Are Speed Limits Artificially Low in Calgary?

Posted by: Kenny Chan onMarch 5th, 2012

The Calgary Police Service has release updated traffic statistics regarding its Intersection Safety Camera program (Red light and Speed on Green cameras). In 2011 a total of 116,322 tickets were issued, 99,258 for speeding and 17,064 for running the red light. The cameras monitor the streets 24 hours a day, 365 days a year snapping away generating revenue every 20 seconds. Sure beats hiring, training and deploying actual officers on the streets!

26,107 speeding tickets were issued at EB 16 Ave & 10 St alone where the speed limit is 50km/h. That works out to 71 tickets a day. This sounds a bit excessive, and I imagine the City of Calgary traffic department as well as the Calgary Police expected this intersection would be brought up when they released the statistics.

“When we put this in perspective in the number of vehicles that travel through the intersection, what that says to us is the equipment is working as it’s designed to work,” said Insp. Michael Watterston, the head of Calgary’s Traffic Unit.

“We have a small percentage of motorists that speed through that intersection or fail to stop for that red light, so in that sense, generally, people are obeying the speed limit, the traffic light cycle, so that’s comforting.”

In 2011, a total of 5.8 million vehicles went through the intersection which means less than 1% of those were speeding or ran the red light, pretty good right? Not exactly. It really depends on what angle you want to look at the numbers. While Insp. Watterston uses the the term “motorists” a more accurate term would be ‘vehicle trips”. 1% of the vehicle trips at the intersection in question resulted in a ticket being issued but if we were to look at the % of motorists or unique people being ticketed the # would be quite a bit higher. Why does this matter? If 15% or 20% of individuals that drive through that intersection are speeding then perhaps it would actually be safer if the speed limit was raised to 60 kph to minimize any speed differences in traffic. The goal is safety right?

60 KPH Zone on 16 Ave SW

60 KPH Zone - Fence Separation, Sidewalk adjacent to roadway

Take a look at the above photo showing 16 Ave SW in the 60kph zone which is about 4 blocks before the speed camera. Now take a look at where the speed limit is dropped to 50kph right before the speed camera. The roadway is wider, it is separated by a stronger concrete planter and the sideway is separated from the roadway. Motorists on this stretch will feel more comfortable driving at a higher rate of speed in the 50 zone than they would in the 60 zone, which is precisely why there is a speed camera there. There is higher tendency for motorists to speed here. Safety is not the primary concern here.

50 KPH Zone on 16 Ave SW

50 KPH Zone - Concrete Separation, Sidewalk separated from roadway

Speaking of safety, I decided to look into the statistics over the last few years to see if the ISCs were really making our streets safer. In the years prior to the launch of the speed-on-green cameras, injury collisions dropped from 3300 in 2007 to about 3000 in 2008 then to 2569 in 2009. The speed cameras were introduced in spring of 2009 (2 cameras were upgraded initially) and the full deployment of the speed-on-green cameras was completed at the end of the year. The trend for collisions was down even before all the cameras were upgraded. What about injury collisions after the “safety cameras” were installed? Flat. 2473 in 2010 and 2466 in 2011.

Bottom line, upgrading the red light cameras to be speed cameras (let’s call it what it actually is, instead of a safety camera) was strictly for revenue. In fact, Ald. John Mar who is on the Police Commission said:
the police commission will carry on with the program despite early numbers suggesting that Calgarians aren’t slowing down.

Hmm, of course they will carry on, money talks.

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