New speed cameras in Toronto only part of the solution, road safety advocates warn

The automated speed enforcement cameras are among 50 placed in wards around the city as part of the Vision Zero program, which aims to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries on city streets. The city announced this week that it will add 25 new cameras to select streets in February.  (CBC - image credit)
The automated speed enforcement cameras are among 50 placed in wards around the city as part of the Vision Zero program, which aims to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries on city streets. The city announced this week that it will add 25 new cameras to select streets in February. (CBC - image credit)

Road safety advocates are applauding the installation of 25 new speed enforcement cameras around Toronto but they're warning the city can't depend on the devices alone to meet the city's goal of eliminating road fatalities.

City staff announced this week they were giving the required 90-day notice that the new cameras will be stationed around Toronto starting in February. In the coming days, signs will go up in the locations where the Automated Speed Enforcement cameras will be installed to warn drivers of their impending arrival.

They will join 50 speed cameras which are currently in use around the city and are issuing tens of thousands of tickets a month as part of Vision Zero — the city's plan to cut traffic deaths.

"These cameras are a good stop-gap measure because they do work and they do change driver behaviour," said Jessica Spieker, who was badly injured in a traffic collision and now works with a group called Friends and Families for Safe Streets..

"The factor that influences the most whether you live or you die when you're struck by a reckless driver is their speed. So speed control is at the core of Vision Zero."

Grant Linton/CBC
Grant Linton/CBC

But Spieker said more must be done to prevent traffic deaths around the city. Since Toronto adopted the Vision Zero program in 2017, it's made little progress at bringing the number of deaths on its roads down, she said.

Toronto's Vision Zero plan began in 2017. Two years later, the city doubled-down on the strategy, asking staff to study a number of measures, including the installation of speed cameras, changing road design and lowering speed limits on arterial roads.

Earlier this year, the city said its total combined operating and capital spending on the Vision Zero between 2017 and 2021 was estimated to be $205.6 million. The budget for 2022 included $64 million to expand both enforcement and school crossing guard programs.

The city insists the program is working, noting a 34 per cent reduction in fatalities and serious injuries compared to a pre-pandemic five-year average.

Despite that, road advocates say fatalities have not moved much since the start of the program. There were 78 deaths on Toronto streets in 2016, which was a high over the past decade. Generally, there have been around 60 deaths a year on the city streets since 2013.

Forty-five people have died on Toronto streets up to early November of this year.

Tory pledges more cameras are coming

Toronto Mayor John Tory has been a proponent of introducing more speed cameras and promised during the municipal election to more than double the number in the city to 150. He said these 25 new cameras coming in February will save lives.

"We know that speed cameras work — they are a proven, data-driven Vision Zero tactic that is changing driver behaviour and having a positive community impact," Tory said in a statement.

Tory said Vision Zero is a "massive transformation" of Toronto's streets that includes road redesigns and changes to intersections, new mid-block crossings, more than 1,000 Head Start pedestrian signals, more than 1,100 Community Safety Zones, and speed limit reductions on more than 500 kilometres of roads.

Work continues to reduce speed limits to 30 km/h on local roads in neighbourhoods across the city, he added.

"I have a strong mandate from voters and I am committed to delivering on my election promise to doubling the number of speed cameras to 150 because we know when these cameras go up, drivers slow down," he said.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Spieker said Toronto needs hundreds more speed cameras but also must work on additional measures to bolster road safety.

Previous city councils have lacked the political will to order more sweeping redesigns to narrow roads, or traffic calming measures like speed bumps and raised crosswalks, she said.

"What determines the speed that drivers drive is the design speed of the road, it's the width of the car lane, it's how dead straight the road is," she said.

"So, if the road looks like Highway 401, people drive on it like Highway 401."

Road safety advocate Albert Koehl said speed cameras have been a valuable tool to slow drivers, but they also have provided the city with valuable data.

"Those 75 speed cameras will make a difference in those locations where they're placed," he said. "But so far, what we've learned is that speeding is endemic."

Koehl said the pandemic has also taught the city lessons about what can be achieved quickly on local roads to increase safety. He pointed to the bike lanes installed on University Avenue as a huge success.

After years of debate, they were installed quickly and feature bollards and cement barriers that effectively separate cyclists from traffic.

Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press
Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press

"The main point is that road safety is a choice," he said.

"So, we know how to make that choice. And it's going to involve increased funding, it's going to involve political will. It's no mystery how to make our roads safer."

Outgoing city councillor Mike Layton said he's happy to see more of the speed cameras rolling out as he ends his term on council this week. He said he hopes the next council presses forward with additional safety measures.

"If we're serious about Vision Zero, we need to actually do something to achieve it, not just cross our fingers in hopes and prayers," he said.

The cameras are "one thing. It's only one thing that we can do," he added.

"I will say that there's improvements to infrastructure, there's changing our culture around our roads. All three things need to happen."