December 10, 2019

Winnipeg
-20° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast

At the intersection of cash grab and safety

Free Press analyzes 10 years of stationary photo radar camera data

The official line from City of Winnipeg officials and police is photo radar is making the streets safer. Their own data, however, show infractions continue to get worse.

Red-light and speeding offences at intersections that deploy stationary photo radar cameras have risen steadily, according to 10 years of data obtained by the Free Press, bucking trends seen in other jurisdictions where such data is available.

The number of speeding tickets issued through the program (not including the mobile photo enforcement units deployed by the Winnipeg Police Service) has spiked 80 per cent since 2010 (rising to 33,872 from 18,894).

Meanwhile, the number of red-light infractions has increased 42 per cent (to 9,781 from 6,874).

This cannot be solely accounted for by a growing population or increased traffic density — the evidence suggests Winnipeggers' driving habits have gotten worse during the past decade.

Brent Toderian, a consultant and former chief planner for the City of Vancouver, said municipalities need to undergo a paradigm shift if they want to get serious about changing driving behaviour and improving road safety.

"In every city in the world, the way we design roads and streets and intersections is critical to the safety of our people... The design of a road is perhaps just as important, or perhaps even more important, than the posted speed limit and the consequences of law-breaking," Toderian said.

"Unfortunately, Winnipeg is not a good example of designing decent roads in this context. Winnipeg can be considered a poster child for doing roads and intersections in the wrong way, with all sorts of consequences, including more crashes, more deaths, and more public money spent."

In total, there have been 81,935 red-light offences and 233,978 speeding tickets issued through the local program from 2010 to 2019. From 2010 to 2018, there were 11,203 collisions at intersections with photo radar in place (an average of 1,244 per year).

There are 53 intersections with stationary photo radar cameras; two of them have never registered a red-light infraction and one has never captured a speeding offence.

Launched in 2003, the city’s photo radar program currently finds itself under the gun.

On Wednesday, the provincial government announced a comprehensive review of the program, looking at where the cameras are being set up, how they’re being used, and whether they’re actually making roads safer. The review is expected to take roughly four months.

Winnipeg remains the only municipality in the province to employ photo radar. The program regularly leads to expensive surprises in the mail for motorists captured breaking traffic laws.

Critics of the program have long-complained it does little to improve safety and serves as a revenue generator for the city. In response, police and civic officials have countered the tickets serve as a deterrent, acting to curb bad driving behaviours over time.

On Thursday, the WPS declined a Free Press interview request for this story. However, the day before, in response to news of the provincial review, Insp. Gord Spado dismissed the notion the program is a cash grab used to pad the police budget.

"I would disagree with that, because if we can change driver behaviour and slow them down in locations where there’s high risk, I think we’re doing a lot for safety," Spado said.

"Unfortunately, Winnipeg is not a good example of designing decent roads in this context. Winnipeg can be considered a poster child for doing roads and intersections in the wrong way, with all sorts of consequences, including more crashes, more deaths, and more public money spent." - Brent Toderian, former chief planner for the City of Vancouver

The controversy isn’t limited to Winnipeg. In February 2019, then-Alberta transportation minister Brian Mason announced the province was overhauling its photo radar legislation, after a review found it was being used as a cash cow.

Alberta updated its guidelines, indicating photo radar was no longer to be allowed on high-speed or multi-lane roads, or speed transition zones, "unless there is a pre-existing and documented safety concern."

Toderian believes municipalities should take a multi-pronged approach toward the issue, focusing not only on posted speed limits and penalties for those who break traffic laws, but also on "design speed." Street design, he argues, should promote safer driving habits among motorists.

"We have been designing roads in a way that almost guarantees, or at least encourages, speeding. At the same time, our vehicles have gotten bigger and bigger and easier to speed in, easier to feel disconnected from our environment," Toderian said.

While infractions are up in Winnipeg during the past decade, Jeffrey Gorman, a traffic expert with Toronto-based traffic engineering firm Trans-Plan, said studies from other jurisdictions have found the number of violations tends to decrease over time once photo enforcement is implemented.

It remains unclear why Winnipeg is bucking the trend. The data obtained by the Free Press only goes to 2010, meaning there are eight additional years of photo radar data from Winnipeg yet to be examined.

"I would disagree with that, because if we can change driver behaviour and slow them down in locations where there’s high risk, I think we’re doing a lot for safety." - Insp. Gord Spado

Gorman said there isn’t good data to support the notion photo enforcement necessarily leads to safer streets.

"I’ve looked at the evidence, and my conclusion from the evidence is I cannot give you a clear-cut answer on whether these red-light cameras are good or bad, because the evidence does not suggest whether they are good or bad," Gorman said.

Instead of reducing the number of collisions at targeted intersections, studies show photo enforcement simply changes the type of collisions.

"Generally, the number of right-angle collisions, or t-collisions, will decrease., and the number of rear-end collisions will increase. Because instead of going through the light, they stop abruptly before the light... They have that collision before entering the intersection with that abrupt stop," Gorman said.

Winnipeg’s data shows there are a number of problem intersections in the city: nine intersections account for the majority of red-light infractions, while 17 account for the majority of speeding offences.

Since 2010, the most penalized intersection is westbound Bishop Grandin Boulevard at River Road, with the most red-light tickets (13,648) and second-most speeding offences (15,933).

The intersection was the site of a lengthy and high-profile case, after a local man, who was dying from cancer, spent 16 months in traffic court fighting a red-light ticket he claimed was unjust. James Aisaican-Chase, who died in June 2018, ultimately lost the case.

Worst intersections in Winnipeg 2010-19

Winnipeg’s data shows there are a number of problem intersections in the city: nine intersections account for the majority of red-light infractions, while 17 account for the majority of speeding offences.

Crashes

Main Street at Redwood Avenue: 346

Westbound Fermor Avenue at St. Mary’s Road: 309

Westbound Bishop Grandin Boulevard at River Road: 283

Westbound Ellice Avenue at St. James Street: 248

Eastbound Academy Road at Stafford Street: 212

Speeding

Northbound Main Street at Logan Avenue: 22,934

Westbound Bishop Grandin Boulevard at River Road: 15,933

Southbound Kenaston Boulevard at Corydon Avenue: 15,253

Eastbound Regent Avenue West at Madeline Street: 13,963

Westbound Regent Avenue at Owen Street: 13,014

Red light

Westbound Bishop Grandin Boulevard at River Road: 13,648

Eastbound Sargent Avenue at Clifton Street: 5,352

Southbound Lagimodiere Boulevard at Grassie Boulevard: 4,671

Eastbound Marion Street at Dufresne Avenue: 3,329

Northbound Pembina Highway at Bairdmore Boulevard/Dalhousie Drive: 2,952

See how all of the intersections compare

In October 2015, Aisaican-Chase was driving on Bishop Grandin Boulevard — which has a speed limit of 80 km/h —when the traffic light turned yellow. He argued in court he felt he did not have time to safely stop, so he sailed through— resulting in a $200 ticket.

Aisaican-Chase’s court case was bankrolled by Wise Up Winnipeg, a local activist group which has spent years advocating for longer yellow-light times. It was reported at the time Winnipeg has standardized four-second yellow lights at every intersection.

The group hired Ontario-based forensic engineer Darryl Schnarr to conduct an analysis. In a 42-page report, Schnarr concluded for roadways with a speed limit of 80 km/h, a four-second yellow-light time created a "dilemma zone."

Schnarr argued Winnipeg should increase yellow lights for those intersections to 5.2 seconds, in order to give driver’s the time needed to process the changing light and safely stop.

Based on information obtained through a freedom of information request, Schnarr showed with a yellow-light time of 5.2 seconds, "88-93 (per cent) of the red-light violations would not have been issued at Bishop Grandin Boulevard and River Road."

While that particular intersection results in the most infractions overall, northbound Main Street at Logan Avenue is doling out the most speeding tickets. During the past decade, 22,934 such tickets have been issued.

The data also shows the changing of the seasons impacts some driving infractions. During spring and summer, speeding offences in Winnipeg double. However, there is no significant seasonal variance with red-light offences.

While it remains unclear what the future of photo radar enforcement is in the city, Winnipeggers should have a better sense of what changes — if any — are coming in the new year.

"Maybe a politician or a salesman would be able to give you a much better answer for this... I’m on the technical side of things. It’s hard for me to argue simply that, ‘It’s OK, it makes your intersection safer,’" Gorman said.

"It is a revenue generator for the city. It definitely is. And there isn’t great data as to whether it makes it safer or not."

michael.pereira@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @__m_pereira

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

 

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Friday, November 15, 2019 at 7:06 PM CST: Adds PDF link

7:15 PM: Updates map legend to show all

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.