Calgary has 1,200 playground zones. Most speeding tickets are issued in just these 10 spots
Data reveals where officers choose to do enforcement — and where they don't
This story was originally posted on June 4.
There are roughly 1,200 playground zones in Calgary but nearly two-thirds of photo-radar tickets are issued in just 10 of those zones.
That's according to a CBC analysis of three years' worth of police data, obtained under a freedom of information request.
The data includes the date, time and location of nearly 279,000 tickets issued from 2016 to 2018, totalling $36.7 million in fines.
The numbers reveal that police target certain zones with their mobile photo-radar vehicles far more frequently than others. They also show that Saturdays are the most likely day of the week to get a ticket. And early evening — between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. — is the most likely time of day for speeders to be caught.
This has raised questions among community leaders and road-safety advocates about disparities in where police choose to do enforcement — and where they don't. Some worry that poorer areas of the city are being underserved while officers focus on more affluent neighbourhoods. Others wonder whether the enforcement patterns are as effective as they could be, if the goal is to reduce speeding in areas where children are mostly likely to be hit.
Police, however, note that some playground zones are much busier than others, and say it makes sense for officers to focus on those with more traffic. They also take direct guidance from citizens on which zones to target and say more requests tend to come from more affluent areas. And overall, they point to a general decline in the number of tickets issued over the past few years, suggesting the system has been effective at reducing speeding.
So, what exactly does the data show us?
Take a look for yourself.
By the numbers
Since being amalgamated with school zones back in 2015, Calgary's playground zones see a 30 km/h speed limit that applies from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.
Over the ensuing three calendar years, police issued 278,708 photo-radar tickets for speeding in these zones. But not all zones were enforced equally.
The top 10 locations accounted for 176,598 of those tickets. That's 63.4 per cent of the citywide total.
The No. 1 location — by far — was the extra-long playground zone that stretches along Elbow Drive S.W. through the community of Elbow Park, where 38,856 tickets were issued.
That zone, alone, accounted for 13.9 per cent of the tickets issued across Calgary over the three years.
Click or tap on the interactive map below for details on the 10 most-ticketed playground zones:
(Can't see the map? Click here for a version that should work with your mobile device.)
The Elbow Drive playground zone also saw the most frequent enforcement. Police issued at least one ticket in that location on 851 separate days over the three years in question.
That means, on average, they were out there nearly four days out of five.
The No. 2 location was the 1100 block of 12th Avenue S.W., just outside of Connaught School in the Beltline, where 28,420 tickets were issued. Photo-radar vehicles were out there roughly two out of every three days.
And the No. 3 spot was just a bit further west, in the 1600 block of 10th Avenue S.W. in Sunalta. It saw 26,763 tickets issued, with a police presence seven out of 10 days.
You may have noticed something these locations have in common: They're all in the southwest.
Overall, 52.1 per cent of playground-zone speeders were caught in the southwest, making it the most-ticketed quadrant in Calgary.
The northeast, by contrast, saw the fewest tickets, with just 9.1 per cent.
Sgt. Joerg Gottschling with the Calgary Police Service Traffic Section says part of the reason is the historical layout of the city, especially in some of the older, central areas — and the fact that most of those areas tend to have "S.W." in their addresses.
Click or tap on the interactive map below to see every playground zone where tickets were issued from 2016 to 2018:
(Can't see the map? Click here for a version that should work with your mobile device.)
The downtown core, Beltline and adjacent areas like Elbow Park include some of the city's busiest roadways, Gottschling noted, and often they run right next to schools and playgrounds.
"It's not ideal for the safety of kids, but police aren't the ones who set up where the playground zones are or where the schools are, for that matter," he said.
The playground zone along Elbow Drive S.W., for instance, sees about 17,000 cars on an average weekday, according to the city's latest traffic counts.
And the No. 2 zone — the one on 12th Avenue S.W. next to Connaught School in the Beltline — gets about 13,000 vehicles per day.
But Greg Hart believes there should be more to enforcement than traffic volumes.
'Credibility' of enforcement
Hart co-founded Vision Zero YYC, the local chapter of an international movement that works to reduce the number of people hurt and killed in traffic collisions, and he studies Calgary's traffic patterns, collision data and driver behaviour closely.
He says the No. 2 playground zone outside Connaught School, for example, is seen as "a joke" by many drivers, who believe police target that location mainly because it's easy to catch people exceeding 30 km/h.
Hart noted that section of 12th Avenue S.W. is a one-way road with multiple lanes and said that type of road design tends to make 30 km/h feel especially slow compared to travelling at the same speed on a more narrow, two-way street.
Then there's the schoolyard itself, which is mostly behind a fence. And, Hart noted, there are rarely students there when most of the tickets are being issued.
Kids at Connaught School get out of class at 2:30 p.m., but two-thirds of the tickets in that zone were issued after 3 p.m., according to the data, with 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. being the most-ticketed hour of the day.
Click or tap on this interactive chart to see when tickets are issued at the top 10 playground zones in Calgary:
(Can't see the chart? Click here for a version that should work with your mobile device.)
Hart believes the focus on zones at times like this damages the credibility of speed enforcement.
"People have a legitimate right to look at this and go: 'This is crazy.' Because it is," he said.
"That concerns me. If we're going to use enforcement, we can't erode its credibility. And I think we're at a point where it's pretty eroded. So that's a big concern."
Larry Leach shares that concern.
As president of the Crossroads Community Association in northeast Calgary, he's heard from many residents who question the timing of playground zone enforcement.
"Having the enforcement on a weekday after 5 p.m. seems a little pointless when you're taking school zones and amalgamating them with playground zones, as we have," Leach said.
The animated image below depicts an average week in playground-zone enforcement, in 15-minute increments. Each flashing dot represents a number of tickets being issued. The larger the dot, the more tickets issued at that time, in that location:
Can't see the animation? Click here for a direct link that should work with your device.
Leach also wonders why his quadrant of the city receives so much less enforcement than other parts of Calgary, and whether it has anything to do with the fact that people who live the area tend to be less affluent.
The northeast, he acknowledges, has fewer residents than other quadrants. It accounts for roughly 20 per cent of Calgary's population, according to estimates based on the 2018 civic census, compared to about 26 per cent in the southwest.
But he says that's still out of whack with the number of playground zone tickets issued, with the southwest seeing nearly six times as many as the northeast.
"When we see those types of statistics, it just adds to that angst, that feeling that we're forgotten here, east of Deerfoot," Leach said.
No 'overriding strategy'
Gottschling said police are not deliberately targeting southwest Calgary because it tends to be more affluent.
But, he acknowledged, there could be some socioeconomic factors at play indirectly, in terms of which citizens are more likely to ask police to do enforcement in their neighbourhoods.
"We do get a higher percentage of traffic service requests from the southwest than we do from the northeast," he said.
Police have 14 mobile photo-radar units, he said, and four of them are devoted to covering areas where citizens submit traffic service requests. But there is no "overriding strategy" for where the other 10 go.
It's left mainly up to the individual officers operating the vehicles to decide where to position them on any given day, Gottschling said, and there is a natural incentive to go where they're most likely to issue tickets.
"They're ambitious workers and they would rather be productive than not," he said.
"I mean, they're motivated to be effective. So if they're sitting somewhere with nothing happening, they're probably going to go to a different location."
Money from the fines, Gottschling added, goes to the provincial government and, in his view, the accusation from some frustrated drivers that police are using photo radar as a "cash cow" has no merit.
But not all the money goes to the province, according to the city's website on photo radar, which says 16.67 per cent of fine revenue goes to the provincial government and another 15 per cent goes to Victim Services. The remaining 68.33 per cent, meanwhile, goes to the municipal government. (Surcharges for late payments also go to the province.)
Gottschling also noted that the total number of tickets issued in playground zones has been on the decline, falling from 112,838 in 2016 to 90,830 in 2017 and then again to 75,040 in 2018. He said that suggests the system has been effective at getting drivers to slow down.
A police data analyst did note there was more construction in Calgary in 2018, however, and that led to fewer playground zone tickets that spring, in particular, as more photo-radar units were devoted to construction zones instead.
In general, Gottschling said it's more efficient to focus limited enforcement resources on the playground zones where you're most likely to catch the most speeders. The deterrent factor will vary from driver to driver, he said, but for many people, getting a ticket in any playground zone will make them more likely to slow down in all playground zones in the future.
Others, however, aren't so sure, and feel the deterrent factor is largely tied to where you get a ticket.
We'll explore that — and more — tomorrow, in the second part of this three-part series.
Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as it passes through the crucible of the downturn: the challenges we face, and the possible solutions as we explore what kind of Calgary we want to create. Have an idea? Email us at email@example.com
More from the series:
- An earlier version of this story quoted police as saying fine revenue from photo radar goes the provincial government. That section has been amended to note that the municipal government also receives a portion of the fine revenue.Jun 04, 2019 1:36 PM MT
With files from CBC data journalist Jacques Marcoux