Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for the ‘law enforcement’ Category

Automatic Number Plate Recognition

with 5 comments

I have on numerous occasions on this blog recommended that speed limit enforcement needs to be upgraded. The BC Liberals, under Gordon Campbell, got rid of photo radar in response their supporters claims that the program was a “cash grab”. No satisfactory examination was conducted on its impact on road safety – so far as I am aware. I have often suggested that Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) be used to detect vehicles that travel lengths of road at speeds far above the posted speed limit. ANPR is already used for various travel surveys – such as turning movements through an intersection. My information of course is based on my knowledge and experience which is now very much out of date. When ANPR is used with current data processing techniques its impact is far reaching.

I would still like to see something much more effective being done to reduce the daily experience of seeing most cars on most roads exceeding the speed limit with impunity. But I must admit that reading “How Britain Exported Next-Generation Surveillance” was an eye opener for me.  There is nothing in the article that refers to Canada. But as we saw from the tv news coverage of the attack on Parliament Hill, and many other news stories, there is a lot of surveillance going on here. There was also that appeal for people to look at cctv videos of people who took part in the Stanley Cup riot in downtown Vancouver.

A lot of what has been introduced since September 11, 2001 in the name of security has been very intrusive and arguably not very effective. As the Matter article notes, much of the apparent success of the ANPR system has been due to sheer luck or other  investigative techniques. But in Canada police surveillance of law abiding protests, and tracking of people labelled “extremists” simply because they express a preference for clean air, drinkable water, nutritious food and a livable planet is already a legitimate concern.

Written by Stephen Rees

January 6, 2015 at 12:30 pm

BC Highway Speed Limits Review

with 9 comments

Canadian speed limit sign

“A Canadian speed limit sign in British Columbia, taken on the 99 freeway just east of Ladner.” photo by David Herrera on flickr : creative commons license

I first saw something about this on twitter this morning. A journalist wanted me to comment (on tv, this evening) but we can’t make the timing work, though our telephone call did get my mind working. Then – also on Twitter – this page popped up which tells us more about what is intended. The Minister this morning was saying that it is only the limits that are going to be reviewed not enforcement. Which is a pity, in my view. And apparently it is not just about raising limits on newer rural highways

This review isn’t focused on increasing speed limits, rather making sure we have the right speed limits.

So in some cases speed limits might be reduced. Yeah, right.

There is a real problem with speed limits in BC, and that is not the level that they are set at The problem is that too many drivers believe that the speed limit does not apply to them. They have a car which is capable of much higher speeds, and, like all drivers, they know that they are of above average ability. Speed limits, according to this mind set, are merely suggestions for the elderly and those driving older, cheaper models. An even greater proportion of drivers view speed limits as the speed at which everybody ought to drive at, no matter what the conditions. Anyone driving slower than the posted speed is simply trying to get in everyone else’s way and needs to be taught a lesson. So tailgating, honking, light flashing and alarming manoeuvres  are mandated.

Ever since Gordon Campbell secured his personal popularity by abolishing photo radar, the respect for speed limits has diminished. I have written about that here quite often. I have also pointed to the simple facts of physics that when collisions do occur, severities increase with speed. What is a fender bender at 30 km/hr is fatal at 130.  If speed limits are widely ignored – and my experience suggests that is the case, and you can repeat that experimentally by observing the speed limit on any rural highway and count those who overtake you – then it probably does not make a great deal of difference what the posted speed is. The people who drive fast will continue to drive at whatever speed they feel like, because they do not have any need to consider the consequences.

We have, thanks to pressure from a very powerful lobby group (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), reduced our tolerance for drinking and driving. Enforcement has been increased, to the point of actually infringing a number of important legal principles like due process, and stop without cause. Presumption of innocence has long been dead. Attitudes have shifted, and people worry when they drink and drive: not that they might cause a death or severe injury to themselves or others, but that they will be apprehended and have to pay a penalty. And that has affected enough people that places that serve alcohol have noticed an impact on their businesses. It was not enough, unfortunately, to ensure that Gordon Campbell was driven from office when found guilty of drunk driving in Hawaii.

I believe that caving to the loud protests against photo radar has had an equal and opposite effect. Firstly, when there was photo radar, the police announced a margin of tolerance. Ever since there has been a widespread popular belief, that a speed limit sign can have 10% added to it before running the risk of penalty. Not that that was the tolerance level on photo radar, and not that that is now significant. But secondly, the very idea that speed limits need to be enforced is now regarded as some quaint obsession. The police – runs this popular belief – would be better employed tracking down thieves or hooligans, not otherwise Good People who happen not to have noticed either their speedometer or the road side sign. Or that the sign was posted by people more concerned with political correctness than “real” road safety.

Raising speed limits will certainly appeal to a significant sector of the population. But I think those people are more than likely BC Liberal voters already. I suppose there are some Conservatives – and Libertarians – that might be won over. But the rural, car/truck driving longer distance types are already on side. This move will not do anything to win over those who have other concerns, but it does appeal to the BC Liberal base.

The other thing that needs to be noted is that no one is talking about fuel consumption. Higher speeds increase it, which means that emissions increase too: specifically greenhouse gas emissions. We are boiling the planet, and must reduce our emissions – and should have started doing that twenty years ago or more. The science of the impact of human activity on climate change is not in doubt. The need to reduce fossil fuel use is not negotiable. But that is not part of this review. Nowhere is it even mentioned. The only time I can recall that speed limits were generally reduced was the first oil shock. It had nothing to do with road safety – though that was its immediate effect. Every road in the US that had previously not had a posted limit, was now reduced to 55mph. That was designed with one end in view: reduce gasoline consumption. It did, but not by very much apparently, and the need to do that has not gone away. It is now even more important than it was then. But I do not expect that to be of much concern to this government, based on their current obsessions.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 4, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Dealing with scofflaws

with one comment

Its a stunt. They bought the car specially.

But this woke a long repressed memory. I wanted to do this for real. At the time (c 1986) parking enforcement in Central London had collapsed under the weight of uncollected fines. People were simply stuffing the tickets they had collected into the glove box and forgetting about them. the chance of any effective follow-up being very slim indeed. the courts were jammed, and collecting on unpaid parking tickets seemed less important than, well, everything else. The impact on London’s traffic was obvious – especially buses – but nothing we suggested (we being Traffic Policy division of the Department of Transport who had taken over after the GLC was abolished) was being taken very seriously.

I had this idea that renting a mobile car crusher, and putting a few sample violators cars in them, on prime time local tv, might get some attention. Of course, we would check first to make sure no-one had left their pet dog in the car. Or a baby, too I suppose.

The Mayor of Vilnius seems to have as similar problem and came up with the same idea. I really wonder if anyone takes it seriously.

In London, at that time, illegally parked cars would be towed – eventually. To make being towed away more of a nuisance to the driver, the impound lot was a long way out of the centre: this also reduced land cost but meant the few trucks in use were away for long periods of time leaving a space that someone else was sure to occupy. So we came up with clamping – based on a pitch from the firm that had introduced the scheme in Denver. Which was introduced, but for just any offence, not just the persistent offenders as that meant we did not need to use computers and databases, which scared the politicians who foresaw problems from the civil liberties lobby. And they liked to think of themselves as free market libertarians.

Parking in bike lanes is indeed a real issue. In Richmond as much as in Vilnius.

Bad Parking 1

I did blog about this before. While this particular miscreant apologized – and paid no fine – the practice continues. And if the by-law enforcement people are doing anything I cannot say that since this event I have noticed any difference. Parking in our bike lanes does not seem important to many drivers – at least not as important as their need to “just pop in here for a minute”. Even more annoying are those who believe that since they own the house that fronts onto the street they also own the right to park in front of it – no matter what the by laws may say.

With the widespread availability of mobile devices, with GPS, and social media maybe we need an outbreak of vigilantism among cyclists. Rather like the backlash after the riot. Except, of course, being polite Canadians and there being no visible property damage in this offence we probably do not get angry enough with these selfish louts.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 2, 2011 at 4:37 pm

I Witnessed a Contravention

with 7 comments

Yesterday while riding my bike I came across the following scene

Bad Parking 1

The “no parking at any time” sign is clear and incontrovertible. Nearly the whole of Williams Road is laid out like this – three traffic lanes – one in each direction, and a centre bidirectional turn only lane – with a bike lane next to the curb. Parking is not allowed in the bike lane. It is also not allowed on the sidewalk. You can look that up in the Traffic by law.

2.3 No person shall stop or stand a vehicle:
(a) upon a sidewalk,

(h) at a place in contravention of a traffic control device prohibiting stopping;

(A ‘traffic control device’ means a sign)

Bad Parking 3

Once upon a time in my career I was involved with parking policy issues – which included the thorny question of parking enforcement. In Central London in the early eighties, parking regulation enforcement declined as the police insisted that any increase in manpower (we still called it that in those days) go to police officers and not traffic wardens. By 1984 chaos ensued. Even the tickets that were issued were not collected as the courts simply did not have the time to hear cases. Britain’s licensing system was such that it was not possible to refuse someone car insurance for unpaid parking fines. Indeed, the legal system itself regarded “fixed penalty notices” simply as an alternative to court action – they were not actually “fines”in law.  The Transport Road Research Laboratory had looked at the use of the wheel clamp in places like Denver. There, when you had more than ten unpaid tickets, your car was clamped by the authorities, and not released until the fines were paid. An early version of a handheld computer (a Psion I think) was used to track the tickets. This did not appeal to our Minister – who feared a backlash from the civil liberties lobby – but he suggested clamping for any parking infraction. The trial of the clamp was far more successful than anyone predicted.

All law depends on a level of compliance. Most people obey posted signs most of the time. But every so often they will try a “contravention” – and hope they can get away with it. Unfortunately after a while this tends to expand. The more they “get away” with something, the more they will do it. The clamp was the method we used to get back to a tolerable level of compliance. Because you cannot have a warden – or a police officer – everywhere, all the time.

I tried writing to the people whose names appear on the signs. I sent them links to the flickr images. Glen Foreman – one of the two ReMax agents replied

Stephen , thanks for the photo shot. As a fellow cyclist , I can appreciate your concern and took care to neither block the bike nor the pedestrian access. It ain’t pretty but for 2 short hours , I’m just trying to do my job and be a good citizen.
Good biking …
Glen Foreman
RE/MAX Westcoast

Well, I cannot say I agree. But what was really discouraging was the response I got from the Richmond By Law people. Instead of sending them just the “Stephen Rees wants you to see a photo” message that flickr provides I wrote the following

I observed and photographed an incident today where a realtor had parked partially on a sidewalk and partially on a bike lane. The location on the south side of Williams, west of No 2 Road is clearly signed “No Parking at any time”.

There are three images posted of this incident on flickr [which is where I inserted links to all three pictures]

It is also possible to determine from those pages the exact time, date (June 21, 2009 at 14:36:25) and location of the images, and the license plate is clearly readable

BC Collector Plate B13-884

The vehicle was being used as a static advert for an open house, and the advertising is also clearly visible.

That seemed to me to provide enough evidence to stand up in any possible dispute. So I was really frustrated to get this reply

Hello Mr. Rees,

Thank you for your e-mail.

Please note that City of Richmond Parking Enforcement staff are unable to issue parking tickets unless the incident is witnessed first-hand.

However, if you forward you concern to the RCMP, they may be able to pursue the matter further.

Should you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me.


Ian Oliver

Community Bylaws
City of Richmond

And I got a very similar response from the RCMP. Apparently you can’t send them email – but you can call them. And if I printed off the whole lot  I could go down to the police station and lodge a formal complaint. It is curious that you can, for instance, take a picture and email it to the CBC evening news and it will be on that day’s broadcast. I have done that quite a bit with weather pictures. You can send email to your MP or the Prime Minister. But not the Mounties.

Glen Foreman was not being a “good citizen”.  He was trying to sell a house using a method that forced cyclists into a traffic lane – and anyone on the sidewalk – with a sight impairment for example – would have been inconvenienced. He could easily have put up signs showing an open house without having to park a car to put the sign on its roof. Indeed he did! And he did contravene more than one bylaw.

When people break the law and there are no consequences, compliance shrinks. It seems to me  that Glen does not acknowledge any wrongdoing or express any remorse. I think he should. Possibly by using social media – like flickr, this blog and twitter – I will create some pressure on him – and his agency – to reconsider this practice. I hope so. After all, the amount of money he makes – since he can afford a collector car Jaguar as well as his work vehicle – a paltry parking ticket will not make much of a dent. Although people do get more enraged by parking tickets than almost any other penalty – and will try to fight them. Indeed I have – and have succeeded – but felt disappointed that the issuing officer did not come to court to fight his side.

And in case you agree with Glen that he was not blocking the bike lane take a look at this. Not that it matters. He was breaking the law. Even if he doesn’t get a ticket, maybe he can get some public discomfort.

Bad Parking 2

Nice Jag. Shame about the driver.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 22, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Posted in law enforcement, parking

Tagged with ,

2,865 bikes recovered from world’s most prolific cycle thief

with 9 comments

The Guardian

It is not often Canadian stories get noticed in the UK. But the Guardian has caught on to a story that has had the Toronto bike community talking for some time.

As with most theft, in order for there to be a market for stolen goods there needs to be a “fence” – and people who will buy things at prices well below their market value without asking questions about where they came from. In this case it sounds like there was a stake out. But I seem to recall that there has also been talk of using bait bikes in the same way that bait cars are used to catch car thieves.

The story also seems to lend credence to the idea that bike theft is organised and endemic. It is not just an opportunistic crime but a professional activity that needs to be taken seriously by law enforcement.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 25, 2008 at 10:20 pm

Wheel-clamp profits to be banned

leave a comment »

I covered this issue a while back, but this story on the BBC web page caught my eye.

New Department of Transport guidance says councils should “not seek to make a surplus” from clamping parked cars.

The guidance, which is part of a parking regulations shake-up, puts a priority on winning public support.

It says the enforcement should be “proportional” to the contravention’s seriousness. Wheel-clampers are being urged to target persistent offenders.

Which is, in essence, what was supposed to have happened in the first place. It was only because of the fear of outrage by the privacy advocates that it did not happen, but being clamped for overstaying a meter is a bit like being hanged for stealing a sheep.

The great fear is always that Big Brother does not just want to watch us, he wants to control us. And, sadly, the track record of authority in this field is not very prepossessing. The current – somewhat muted – scandal of unathourised wire taps in the US being only the most recent example.

But the problem for law enforcement is that when people see someone “getting away with it” the temptation is to try it themselves. For a law to be effective, people have to comply with it voluntarily, because they see it as right and just. But increasingly it is difficult to see much justice in the ways the law is drafted and prosecuted. And for some people, evading the law is a way of life.

“We are bringing in quicker clamping and removal times for persistent evaders.”

Wheel-clampers are being urged to make vehicles which are suspicious in other ways – such as not having a valid tax disk – a top priority.

If you read my original piece cited above, you will see the same theme repeated.

I think there is a case for a database. It is the persistent offenders that we need to catch. Speeders, red light runners, parking louts (flickr has whole groups devoted to recording their offences) the regular fare dodger – they can all be caught, because we now have the ability to track them. Currently the feeling seems to be that we would be giving up too much of our liberty if we did crack down on them. I think that misses the point. The current ethos is that law breakers have no fear of being caught. They know that they can get away with their offences most of the time. It is only when photo radar or bait cars are introduced that this belief is falsified. What we need to ask the speeders and so on is, why do they think that they are entitled to break the law? For those who cry “tax grab” the loudest at photo radar, were those who were getting the tickets. And the cost to society of someone who parks on a busy street in peak period in terms of delay – and consequent frustration and road rage and all that – is huge. Taking a blue badge parking spot from someone who cannot manage without it just because you will “only be a minute” is not trivial.

We have already accepted that in order to stop drunk drivers we will be stopped at random checks. In order to reduce the carnage on the streets and drain on our Emergency Rooms, we are checked to see if we are wearing our seat belts. This is not “the nanny state” the libertarians bleat about. It is simple common sense. There is a very clear, positive social cost benefit ratio. And the same applies to clamping the cars that have a glove compartment full of unpaid parking tickets.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 15, 2007 at 9:08 pm

Posted in law enforcement