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Poll: Is photo radar right for Toronto?

Mayor John Tory has asked the province for permission to use photo radar on Toronto streets, but polls show the issue remains contentious — with a solid split between downtown and the suburbs. Two Metro writers, one with roots in Scarborough and the other a proud downtowner, explain why where you live matters in the debate.

Fill out the poll below to let us know what you think.

Scarborough native Fernando Carneiro explains why photo radar is just “a cash grab.”

Photo radar is an obvious cash grab that doesn’t account for the reality of life outside of Toronto’s downtown.

Take Scarborough, where I grew up, for example. If you’re not used to spending time east of Victoria Park, here’s a primer. Scarborough is nearly as big as the other former municipalities in the amalgamated city of Toronto combined — it sprawls and people need to get around.

Given that all drivers are adults who passed driving tests, let’s trust people’s judgment when they adjust to road conditions.

During rush hour, photo radar is less of an issue in Scarborough because of the heavy traffic, but things change at night and on weekends. The roads are suddenly clear. The lanes are wide, the city blocks are long and it feels like what it is — a place built for drivers. Let’s not penalize people for changing their driving habits to suit road conditions.

On any given day, your average Scarborough resident has already spent huge chunks of time commuting. In some cases, they drove just to get to transit. They have work, family and friends, and maybe they even want to sneak in some time at the gym. There are only so many hours in the day.

If McCowan Road is wide open and there’s no traffic, it’s safe to drive 10 km/h over the speed limit to get home to our families just a little sooner.

Look, there’s a reason the Scarborough subway debate won’t die. It’s because Toronto’s suburbs could use better transit. It’s not there, so don’t punish responsible drivers. Look instead at people who drive intoxicated, jaywalk or don’t give cyclists their space. I’m not surprised that in a poll conducted by Mainstreet Research, nearly 70 per cent of people in Scarborough said they’re against photo radar.

There has to be a balance between street racing and the person who drives 10-15 km/h over the speed limit when the roads are clear. If you don’t invest in transit, it’s brutally unfair to go after hard-working families for cash.

Take McNicoll Avenue on the north end of Scarborough. For years I have seen police set up speed traps there. McNicoll is a mostly clear road that cuts east-west along hydro fields with a low 50 km/h speed limit. It really should be higher and the police know it, so they regularly set up photo radar on that road. It’s a perfect example of road conditions dictating behaviour and the city profiting from it.

Photo radar is set for a comeback in Ontario — and it’s about time. More than 20 years after being axed by then premier Mike Harris, the concept of using cameras to catch traffic scofflaws is undergoing a revival.

 Uploaded by: Macdonald, Andrea
Metro file Photo radar is set for a comeback in Ontario — and it’s about time. More than 20 years after being axed by then premier Mike Harris, the concept of using cameras to catch traffic scofflaws is undergoing a revival. Uploaded by: Macdonald, Andrea

Metro columnist Matt Elliott on why photo radar is about safer streets

As a guy who lives in downtown Toronto and gets around almost exclusively on foot, I know speed is my enemy.

I know this because the danger has been quantified. Studies have repeatedly shown that, as a pedestrian, my chances of dying when hit by a car go up dramatically as speed increases. Hit me with your car at 30 km/h and I’ve got a 90 per cent chance of living. At 45 km/h, it’s 50%.

At 80 km/h? I’m dead virtually every time.

So, yeah, I support photo radar. Because I need drivers to slow the hell down.

For cyclists and pedestrians, near misses are a daily occurrence and collisions are too common. I routinely see drivers speed toward traffic lights and zip recklessly past streetcar doors.

Last year, 38 pedestrians and four cyclists were killed on Toronto’s streets. Thirteen pedestrians have died so far this year.

The obvious answer to this problem is more enforcement of speed limits, but the traditional methods of enforcement come with a big problem: the price tag.

Toronto spends more than a billion dollars a year on policing costs, a number that keeps going up. Paying police officers to hold radar guns for hours on end is the definition of inefficiency.

Enter photo radar. A technology that can do the job of a cop with a radar gun without the salary and benefits.

It’s hard for me to understand the objections to photo radar. Speed limit laws exist. Laws that exist need to be enforced. Photo radar represents a cost-effective way to enforce these laws. Simple.

And real-world examples suggest photo radar works. Early results from a pilot project in Saskatchewan are promising. A study of photo radar in Edmonton between 2005 and 2013 concluded that overall collisions declined by 28%.

That’s hard to ignore.

I get concerns that governments might start to rely on photo radar as a revenue generator. But for me, my support for photo radar isn’t about a cash grab.

It’s about enforcing laws. It’s about safety.

It’s about me, you know, not dying.

This post was originally published at on 2016-04-12T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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