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Data driving traffic enforcement for Athabasca’s peace officer

Town turns to electronic signs to help know when and where traffic infractions are occurring

ATHABASCA – The Town of Athabasca is hoping data from two electronic speed signs will help its Peace Officer know where he needs to be, and when, to cut down on dangerous driving.

During their May 21 meeting, councillors heard from Kevin Rowan, the town’s Community Peace Officer (CPO). Rowan updated the seven municipal leaders on traffic stats for the last month, as well as the data he’s seen since the signs were installed in mid-March.

“The data has been really useful, and it’s very defendable when we have data like that,” said Mayor Rob Balay. “It’s really a step in the right direction for us.”

Rowan said April was a busy month which saw him write 24 tickets, conduct a joint-force operation with the Alberta Sheriffs, and run safety sessions for children’s car seats.

The most common occurrence for Rowan was pet-related incidents, as the CPO dealt with eight throughout the month. He said several were for at-large dogs and cats, but one was for a truck driving on 50 Avenue with a dog in the box, which the Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw prohibits.

“Every situation is different,” said Rowan, who added he prefers to use his discretion when dealing with enforcement issues.

Traffic is another major part of Rowan’s job — he dealt with nine car-related occurrences, including five parking infractions.

Councillors also directed administration to look into more parking signs for the downtown core — particularly 50 Street — after it was pointed out that the signs have decreased in number over the years.

“I know there’s been several signs over the years that were taken down and never put back,” said Balay. “To me, unless there’s at each end of the block stating that, it’s hard to justify giving out tickets.”

New data-driven approach

Rowan came armed with numbers — from mid-March until the first week in May, the town had two electronic speed signs set up, one on Cornwall Drive, and the other on Wood Heights Road.

The signs, which flash a driver’s current speed, also record that data, allowing Rowan to see when high traffic periods occur, and how many drivers are following the rules during those periods.

“I’ve been using the data to focus on patrols for speeding during the high traffic periods and when the violations are the highest,” said Rowan. “If you look at the data for Cornwall Drive … you’ll see that the highest number of vehicles is on Wednesday at 2:35 p.m. The highest number of vehicles, the highest number of violations showing a trend is what I want to focus on.”

The sign on Cornwall Drive was in a school zone, and Rowan’s data showed no trend of speeding during the speed reduction hours.

“I put more focus on just sporadic enforcement, showing up at any old time, and I didn’t find any infractions myself,” said Rowan. “Wood Heights Road, on the other hand, the data there showed that the highest traffic period was between 2 and 3 p.m., and speeds of over 51 kilometres an hour were more common.”

The sign on Wood Heights Road was located in a playground zone, and Rowan found drivers were consistently over the speed limit. 81 per cent of drivers were driving too fast, with the average speed being 37 kilometres an hour in a 30 zone.

“I was kind of surprised that once the sign did go up… I go through it and I see that at one in the morning, there’s someone going 40, 50, 60 over, at six o’clock they’re doing 30-plus over, people aren’t really slowing down,” said Rowan. “There were a lot at 20 over, like hundreds.”

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