Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay City Council says no to red light cameras

Red light cameras won't be coming to Thunder Bay intersections.

Council voted against installing cameras at Monday's meeting but may put cameras on exteriors of school buses

Thunder Bay City Council has voted not to move forward with installing red light cameras at some intersections. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Red light cameras won't be coming to Thunder Bay intersections.

Thunder Bay City Council voted Monday not to move ahead with the installation of the cameras at some intersections in the northwestern Ontario city.

Coun. Mark Bentz, who voted against the program, said his opposition was due to cost.

"Initially, when we looked at this, we weren't looking at 10 cameras," he said. "There is this provision that you have to have a minimum of 10 cameras to partake in this program."

The city has said it would cost about $875,000 a year to operate all 10 cameras.  A five-year contract with the camera's vendor, which handles things like maintenance, would also be required.

The city has said some of those expenses can be recouped via fines issued to drivers caught running red lights.

"That doesn't really sit well with me, that we're trying to finance a a program on the hopes that we find enough people," Bentz said. "The assuredness of it being revenue neutral wasn't there for me."

"I thought this would probably cost the taxpayer some money as well as the fine revenue, which probably wouldn't cover the full costs in my opinion."

In addition, Bentz was concerned that after a while, the cameras would become less effective.

"If you know you're approaching a intersection with a red light camera, you're probably going to not go through it," he said. "You might even start avoiding these intersections in a city as small as Thunder Bay."

"It could paint a very different picture for revenue sources from this camera system."

Coun. Kristen Oliver, who also chairs the city's police services board, voted in favour of red light cameras on Monday.

"I'm in favour of using technology in terms of helping to implement strategies around correcting some behavioural issues we have with traffic in this community," Oliver said. "As a ward councillor ... speeding and traffic concerns are the number one complaint that I get."

That applies to police, as well: Oliver said "the number one complaint that our police service is hearing, as well, is that people are frustrated with the level of speeding that's occurring, running red lights, not stopping for stop signs."

Other communities that have implemented programs like red light cameras have seen positive results, including a drop in the number of collisions at intersections where the cameras are installed.

"I thought that the red light camera was one way to certainly help establish some better driving behaviours, perhaps," Oliver said. "If we start looking at impacting people in their pocketbook, maybe that'll correct their their poor driving habits."

While a  potential red light camera program in Thunder Bay has been shelved, Oliver said council is expected to receive a resolution this summer that, if passed, would allow cameras to be installed on the exterior of school buses.

"Any vehicle that continues on when the stop arm is out, the license plate is then recorded and a ticket is issued," she said. "We've already done some work on the front end of this, because this was legislated through the province two years ago."

In addition, Oliver said the province is looking at allowing the installation of speed cameras in some areas, such as school zones. Drivers caught speeding on the cameras would have tickets sent to the home the vehicle is registered to.

"I really think that we need to turn some focus to the safety aspects, and what are we doing to try to help encourage better driving behaviour so that we are, in essence, improving the safety in the community," Oliver said. "People are very frustrated because their kids, of course, are playing out on the street or, you know, we have a lot of people that are out walking right now. It's a form of exercise to get out of their house while we were living through these stay at home orders."

"We're building more sidewalks in this community," Oliver said. "They just want to know that they're safe when they're outdoors, and we have to try to find ways of enforcing that."

Traffic light synchronization 'long overdue'

Bentz said he'd like to see the city take other steps to address traffic issues, such as synchronizing its traffic lights.

"[Synchronization] seems to be like something that is gaining momentum through discussions at council, and discussions in the community, that maybe we aren't satisfied with the system that exists right now," Bentz said. "I think this will will probably start to develop into something that is going to be implemented."

Bentz said traffic light synchronization will increase road safety in the city.

"I think when people see a yellow, they speed up," he said. "And if you're always approaching lights that are turning yellow and red, yes, I do think that impacts safety."

Oliver agreed, saying traffic light synchronization is "long overdue" for Thunder Bay, and it would help with traffic flow, and reduce issues related to people trying to run red lights.

"But, you know, we do have a lot of streets that are cross streets, and so at some point you're going to hit a red light," she said. "And I still struggle with the idea that 'I'm frustrated that I got stopped by a red light, so that gives me the okay to blow through a red light.' I don't understand that logic, and that argument."

The city has said it must upgrade its entire traffic light system to allow for light synchronization. Money has been budgeted for software upgrades, which the city hopes will be installed and running in 2023.

The city must also replace cables that allow for remote control of traffic lights before the lights can be synchronized.