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Ottawa’s photo radar pilot delayed until spring due to unexpected rule, staff say

A photo radar sign.
A photo radar sign alerts drivers to camera locations. File / Global News

The City of Ottawa’s long-awaited photo radar pilot is now delayed until next spring because of an unexpected condition attached to the province’s new regulations for installing automated speed enforcement cameras on municipal roads, the transportation committee heard on Wednesday.

The Ontario government is demanding the municipality first install signs, for a period of 90 days, warning that photo radar is on the way before deploying the new speed cameras.

Toronto to install 50 photo radars following provincial approval
Toronto to install 50 photo radars following provincial approval

The three-month warning period surprised city councillors and staff, who had planned to begin rotating four photo radar cameras across eight new community safety zones – located near a dozen schools – this month.

“I think it’s pretty unusual,” said Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais, who chairs the transportation committee. “It came out of the blue.”

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The city is now looking at a photo radar launch sometime in March, staff said.

READ MORE: Ontario government clears way for municipalities to install speed cameras on local roads

The 90-day warning period isn’t spelled out in the new photo radar regulations – which went into effect on Dec. 1 – but it’s included in an agreement with the province that municipalities have to sign, city staff and Ontario’s ministry of transportation (MTO) confirmed.

The City of Ottawa can’t manufacture the warning signs and put them in the ground, however, until it receives the final design from the MTO, said Krista Tanaka, program manager at the city’s road safety and traffic investigations branch.

Once the 90 days are up, the city will have to install different, permanent signs at or “immediately before” the sites where photo radar will be in use. The signs will have to be larger and display a different design than anticipated, Tanaka said.

Here is what the speed enforcement camera signs will have to look like.
Here is what the speed enforcement camera signs will have to look like. Government of Ontario

Like with its community safety zone signs, Ottawa will have to put up two signs  – one in English and one in French.

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Provincial law currently allows the use of photo radar in designated community safety zones. Ontario municipalities had been waiting on the province to finish and approve the relevant regulations before they could actually use the cameras.

Global News asked the transportation ministry why it decided to attach a 90-day warning period to its photo radar regulations.

In a statement Wednesday evening sent by an MTO media relations advisor, the ministry said it’s requiring municipalities to sign that agreement and install warning signs “to educate the public, raise awareness of the upcoming implementation, and ensure transparency.”

Asked if there’s any flexibility around the warning period, the ministry wrote: “Municipalities are required to erect warning signs 90-days in advance of charges being laid any time a camera is deployed or redeployed. This requirement will ensure transparency with the public with respect to the presence of speed cameras in a given area.”

Provincial changes ‘frustrating’, transportation chair says

Blais, the Ontario Liberal party’s candidate for the upcoming byelection in Orléans, said he finds the new photo radar warning period “frustrating.”

“We were expecting the regulations some time ago and they were delayed, and now to see them and have these kind of last-minute changes is certainly frustrating,” the councillor said, adding that the extra signs create a new financial pressure for the traffic services budget.

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READ MORE: Committee OKs plan for Ottawa’s new ‘community safety zones,’ sites for photo radar pilot

On top of that, Blais said he’s worried the changes will make it harder for city staff to evaluate the “effectiveness” of the photo radar pilot.

“It’s hard to evaluate the effectiveness of a program if you’ve changed the whole framework of the program right as it’s starting,” he argued. “Are people slowing down because we gave them a warning or were they slowing down because they’re getting tickets?”

“I fear that it could be used by some as a justification to cancel the program: ‘Look, it’s not as effective. You’re not making as much money as you thought. It’s not self-financing, so cancel the program.'”

The City of Ottawa plans on using revenue from the photo radar program to help fund its proposed new road safety action plan for 2020-2024.

READ MORE: New road safety plan to reduce traffic deaths falls short, Ottawa road users argue

Under the Highway Traffic Act, the fines for speeding and careless driving in a community safety zone are doubled. On Monday, a spokesperson for Ontario’s associate transportation minister told Global News the amounts of the fines will vary depending on the speed of the vehicle.

Staff plan to report back on the pilot next fall, as the city considers its budget for 2021.

On Nov. 27, Ottawa city council green-lit the following eight new community safety zones. They went into effect at the end of November, meaning offending drivers can be ticketed under the stricter regime if caught by a police officer.

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  • Watters Road (near St. Francis of Assisi School)
  • Longfields Drive (near École élémentaire catholique Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau, St. Mother Teresa High School and Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School)
  • Bayshore Drive (near St. Rose of Lima School)
  • Meadowlands Drive West (near St. Gregory School)
  • Ogilvie Road (near Gloucester High School)
  • Smyth Road (near Vincent Massey Public School, Hillcrest High School and École secondaire catholique Franco-Cité)
  • Innes Road (near École secondaire catholique Béatrice-Desloges)
  • Katimavik Road (near Holy Trinity Catholic High School)

Here is what the French-language automated speed enforcement signs will have to look like.

—With a file from Nick Westoll