I live in a city where the weather fluctuates from Sahara desert-like heat in summer to Antarctic cold, snowstorms and blizzards in winter. There are daily freeze-thaw cycles in fall and spring. There are mosquito, worm, and other bug infestations of biblical proportions, which require a cocktail of toxic chemicals projected into the cool night air by city vehicles to control. It’s essentially an Arctic swamp.
The harsh, extreme realities of the climate wreak havoc on the cost of maintaining the urban infrastructure of this modern mid-sized city, which swallows up the civic treasury. Given these constraints, civic officials should never have allowed the city to sprawl to the gross proportions it has, since it merely compounds the massive costs of servicing every extra square kilometre of road, sewer, and would-be transit route to the peripheries. But that is what has happened. A city of 750,000 has become a disparate smattering of remote, suburban Potemkin villages stitched together into a single metropolitan area the geographic dimensions of which rival that of Mexico City – a city of thirty million inhabitants.
Given the lack of urban density anywhere, there is no tax base to pay for the exponential costs of services that could have been easily averted had sprawl not occurred. I don’t blame suburbanites for wanting a nice big house, which isn’t always affordable in a densely populated urban area. I do blame them for the mentality that wants to live far, far away from their jobs, that they have good roads, public transit, emergency responders, garbage collection, and public schools way out where they live, all while thinking they shouldn’t have to pay the level of property taxes needed to actually provide those services – which are underutilized most of the time. I want to smack most of them for their laughable sense of entitlement, which can’t be sustained without the cross-subsidization of tax revenues paid by those living in the city’s more dense urban core.
Several years ago, instead of completely re-thinking city planning to get off our suburban addiction and rein in costs, a bright light came up with one solution to address the city’s fiscal woes. An obvious cash-grab was cloaked under the laudable guise of protecting public safety. The installation of red-light photo cameras and the deploying of “mobile photo-enforcement units” throughout the city would add millions to the budget and catch speeders the cops couldn’t on their own limited budget.
On the surface who can oppose efforts to protect citizens from reckless driving and raise revenue for city programs, right? The framers weren’t stupid. They made it so that fines were assessed to the registered owners of the vehicles without also adding demerit points to anyone’s driving license, which would occur if you’d been pulled over by a police officer for the same violation.
In most areas of the city, the speed limit along main thoroughfares is 60 km/hr (about 37 mph). When passing through more populous neighbourhoods or through school zones, it reduces to 50km/hr (31mph). A fine is sent to you in the mail along with a photo of you picking your nose while blissfully “speeding” at 8 am on Sunday morning – when traveling at 10 km over the speed limit is bound to kill one of the throngs of pedestrians strolling along at that time. But it comes without a speeding infraction recorded on your license, which saves you paying extra when it comes time to renew your driver’s license or purchase auto insurance.
In the old days of police traffic enforcement you’d get a ticket if you were doing 75 to 80 km or more in a 60 km zone. The fine would be about $150 and a point on your license. If you had to swerve around a squirrel or speed up to avoid the ninety year old granny with cataracts who drifted into your lane, you had a chance to explain to a live human being who could exercise discretion in the circumstances.
The administration of photo radar leaves little reasonable means for the accused to recall anything in the circumstances where their violation occurred. You get a ticket in the mail months after your infraction, and the fine you receive is $250, assessed because you were going 9 km over the speed limit. By the time your ticket is in your mailbox it’s way too long ago to recall – or verify – if there were mitigating factors affecting the application of the law. The presumption seems to be that a machine recording the simple fact of velocity is irrefutable. End of story. Pay up, suckers.
Along one main road, there are ten – TEN – speed changes from 60 km to 50 km, which are easily missed because traffic signs in my city are always obscured, miraculously. People have been assessed $350 tickets for speeding in construction zones when coming home from the bar at night (at 2am – in my city, road crews work 7am – 7pm) by the “mobile enforcement” crews who are allowed to position themselves adjacent to schools, parks, and construction zones.
As it turns out, for years the people manning the radar in the “mobile enforcement” trucks did not have the authority to enforce the laws they were enforcing. This wasn’t discovered until a wily lawyer challenged his photo-radar ticket. He pointed out that the people handing out the tickets weren’t really “authorities” in the law – they weren’t sworn officers. The enabling legislation had to be quickly amended to empower the people in the “mobile enforcement units.” This, after several years of handing out millions of dollars in fines without the legal authority.
These horror stories would only be revealed after someone had fought the issue in court and went to the media in outrage. Once the story was published, the thousands of people who subsequently received a ticket in the mail would fight their fine in court and they would win, not because a decision from the bench went in their favour – thus forever altering the crappy laws – but because counsel for the Crown would concede each successive case at court. Hundreds of thousands in assessed fines would have been collected before that point.
After about fifteen years of this bullshit, everybody in my city hates photo radar. The media hates photo radar. Many politicians hate photo radar. Since this is a small town, I am guessing no lawyer worth their salt wants to be the jerk who brought the legal action to bury photo-radar. It might seem like he was fighting anti-speeding laws that save children, which would be a PR blunder. This, in spite of the fact independent studies have proven there has been zero decrease in overall, speed-related traffic fatalities since the program’s introduction. In fact, there have been increased incidents at some intersections where they are installed.
So, serious legal challenges don’t seem forthcoming. In spite of the confederacy of legal travesties that keep it alive, it is quietly accepted as something we have to live with – out of sheer financial desperation. Faced with that reality, the citizens of my city, denizens of justice and democracy as they are, have engaged in a sustained campaign of sabotage to fight the system.
They are honking their horns vigourously as they drive by the “mobile enforcement unit” trucks – as if to say, “Nya, nya, I know you’re there, suck on this *honk*!”
But, guess where Edmund lives? Across the street from a school. Remember I mentioned those mobile units can park adjacent to schools? That means every fucking Saturday and Sunday morning I have to hear legions of suburbanites honking their horns at the enforcement guy as they drive by, because they’re pissed off about that photo ticket they got last week, or about all the driving they have to do. That’s my guess, anyhow.
Well, I’ve had enough. So I posted this equally futile letter in response on my facebook site this morning. It’s a public shaming of my fellow citizens, hoping it will convince them to smarten up. At the very least, it would be nice just to make those among my facebook friends who are part of this problem – leeching suburbanites and horn-honking putzes – squirm a little for their role in my slightly diminished life.
Dear Fellow Motorists,
Okay, so I get it. Photo radar sucks. It’s a cash-grab. It’s not really enhancing public safety. Whatever. You’ve decided to join the movement of hapless protesters across the city. Instead of mounting a reasoned legal defense to crush the program at court, as has been done in cities less over-run with passive aggressive rubes, you’ll stick it to the dude leering in his back seat snapping the picture that will net you a $250 ticket for going nine kilometers over the speed limit and – wait for it – you are going to honk your horn at him! If only the Occupy Movement had you people as their protest strategists homelessness would have been well behind us.
Some honk the “toot-toot-toot-toot-toot, toot-toot” pattern. Some do the quick, polite “beep-beep,” because their 1983 K-car will implode if they honk longer. Others, who cheat at Scrabble, snatch lollipops from the unwitting hands of little children and cut in front of old ladies at the grocery store line, lean on their God-forsaken horns for half mile. Oooh, you sure gave that photo-radar guy a piece of your mind! He’ll go cray-cray with your honk, honk, honking. Hey, maybe he’ll quit his job from the sonic wave of insanity you’ve unleashed in his mind. Maybe they’ll all quit their jobs and then, voila, no photo radar program! ¡Viva la revolución de cabezas de mierda! (Google translate it)
To steal a line from the Friendly Giant “Look up. Look waaaa-aaay up” (actually just look a little but up, because I’m on the second story). You see those windows in the apartments adjacent that son-of-a-bitch photo-radar guy’s truck there? Yeah, those are dozens of innocent schlubs who have nothing to do with photo radar. We’re just trying to catch up on some sleep on this beautiful Saturday morning. We’re trying to read our Saturday comics with the windows open – finally, after seven months of winter – and jitter silently through our fifth morning coffee with the breeze blowing in the window. But guess what? There’s a bunch of passive aggressive honking dip-shits driving by, smiting the tranquil, hyper-caffeinated existence of their fellow citizens because they’ve decided to engage in the lamest protest in the history of mankind.
Here’s a quick fix honkies. Walk. Ride a bike. Stay home and play with your family. If you’re intent on driving, accept the existence of photo traffic control and take extra care to drive within the speed limit. It is a capitulation to injustice, I grant. But if you want to bang your head against the cruel walls of reality and keep fighting the good fight, don’t be so fucking lazy and meek, roll down your window (or press the button that does it for you), and give the guy the finger. It is just as futile as the horn-honking, but at least it doesn’t immiserate the lives of your fellow citizens.
With wavering faith in humanity,
Edmund K. Saunders