-ticket-littered road for WiseupWinnipeg’s Todd Dube and Chris Sweryda, our version of Batman-and Robin in the battle for traffic enforcement justice.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/05/2016 (2380 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s been a long, twisting, traffic-ticket-littered road for WiseupWinnipeg’s Todd Dube and Chris Sweryda, our version of Batman-and Robin in the battle for traffic enforcement justice.

Starting from the day eight years ago when Dube was tagged with a red-light ticket going 80 km/h in a 80 km/h zone, after being caught by photo radar in the so-called “dilemma zone.” That’s the stretch of road that starts when the green light turns amber and the driver has to make a quick decision.

Stop or go.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS WiseupWinnipeg leaders Todd Dube, left, and Chris Sweryda holding signs on the roadside in Winnipeg.

In Dube’s case the amber light — and hence the dilemma zone — only lasted four seconds. He still argues that a four-second amber — that he says he overshot by a tenth-of-a second — wasn’t enough time at that rate of posted speed. Over the years, the city’s so-called “static” four-second amber-light length for all speeds and all intersections would become one of Wiseup’s biggest targets for change.

For some observers, Dube, a 52-year-old father of two and marketing company owner, and Sweryda, a 29-year-old University of Manitoba sociology major, have been seen less as crusaders and more as crackpots.

“Here’s the misnomer we have to address,” Dube said Sunday when I sat with both Batman and Robin as a pair of chirping budgies swooped through the living room of his country home south of the city. “The media, five or six years later, still characterize us as a group about the right to speed, or right to run red lights. Anti-traffic-police, anti -ticketing. It’s the farthest thing from the truth. We’re talking about enforcement abuses which are unique to Winnipeg.”

Dube says he knows that sounds unbelievable.

“It sounds like a conspiratorial thing. It just isn’t.”

Actually, their damning, deeply disturbing, if somewhat dated, hour-long power-point presentation does make the case for a conspiracy by the city traffic engineering department and the police service to create intersections and roadways where traffic ticket revenue can be maximized.

In other words, it’s like speed traps. But red-light traps, and even turning-lane traps.

“The city takes the position that they don’t tell the police where to enforce,” Dube explains, “and the police take the position that they don’t tell the city how to sign. A very convenient and profitable disconnect. And so it goes on – for decades.”

That’s not how it works in at least one other Canadian city, says Sweryda. He spoke recently with a traffic sergeant in Halifax.

“They sit down with the city engineers every month and say, ‘we noticed abnormal numbers of speeding here. Can you put an extra sign up? Or this sign is crooked, can you fix this? Here in Winnipeg they say, ‘well, we’re not traffic engineers, we’re not qualified to tell the city where signs are missing’.”

Wiseup’s presentation — complete with charts, statistics, traffic tickets exhibits and photos — makes a strong case that the city has ignored engineering deficiencies as a way of maximizing traffic enforcement profits and topping up the police budget by millions of dollars. And at the expense of unwitting motorists.

True or not, gradually — one small victory at a time — Wiseup and its core group of what Dube says is 5,000 Facebook followers, are not only being listened to by both national and local media, they’re beginning to earn a little respect. Maybe even a lot. What’s happening Tuesday, for instance, could be a major breakthrough.

Dube and Sweryda are scheduled to meet privately with two city hall leaders who could make a difference. If, that is, the city’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Jack and Public Works Committee chair and deputy mayor Janice Lukes do more than politely watch and listen to the powerful power-point presentation.

As it happened, it was one of those aforementioned small victories that brought Lukes and Jack to the table on Tuesday.

Last month, there was a media account about a reduce-to-30 road sign that had been missing for three months from a school zone on Panet Road. Using information elicited from a Freedom of Information request, Dube claims that the location was the No. 1 ranked school zone for volume of speeding tickets. The day after that story appeared, the missing sign went up. According to Dube, a reporter subsequently asked Lukes when the city was finally planning to meet with WUW.

“It was following that,” Dube said, “that we received the meeting request.”

I want to believe that the two civic leaders will not only learn something, but do something, after they watch the WiseupWinnipeg presentation. That public safety and doing the right thing will win out over the pressing need to pad the police budget. Or at least do something about the dangerously short ambers at high-speed intersections. Anyway, now it’s the city’s top bureaucrat and the deputy mayor who are in the dilemma zone. But, alas, somehow I can’t picture them applying the brakes.

Not in our own Gotham by the Red Light.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Monday, May 30, 2016 6:44 PM CDT: Corrects spelling of Sweryda.

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