Toronto

Toronto's photo radar cameras are catching thousands of speeders, so why doesn't the city add more?

The city began installing photo radar cameras last December in community safety zones near schools. They've already caught thousands of speeders, so road safety advocates wonder why the city doesn't have any immediate plans to deploy more.

More than 22,000 tickets issued in 1 month, but city has no plans to acquire more

Two Automated Speed Enforcement cameras — 50 in total — were installed in each ward in Toronto with the ability to record licence plates and mail out tickets to speeders. (John Rieti/CBC)

By all accounts Toronto's 50 photo-radar cameras are doing their job — issuing 22,000 tickets in just one month this summer. But the city says there are currently no plans to acquire more, and that has road safety advocates wondering why.

On Thursday, at an announcement for a Toronto Police traffic enforcement team, Mayor John Tory said the city needs more information it can make a decision on adding more cameras. 

"We wanted to have a fair chance to look at what it was doing and what it was achieving, and you can only see if there's a deterrent effect that's successful if you watch over a period of months," Tory said.

The idea, he explained, is to have the number of tickets drop, meaning "people are getting the message" before moving the cameras to other problem spots, or expanding the program.

The city began installing the Automated Speed Enforcement cameras last December in community safety zones near schools as part of its Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic-related fatalities. Two units — 50 in total — were placed in each ward with the ability to record licence plates and mail out tickets to speeders.

Because of the shutdown due to COVID-19 the city only began to issue tickets July 6. In the first month, it handed out 22,301 of them. Tory said that's a "horrifying" number of people speeding in school zones.

But he said Thursday he had asked staff to delay a plan to move each camera to a different location in November, because he was concerned "the message wasn't being adequately conveyed in the places where they had started."

In a statement, the city said it would have an update about the redeployment next week, as well as the most recent program data.

'Cars go fast, governments go slow'

According to one road safety advocate, Tory's wait-and-see method is "a troubling pattern."

"Cars go fast, governments go slow," said Albert Koehl, coordinator with the Avenue Road Safety Coalition. He points out that 50 cameras for the entire city is just one camera for approximately every 100 kilometres of road.

"When it comes to making roads safe, governments take an extremely cautious approach to ensure that speeders have a generous amount of time to adjust, and yet the roads are dangerous today, people are dying and being seriously injured today," said Koehl.

Studies have shown automated speed enforcement cameras are effective at reducing speeding and collisions. (John Hanley/CBC)

Last week, CBC News reported around 21 per cent of vehicles tracked by speed display signs in Toronto school zones have exceeded the speed limit since 2018. On some roads, the overall rate of speeding was as high as 85 per cent.

In July, transportation officials from around the GTA told CBC News studies in other jurisdictions, including other provinces in Canada and in the U.S., have shown automated speed enforcement cameras are effective at reducing speeding and collisions.

And, despite some residents calling the cameras "cash grabs," the majority of people and organizations who responded to a public consultation last year were in favour of using them.

"We know that [photo radar cameras] work, and we've known that for a long time," Koehl said.

The Avenue Road Safety Coalition has been working to reduce the number of lanes along a section of that street, between Bloor Street West and St. Clair Avenue West, which Koehl describes as "essentially a six-lane highway."

According to Koehl, the fundamental problem is that cities were built in the 50s and 60s "to move as many cars as fast as possible."

"Now our priorities have changed," he explained.

"Now we recognize that people have the right to be safe. Whether they're walking or cycling or going to the bus stop, they have the right to be safe, yet our roads still say, 'Go fast.'"

The group has been asking for a camera, but in a statement, the city said it's not able to place one along that stretch "because of the presence of multiple development and road work projects in the area."

"Additionally, the presence of a flashing 40 km/h speed limit reduction sign further prevented the placement of an [Automated Speed Enforcement] ASE device," the statement reads.

"The changed speed limit is in effect only when the speed limit reduction sign is flashing, which cannot be detected by an ASE device," the statement said, adding staff were reviewing this location "for ASE device redeployment in the spring of 2021."

About the Author

Ieva Lucs

Web and radio reporter

Ieva Lucs is a web and radio reporter for CBC Toronto. She is drawn to offbeat and untold stories. Email: ieva.lucs@cbc.ca

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