By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – The Town of Morinville’s controversial photo radar program is getting a review over the first quarter of 2012, but speeders can be rest assured the cameras will still be on them this year – the question is where.
Interim Chief Administrative Officer Debbie Oyarzun said Morinville currently has 20 locations for photo radar and those locations were determined by the contractor, Integrated Traffic Services’ (ITS)experience in other municipalities. Using the Traffic Safety Act as a guideline, the contractor looked at a number of factors in the municipality: speed limits, key safety areas, school locations, and long open roads where people could get up to excessive speeds. “He took those factors into consideration and brought back a plan,” she said. “It’s reviewed by the RCMP and the CPOs [Community Peace officers] to make sure that it truly does align with the Traffic Safety Act, and that it does align with the need for our purpose which is safety.” Additionally, the Town uses its Traffic Safety Committee as a sounding board. “The Town Administration has the final say of whether or not something is approved,” she said.
With a new one-year contract signed with ITS at the beginning of January, and with Council having approved a Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Review for Morinville, it was decided it would be a good time to review photo radar locations as well.
“I’ve committed to the ITS and the RCMP and the CPOs that we’re going to take a look at photo radar over the next little bit here, and we’re going to revisit all of our zones,” she said. “We want to ensure those zones are selected [with] the priority being safety.”
Oyarzun said she has asked the contractor to provide a map of the Morinville zones, each of which will be gone through one by one looking at the justification for them and ensuring public safety is the primary concern. “I think it is just a good opportunity to take a look at it,” she said. “We’ve signed the new contract, so let’s make sure going forward for that year that everything is in place and that expectations are set.”
One area that will be examined in the re-examination is downtown Morinville, particularly on 100 Avenue in the centre of town. Although the road is monitored along the eastern and western edges, there is presently no monitoring by the contractor downtown other than the educational speed warning signs. “Being that it is a highway, people tend to treat it as such,” Oyarzun said. “There’s a lot of pedestrian traffic on 100th Avenue. We’ll sit down together and take a look at putting something on 100th Avenue as well because we know that there are high speeds happening there. Are we putting enough effort there to slow that traffic down going through the centre of our town?”
But downtown Morinville is not alone in being examined to ensure all is being done to keep residents and visitors safe. The new Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Review will be an important component of the zone re-examination. The initiative, approved in the 2012 budget, will combine input from public works, RCMP and the Town’s two CPOs on all of Morinville’s stop signs, crosswalks, complaints from the public and other important traffic and pedestrian data.
“We’ll pull all of that together, get that all documented, and with the Traffic Safety Committee, RCMP, CPOs and Public Works staff, predominantly, we’ll sit around and go through street by street, line by line and see if we’ve got the right things in the right places – the right tools in the right places – the right signage for speeds posted, those sorts of things,” Oyarzun said. In parallel with the Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Review, statistics from the past two years of photo radar will be used to paint an overall picture.
Controversial location defended
As of the end of 2011 there were 20 zones in Morinville where photo radar could and would be conducted. School zones, 100 Street and 100 Avenue all formed part of the photo radar circuit; however, some locations were more controversial than others. One location that has created vocal opposition is 100 Avenue east near Lift Station No. 1.
Although some who have received tickets coming into and going out of Morinville at that location have argued the validity of having photo radar there, Oyarzun defends the spot being monitored, and said people need to remember they are speeding if their speed exceeds the posted limit.
Oyarzun said there is a great deal of misconception the spot is a transition zone as the speed changes from 50 to 100 km/h past East Boundary Road. “The speed starts at the sign. It’s unfortunate that you can see that 100 [km] sign when you are in the Town of Morinville boundaries, but you can’t start to creep up to 100 within the boundaries,” she said, adding the proximity to East Boundary Road and vehicles crossing the highway there is a safety issue. “If people are already picking up speed to get to that 100 sign, you’ve got another intersection there. That’s another safety issue.”
While vehicle to vehicle collisions are a concern at the lift station monitoring spot, Oyarzun pointed out pedestrians are the major concern. “The bigger concern is that in that area right by the lift zone we have a school bus pickup,” she said. “We’ve got kids crossing that road going to the school bus. You’re supposed to be going 50 there. If you’re already starting to pick up speed to get to that 100 sign, you are speeding, and it’s a safety issue. We’ve got kids crossing [Highway] 642 on 100th Ave. going back and forth from the communities to the playgrounds. We’ve got residents that have also inquired as to why we cannot put a cross walk there for safety concerns.”
Peak speeds clocked on 100 Avenue in the third quarter of 2011 (fourth quarter statistics are not yet available) were 111 km/h heading westbound and 121 km/h heading eastbound, numbers the interim CAO find concerning given the speed limit is 50 km/h.
Speeding a concern
Those figures are more concerning to the Town given the fact approximately 260,000 vehicles travelled westbound through Morinville in the first nine months of 2011, 10 per cent of which were speeding. Eastbound statistics for the same period show approximately 233,000 vehicles passing through town, 12 per cent of whom were exceeding the speed limit according to monitoring signs. While more than 49,000 drivers speeding along 100 Avenue may seem alarming to motorists, including anti-photo radar motorists, Oyarzun explained it does disabuse the notion that nearly everyone is being ticketed. Third quarter statistics show 2,455 tickets were issued between July 1, 2011 and Sept. 30, 2011 throughout all 20 monitoring locations.
For Oyarzun, photo radar is really about resident safety first. “We need to focus on safety with the amount of traffic that goes through this town,” she said. “In two years, over six million vehicles have been monitored. That’s significant. We’re going to continue to grow.” However, she is hoping future pedestrian and traffic growth will not affect Morinville’s reputation as a safe family choice. The interim CAO said when she was looking to relocate to Morinville one of the things that really stood out to her was children riding their bikes on the road and people out and about walking. She said her son questioned why another child was out riding his bicycle unsupervised. “I said, ‘It’s because it’s Morinville – it’s safe,’” she said. “It’s a family community – it’s safe. My concern is, yes, if you’re speeding, you’re going to get a ticket. We need to maintain that [safe family community] image if that’s the image we want to maintain.”
Cash cow allegations
Although the community’s short- and long-term plans indicate it wishes to maintain its family choice image, it is also maintaining its image among photo radar opponents of being a Town with a ticketing cash cow. Oyarzun disagrees.
“The focus is for the safety of the town within the town boundaries,” she said. “The revenue that is generated from those tickets is split up between the province, the town, and the contractor. That’s how we pay the contract.”
The interim CAO explained Morinville’s portion of the ticket revenue is used for education purposes, programing like the Town of Morinville’s Positive Ticketing Program and some of the Community Services Department’s programs. Additionally, Morinville’s share of ticket revenue is earmarked to pay off money borrowed by the Town to pay for the Morinville Community Cultural Centre. “It can be earmarked for a number of things,” Oyarzun said. “Another project we’ve earmarked it for is the Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Review, to create that plan and whatever it requires to implement.”
Although the cost of the review is estimated to be around $5,000 as the Town will use a number of in-house resources as well as those of the RCMP and Traffic Safety Committee; however, there could be larger costs implementing the recommendations that arise from the review. “There’s some dollars that are set aside, depending on what we need; if we need crosswalks, lights, stop signs, repaint the lines – whatever the case is,” she said.
The Town of Morinville is planning to have the Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Review and photo radar location review working in tandem over the next few months. No firm date has been established for implementation of review recommendations.