Edmonton may consider 'hidden' photo radar, councillor says

Photo-radar boxes that hide in plain sight may be in Edmonton’s future, if traffic safety continues to be a major public concern and other solutions fail to curb speeding, says one city councillor.

Scott McKeen says if public pressure to curb speeding continues, 'covert' radar may be added to arsenal

Will roadside photo-radar units like this one in St. Albert be one day used on Edmonton streets? (CBC)

Photo-radar boxes that hide in plain sight may be in Edmonton's future, if traffic safety continues to be a major public concern and other solutions fail to curb speeding, says one city councillor.

The issue of so-called "hidden" photo-radar cropped up Wednesday after the city's transportation committee met to discuss ways to stop drivers from taking short-cuts through residential neighbourhoods.

The four councillors on the committee were told about plans to cut traffic problems in four communities: Ormsby Place, Crestwood, Ottewell and Newton. The solutions to be tried under a pilot project will include: changes to signal timing; turn bans; speed bumps and digital feedback signs.

The idea of hidden photo-radar "almost didn't come up," said Coun. Scott McKeen.

"I asked about it," he said.
Thirteen per cent of photo radar tickets were issued to drivers going between six and 10 km/h over the speed limit between January 1st and December 1st 2014. That's up from three per cent in 2013. (City of Edmonton)

In an interview later with CBC News, the councillor waded into the issue up to his knees.

Council has heard repeatedly, he said, from people in communities all over the city who are angry and worried about cars speeding through their neighbourhoods.

"The next step may be looking at photo radar in the communities," McKeen said. "I think if we do that, we will have to broadcast it far and wide that we're about to start doing that."

McKeen said he's well aware that photo radar, especially the hidden variety, is a hot political topic in this city and many others.

"We're very clear on photo radar as being an unpopular strategy with a percentage of people," he said. "I know there are a lot of people who really hate photo radar. I get that."

McKeen admitted he recently got a photo-radar ticket in the mail.

The dilemma for council, he said, is that people want drivers to slow down and insist that traffic safety is important, but many of them don't agree with enforcement methods.

Armed with academic evidence that photo-radar works, and bombarded with calls for better road safety, McKeen said he and his colleagues may face a simple decision someday.

'This will come, I'm quite confident'

"If we keep hearing about speeding in neighbourhoods, this (hidden photo-radar) will come, I'm quite confident."

Coun. Michael Walters isn't on the transportation committee but sat in on Wednesday's meeting.

He was cautious in his remarks about "covert" photo radar.

He said the city is merely keeping the idea open as "an option, among many" as it looks for ways to cut down on speeding in neighbourhoods.

"We're going to look at every single option we can," Walters said. "Because so many neighbourhoods are lined up to try and have the city work with them on traffic calming."

If Edmonton does decide to use hidden photo-radar, he said, it would be part of an overall strategy to make streets safer.

"It's just an idea, at this point. Council hasn't even really discussed it in earnest."

Just last week, the mayor of St. Albert defended the use of hidden photo-radar equipment to catch speeders in his city. The units that city uses look like utility boxes, and are operated remotely.

Speeding continues to be a blight on Edmonton streets.

Last Thursday, during a 24-hour blitz, city police handed out 2,046 speeding tickets.

Controversy over photo radar erupted last November when city staff refused to publicly disclose the number of tickets handed out to people driving less than five km/h faster than the posted limit.

Mayor Don Iveson said at the time he'd never seen a ticket for between one and five km/h over the limit. Tickets to drivers going between six and 10 km/h over the limit amounted to just three per cent of the total, he said.

But in February, the city released statistics that show the number of people caught driving no more than 10 km/h over the speed limit quadrupled in 2014, accounting for 63,614 tickets, or 13 per cent of the total.

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