Photo radar should soon be catching speeding drivers across Toronto — a notable and long-awaited development in the fight against traffic carnage that has claimed the lives of 37 pedestrians so far this year.
Ontario’s Transportation Ministry confirmed Friday, in response to a question about photo radar, “the province will be filing enabling regulations under the Safer School Zones Act today that will give municipalities the ability to adopt new and enhanced tools to promote safety in school zones and community safety zones.
“The regulations take effect (Sunday) and provide the framework to support municipalities in developing responsible, transparent and effective programs to promote road safety in their communities.”
Detailed regulations with rules for use of the “enhanced tools” had not yet been released by late Friday afternoon but the ministry made it clear the decision on whether to employ photo radar will be up to each municipality. It’s unclear if there are any restrictions about how cities can use the technology.
“Automated speed enforcement is a municipally driven initiative as municipal governments are in the best position to determine what needs to be done in order to improve road safety on municipal roads,” said Kristine Bunker, a Transportation Ministry spokeswoman, in an email.
Toronto has been waiting for years for regulatory approval to operate a planned 50 “automated speed enforcement” cameras across the city — two in each ward, in school and community safety zones where pedestrians and cyclists are at high risk according to data including collision figures.
The city is also working on doubling the 149 red light cameras catching drivers who run lights.
A June transportation report, adopted by city council, recommended preparing drivers for the risk a camera will register their speed and licence plate — and trigger the issuance by mail of a speeding ticket under the Highway Traffic Act — with an initial period where speeders get only a warning.
Provincial regulations should also let Mississauga act on its plans to roll out photo radar in 2020.
The magnitude of Toronto’s leadfoot problem was exposed when the city put photo radar, without the ticket-issuing mechanism, near eight schools between September and December 2018.
Collected data suggested rampant speeding, in some cases qualifying for the provincial definition of stunt driving even if it had been done on 400-series highways instead of residential roads.
One Avenue Road zone saw 60,100 motorists a week going more than 10 km/h over the 40 km/h limit. One driver hit 110 km/h. A 40 km/h Renforth Drive zone in Etobicoke saw an average of 25,511 speeders per week, but one hit a shocking 202 km/h — more than five times the limit.
Mayor John Tory, under fire along with Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders over pedestrian safety, first asked then-premier Kathleen Wynne in 2016 for permission to use the tech tool, and repeated the requests to her successor Doug Ford.
While speeders won’t be happy, a survey released in early March found overwhelming support among Torontonians for photo radar to discourage speed demons.
Torontonian demands for action increased recently with the release of a Toronto Police Service report that revealed collisions in Toronto shot way up, and the number of traffic tickets issued by police officers went way down, after a dedicated traffic enforcement squad was disbanded in 2013.
After hearing outrage that Toronto police had effectively ended daily dedicated enforcement, Tory and other members of the police services board last week voted, at Saunders’ recommendation, to reconstitute a smaller traffic enforcement unit, with two shifts per weekday, each with three officers and a supervisor.
Saunders and Tory had previously rebuffed calls for more human enforcement, saying photo radar and red-light cameras hold the most promise for making the streets safer. Tory echoed that opinion while answering a reporter’s questions Nov. 19.
“If you think about it, logically, we are not going to be able to have a police officer on every single street on every street corner every hour of every day, it’s not possible,” he said.
“We have moved, correctly in my view, to rely more, as we’re going to do, on technology — red light cameras, photo radar, and this kind of thing,” and will soon use human and technological enforcement together to force drivers to start obeying the rules of the road.
Jessica Spieker, a cyclist who was almost killed by a motorist, and now speaks for a group representing friends and families of pedestrians and cyclists killed in Toronto, welcomed news that photo radar will finally be coming.
But she cautioned that technology is only one part of Toronto’s revamped “Vision Zero” plan that aims to eliminate deaths of “vulnerable road users.”
“In cities that have implemented photo radar, it has had a significant effect on motor vehicle speeds — it is an effective way to get drivers of cars to slow down,” said Spieker, of Friends and Families for Safe Streets.
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“What has helped most cities around the world that have decreased deaths is street redesign. If you design your streets well in the first place, to slow drivers down, you don’t need that much enforcement, and we haven’t seen much of that here.”
Toronto police on Friday released surveillance video hoping to catch the driver who killed the city’s latest road victim, 77-year-old pedestrian Pasquina Lapadula.
The driver of a dark SUV did not stop after striking her at about 6:30 a.m. Thursday as she crossed Islington Avenue near Aviemore Drive.