You’ve hated them on freeways, loathed them at intersections, and detested them on city streets.
This time though, it’s going to be pretty hard to argue.
Whether you call photo radar a cash cow, lazy policing or even something unprintable in a family newspaper, you can’t help but support them when the safety of children is in question — and that’s why permanent playground and school zone cameras are almost a certainty for Calgary.
How certain? When the head of the Calgary Police Service Traffic Section wants permanent cameras tested near schools and parks, you know the first speeding tickets are as good as in the mail.
“There’s a real push across the country to have speed cameras in playground zones, and cities are looking at putting them in full-time, and I don’t think anyone can deny that’s a critical piece to have,” said Insp. Ken Thrower, head of traffic.
Thrower says he wants to try the same in Calgary, by installing cameras in school and playground zones, and making the radar locations obvious to motorists via signs — so basically, if you speed, you know a ticket is a certainty.
“Regina is going to put them into five school zones permanently and that’s something I’m going to check into, to look at doing that here,” said Thrower.
“Any kid being hit in a playground, that’s one kid too many.”
It won’t be the first time a high-ranking police officer has successfully pushed for cameras on Calgary roads, with both red light cameras and speed on green technology the result of police officials campaigning for technology to improve intersection safety.
Thrower specifically cites Saskatchewan as a province that’s currently making the cameras a permanent threat for any motorist who thinks a 30 km/h limit is too low in areas where children gather.
In three cities — Regina, Moose Jaw and Saskatoon — a handful of school zones are being chosen for camera rotation, along with warning signs warning drivers the area may be under surveillance by photo radar.
Much like Calgary’s intersection camera boxes, Saskatchewan will rotate the actual camera through the chosen school zones, so the motorist can never be sure whether the location is armed to issue tickets or not — the key being, it might be.
The threat seems to have a drastic impact on speeds, going on the experience of cities like Chicago, which in 2013 installed automated speed enforcement cameras in 51 “Children’s Safety Zones” near schools and parks.
In areas with the cameras, the number of speeding violations dropped by an average of 43% over the first year, with some zones recording a 99% reduction.
To do the same in Calgary would likely require changes to Alberta’s Traffic Act, but with the province willing to allow mobile photo radar and stationary cameras at intersections, it’s unlikely to stand in the way of an initiative aimed at keeping children safe.
In fact, Thrower says the province has been leaning on cities to do more to enforce school and playground speed limits, so testing permanent cameras in Calgary is almost certain to get the green light.
“The province has been pushing that, and it’s always a big thing on our plate too,” said Thrower.
“If sometime in the future we get all these cameras set up, and no one speeds, then hallelujah.”
Unlike traditional photo radar, which is moved around and typically hidden, permanent school zone cameras would be a visible and constant deterrent to lead-footed motorists, including parents in a rush to drop their kids.
For that reason, Coun. Shane Keating says he’s completely in support of the inspector’s plan to make school zones safer with permanent cameras — and he’ll even help pen a letter to the province, if it helps to accelerate the process.
“I have absolutely no problem with that idea at all,” said Keating, chair of city council’s Transportation Committee.
“This is not about revenue, it’s about controlling speed. What we’re talking about is absolutely about safety, and I see no problem with the police doing that.”