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Photo radar here to stay – for now – in Canmore

“The revenues we’re getting from photo radar are being use to help improved safety in our community and safety on our roads. If we’re able to use funds from photo radar to decrease the need for photo radar that’s a win in the future.”
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Photo radar is here to stay in Canmore – at least for a few more years. The program has helped increase safety measures and fund projects in the community that promote traffic initiatives. GREG COLGAN RMO PHOTO

CANMORE – Photo radar is here to stay in Canmore – at least for a few more years.

But the program will see changes due to new provincial legislation and feedback received from the public over the years.

A three-year term with two one-year options to seek a new contract when the existing one expires in August was approved by council Tuesday (May 10), including an aspect that prioritizes bids from companies with an emphasis on green technology. Coun. Wade Graham was the lone vote against seeking requests for proposals.

“From a safety perspective, I believe there has been community benefit directly with regards to speeding, but there’s been a massive community benefit in regards to the projects that have been able to be funded as well as additional police officers,” Mayor Sean Krausert said.

Photo radar, which was introduced as one tool to help reduce speeding and increase safety, was first approved in Canmore in 2007.

From 2007-21, net revenue from photo radar was $8.9 million for an average of about $598,000 a year. However,  $2.4 million was collected 2018-21 for an average of $610,000 a year.

“The revenues we’re getting from photo radar are being use to help improved safety in our community and safety on our roads,” said Coun. Tanya Foubert. “If we’re able to use funds from photo radar to decrease the need for photo radar that’s a win in the future.”

A staff report to council emphasized the program has helped to pay for one-and-a-half RCMP positions since 2011 and helped cover $196,000 in RCMP funding last year.

The program has helped fund $2.3 million in traffic and community safety initiatives since 2012 for traffic studies, traffic calming and pedestrian, cycling infrastructure, Cougar Creek parking and pathway improvements and equipment for municipal enforcement and community peace officers.

“Automated traffic enforcement is one tool the Town uses to increase traffic safety. … by focusing on education, enhancing community safety, improving road engineering and traffic enforcement,” said Caitlin Miller, the Town’s manager of protective services. “The Town aims to encourage safe speeds to allow everyone on the road more time to react to the unexpected, avoid collisions and lower the severity of road related injuries and property damage.”

The program has at times been contentious – including its own Facebook group – but Coun. Wade Graham highlighted residents’ concerns and impact on tourists.

 “I think over the years a lot of the community feedback has been the execution of it, where we set up, how much time is spent in certain locations, idling, notifications. … The fact that we’re mostly going after tourists with this program, as a tourist town I’m not so sure that’s good for us in the end,” he said.

However, both Krausert and Coun. Joanna McCallum noted it was ultimately up to drivers to follow the rules of the road.

“If you choose to break the law and speed, that’s on you. When I go to Calgary and I get a photo radar ticket, it doesn’t make me not want to go to Calgary anymore. It makes me want to pull my foot off the gas since it’s my fault, not the municipality’s fault,” McCallum said.

Krausert echoed the municipality wants to see people come to Canmore, but safety is of the utmost priority.

“To those who are coming to our community, I say welcome,” he said. “I hope you enjoy yourselves and you have a great time, but please be safe, please follow the posted speed limits. If you don’t, you can expect to get a ticket.”

Canmore RCMP detachment commander Staff Sgt. Ryan Singleton said there are added benefits with photo radar freeing up officers to respond to other calls.

“This community has a lot of benefits with automated traffic enforcement. I often think of a hybrid model because there are times we as the RCMP do not have resources,” he said. “We have to focus on other priority calls we have to do where we don’t have the resources to go out there and target enforcement.”

Under the contract, the company will provide all equipment and staffing. It will also take care of the other logistics such as court time, processing tickets, advertising, signage and providing statistics.

The province brought in new legislation in December for photo radar guidelines. It specifically outlined that safety and not revenue was the priority, and banned photo radar in areas where speed limits rapidly change such as an on or off-ramp and that vehicles have to be clearly visible to drivers.

In addition, the province will have municipalities try other methods to reduce speeding such as speed bumps or traffic calming measures on roads.

The province has indicated that in 2019-20 about $203 million came from photo radar in Alberta.

Any municipality with photo radar also has to submit quarterly reports to the Alberta Justice and Solicitor General instead of the previously required annual report. The Town has been audited by the Solicitor General and Public Safety department in 2009, 2014 and 2017 and found compliant.

According to the staff report to council, photo radar is permitted in 36 zones and is selected because of nearby playgrounds and schools and areas that have a history of speeding. The report noted construction zones are allowed to have photo radar, but have yet to be used in Canmore.

Bridge Road was removed from the program because the speed limit was less than 30 km/h and Palliser Trail was taken off after data showed the number of people speeding had dropped.

The bulk of tickets are issued to non-residents, with a ratio of 70-30 per cent. Non-resident tickets have consistently outpaced tickets issued to residents since 2015, by least two-thirds of tickets.

In 2021, there were 8,916 photo radar violations. The highest was in 2014 with 12,376 and the lowest was in 2012 at 5,371.

“I believe our photo radar program to be a modern efficient of enforcing speed,” McCallum said. “We don’t use horses to transport goods anymore, so we have a more efficient way of enforcing we should try it and we have.”