$30M in photo radar tickets issued at one Winnipeg spot, but few changes made to stop speeders

By | June 18, 2020

Grace Hart was leaving the Grant Park Shopping Centre parking lot in the fall of 2017 after seeing a mid-afternoon movie with her mother.

As she headed home, driving westbound down Grant Avenue, a mobile enforcement vehicle snapped a picture of her licence plate. A few weeks later, she found a speeding ticket in her mailbox. She was going 65 km/h in the 50 km/h zone.

“I was just going with the flow of traffic,” she said. “It just seemed like the right speed for the road.”

Hart is far from alone. Since 2013, about 120,000 speeding tickets have been issued to Winnipeg motorists at that location — Grant Avenue, just west of Thurso Street — costing them nearly $30 million in fines, according to a CBC News analysis of nearly seven years of citation data.

Winnipeg resident Grace Hart says getting a ticket at Grant Avenue and Thurso Street is a common discussion topic with her friends. (Gary Soliak/CBC)

Records show that location alone accounts for nearly 20 per cent of all mobile enforcement tickets in the city annually. It’s also, by a large margin, the highest-yielding location in the city.

But what irks local traffic enforcement critics isn’t so much what police and the city are doing, but rather what they aren’t doing about it.

(Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

Rodney Bolianaz, who served 27 years with the Winnipeg Police Service, has been running the traffic ticket-fighting service Radar Rodney since he retired from the service.

“I’ve gotten one photo radar ticket in my life — right here,” he said, standing at Grant Avenue at Thurso Street.

Retired Winnipeg police officer Rodney Bolianaz says given the volume of tickets issued at this location, the city should look for solutions beyond photo enforcement. (John Einarson/CBC)

Bolianaz says the sustained ticket volumes make him question why that information isn’t being used to change driver behaviour. 

“If it is about public safety, why don’t we have big signs? Yes, the city can’t put a 50 [km/h] sign on every street block of every street,” he said.

“But in a problem area where you’re getting 20 per cent of the tickets, why aren’t we putting up two huge diamond signs, yellow signs saying ’50?’ And let’s get voluntary compliance.”

(Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

He recalls the impact signage had on a stretch of Dunkirk Drive.

“It changes from a 70 to a 50 zone and police were doing a lot of enforcement there. And then they put up a huge diamond yellow sign with a white ’50’ right in the middle.”

He says traffic police later told him the location simply “dried up” and they moved on.

The anatomy of Winnipeg’s ticket hotspot

Bolianaz says that every person who comes to him with a ticket at Grant and Thurso tells him they had no idea they were in a 50 km/h zone.

The history of the street offers a few hints behind this common refrain.

In 2003, the City of Winnipeg’s public works department recommended increasing the speed along that stretch to 60 km/h. A public works study found the natural speed for most motorists along the wide, two-way divided road was 61 to 68 km/h, with a collision rate within normal limits.

However, a motion rejecting the recommendation by then River Heights-Fort Garry councillor Garth Steek was carried, leaving the speed limit at 50.

Up until last fall, the nearly two-kilometre stretch of road — which passes by Grant Park High School — had no signage reminding motorists it is a 50 km/h zone.

For years, a nearly 1.8 kilometre-long stretch that is Winnipeg’s most-ticketed location had no signage to warn drivers of the speed limit. (Steven Silcox/CBC)

In 2018, the area saw enforcement activity 360 out of 365 days of the year, issuing as many as 188 tickets in a day. Previous reporting by CBC News also found that several Winnipeg Transit bus drivers routinely get ticketed at this location.

Last September, one new curbside speed-limit sign was installed on Grant in the lead up to the enforcement location, only after city Coun. John Orlikow approached the public works department, asking if something could be done to slow traffic.

It’s not yet clear what impact the sign has had, if any, on driver behaviour.

Orlikow says those decisions should be left up to the traffic engineers, but he thought a nudge was in order.

“You can mention it to the public works and say, ‘Come on. Can we do something?'”

A few hundred metres past the enforcement location, the city installed prominent signage to remind drivers of the speed limit. (Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

Just a few blocks down from the enforcement location itself, there are 50 km/h signs on both the median and the curbside, equipped with a digital speed indicator for westbound traffic on Grant heading toward Kenaston Boulevard.

That’s the type of prominent signage critics have been calling for years in the enforcement area.

Staying in our lane: police

Winnipeg Police Service Insp. Gord Spado, who has overseen the traffic division for nearly three years, says the authority for signage decisions falls with public works, but ackowledges he has never personally used the historical enforcement data to flag these problems with the department.

He says, however, that city officials are generally aware of the speeding issues.

Spado says he’s not convinced more visible signage would help bring the numbers down.

Insp. Gord Spado, the head of the Winnipeg Police Service’s traffic division, says signage decisions are up to the city’s public works department. (John Einarson/CBC)

“To be honest with you, people have been so accustomed [to speeding] and … that’s what they drive that stretch at. I’m not sure that signage would make that much of a difference,” he said, adding drivers should know that if they don’t see signage, the default speed limit is 50 km/h.

He notes another area — a construction zone on Brookside and Mollard that was enforced in July 2019 — was over-signed.

Despite that, it still saw a high volume of tickets, netting over $3.6 million in fines in just 30 days.

Spado says it took time, but enforcement eventually had an effect, and the proportion of speeding vehicles dropped by the end of the zone’s existence.

“If [drivers] are getting punished and there’s a consequence for speeding, but they don’t change their behaviour, there’s not a heck of a lot that the police can do about it … except continue the enforcement efforts.”

Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth declined a request for an interview.

Ticket data not shared for safety insights

The chair of the city’s public works department, St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard, has likened ticket data to a “canary in the coal mine,” and says the lack of information sharing was news to him.

He also confirmed the department does not review mobile enforcement data with police.

“I think the follow-up question is what, if anything, can be done to ensure better compliance? Because enforcement is one tool. It helps. But there are other things that we can do as well,” said Allard.

A mobile enforcement unit in Winnipeg parked in a school zone. (John Einarson/CBC)

“[Enforcement] doesn’t influence everyone, and people have certain driving habits that are influenced by the engineering of the road.”

Asked about the department’s past initiatives on the stretch of Grant Avenue, Allard said he is “satisfied with public works having a consistent position over the years.”

The city declined requests to speak with a public works official.

Coun. Allard says he will introduce a motion asking the public works department to review how it can access and make better use of police enforcement data in the interest of public safety.

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