Tired of hearing loud vehicles at night in Toronto? City staff hope noise radar can put on the brakes

City staff are looking into a new way of tackling a problem that's as old as the automobile: excessive vehicle noise that keeps people up at night.

Noise complaints have increased annually in recent years

An airplane flies past a newly installed noise radar, a device that can precisely measure and locate sounds from a moving vehicles as well as register their licence plates, at Villeneuve-le-Roi, a town next to Paris's Orly airport on Aug. 30, 2019. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Toronto city staff are looking into a new way of tackling a problem that's as old as the automobile: excessive vehicle noise that keeps people up at night.

On Monday, city council voted to ask staff to look into the feasibility of installing what's known as noise radar in residential neighbourhoods.

It's a relatively new technology that links microphones calibrated to start recording at a certain noise level, which then trigger a nearby CCTV camera. The cameras, when all is working well, then snap an image of the offending vehicle, whose owner is then ticketed under the municipality's noise bylaw.

But there have been snags in the system in other jurisdictions where it's been tried, including Edmonton and Paris.

Even so, Deputy Mayor Ana Bailao, who brought the idea to council, says she wants to see whether it could work here in Toronto.

"There are different cities doing it. Are they using all the same technology? Is it different technology? Are they getting different results?" she said.

Deputy Mayor Ana Bailao, who represents Ward 18, Davenport, says the city owes it to residents to look into the feasibility of implementing noise radar in residential neighbourhoods. (Rob Krbavac/CBC)

"Can we pilot some of the ones that are being successful somewhere else? That's what I'm looking forward to hear from our staff." 

Bailao said noise has been a growing problem since the pandemic began last year.

"The racing, the loud noises, you being at home started noticing even more," she said. "The complaints have clearly increased over the last couple of years."

City staff are now looking into the problem. They say noise complaints in general have increased in recent years from 12,997 in 2018 to 18,177 in 2019 (Numbers for 2020 don't include the months of March to mid-June, because staff were assigned to other duties during lockdowns). 

And it's difficult to say whether vehicle noise complaints have grown, since that category of complaint only came about in 2020, and numbers have been skewed by pandemic lockdowns, which saw some bylaw enforcement officers diverted to other duties.

The delegation that will look into noise radar will be made up of staff from municipal Licensing and Standards, Transportation Services and the city's legal department.

The current noise bylaw, which came into effect in 2019, divides traffic noise into two categories. Cars and trucks are not allow to emit noise "that is clearly audible at point of reception." There are no decibel limits. Motorcycles, on the other hand, are banned from emitting 92 decibels at a point 50 cm away.

'Not as simple as red light cameras'

One problem they'll have to tackle is enforcement, city staff say.

Bylaw enforcement officers can't issue tickets against moving vehicles, according to Ginny Adey, the manager of policy with Municipal Licensing and Standards, so police would need to be involved before a ticket is issued.

"It's not as simple as red light cameras would be," she said, because the Edmonton experience showed that the noise radar camera often couldn't identify the source of the excessive noise in a particular photo.

They'll be revisiting a pilot project that was carried out by the City of Edmonton last summer. In that experiment, four noise radar units were rotated through nine locations. And the results were less than ideal.

In fact, city councillors there decided not to pursue noise radar at a meeting this past February.

Among the problems they discovered:

  • "Downtime of equipment due to vandalism and moving of equipment increased pilot costs."
  • "The need to exclude certain sounds or noise levels, such as sirens from emergency vehicles, was done manually and was labour intensive."
  • "Ultimately, the automated technology was not able to discern between sources of noise and could not identify individual offending vehicles to a degree that would meet the evidentiary test required for court purposes."
  • Funding the three month pilot project cost that city about $192,000, not including the staff costs.

Adey said Toronto's staff report will be delivered to council in early 2022.


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