The city of Calgary’s traffic camera system looks great, in theory.
But a visit to the actual website on www.calgary.ca is leaving a lot of Calgarians shaking their heads in frustration.
One weekday in mid-February, 27 of the 72 cameras deployed across the city to monitor traffic flows on important streets and intersections were listed as being offline, while another eight were so dirty that they offered only a blurred image that was impossible to decipher.
The situation wasn’t much better around the end of last month, as 20 cameras were out one day in the last week of February.
The situation had motorists like Willow Ridge Community President Greg Humphreys hopping mad.
“Why don’t they work? And if they don’t work, then why are they there?” Humphreys said in an interview.
“I think the city goes out of its way to increase the level of frustration that the driving public has rather than decrease it.”
The cameras used for traffic monitoring only and are not to be confused with the red-light cameras that the Calgary Police use to catch light-running motorists.
The red-light cameras are the still-image, non-live-action cams that provide a snapshot of the major intersections in Calgary, which are updated every couple of minutes. The traffic cams, which are maintained by the city’s transportation department, are live action lenses that are supposed to tell motorists whether traffic is moving in particular parts of the city.
The images give Calgarians an idea of what traffic is like at that particular point so they can alter their routes and create the most efficient driving plan.
Humphreys said he has used the system in the past but has abandoned it because of its unreliability.
“I’ve found that when the weather is bad, they (the traffic cameras) don’t work, which, interestingly enough, is when you need them the most,” he said.
“I have a technical background and I’ve had experience with video systems and this system is incredibly expensive – it must cost the city millions. It’s pointless to use anymore.”
Ald. Shane Keating also expressed his impatience with the system, saying, “there’s no reason why those (traffic cameras) shouldn’t be operable.
“They’re there to help with traffic congestion,” he said.
“In my view, they should be operable 100 per cent of the time. But if not 100 per cent, then as close as we can and if they’re not operating at 100 per cent, then we need to stop and figure out why.”
Calgary city roads spokesman Sean Somers said that while the traffic cameras are a valuable tool, they sometimes must be taken offline for maintenance or for other extenuating circumstances.
“There was a station in the south that controls many of the cameras that had to be taken offline for maintenance,” said Somers.
“Another reason is, that if there happens to be an accident at that particular intersection that has a camera, then we would take that camera offline for privacy reasons – we don’t want to publicize gore.”
Somers said that the unusually large number of cameras that were found to be offline recently wasn’t that unusual.
“It’s not unusual to have that many (27) offline,” he said.
On top of that number, many cameras were also quite dirty, so much so, that the image could not be clearly made out, if at all.
“We’ve had some warm weather in Calgary and the melted snow has obviously splashed up onto the cameras. It doesn’t take a lot of creative thinking to see how they would get dirty.”
Most of the cameras are mounted more than 20 feet above the road bed, usually on nearby light standards, and have covering hoods to shield them from weather.
Somers could not provide a precise figure for the operating cost of the traffic camera system alone.
According to Calgary.ca, the net operating budget for the Calgary Roads department in 2012 was $132 million.