Once upon a time, photo radar was such a burning issue that killing it outright was one of the first campaign promises kept by the newly elected government of Premier Mike Harris.
Remember those days? The Progressive Conservatives, riding a wave of electoral unrest, won victory in the summer of 1995 with an election platform they called their Common Sense Revolution.
Many drivers hated photo radar; police said it was effective in reducing speed on highways. Harris sided with the drivers and within a month of taking office, he dropped out of the program, which had been in place for less than a year.
Twenty-seven years later, we are talking about photo radar again in Niagara. Will it even raise a whiff of controversy this time around?
A lot has changed since 1995 – on the one hand, the presence of cameras in our lives. They are everywhere.
Walk into a variety store, you’re probably being watched. Buy groceries, cross certain intersections, go to the bank, go to a school, walk through just about any residential neighborhood and you’re probably being watched by the Electric Eye.
There is no longer any sense of “slyness” in being filmed in a public space. In fact, it is planned.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Niagara Region is considering installing four photo radars in areas considered community safety zones, including schools, playgrounds and parks, daycares, seniors’ residences and hospital areas.
The idea – to use a camera to catch bad drivers so that police resources are not tied to traffic patrol – is to reduce speeding and collisions in these areas.
And who would oppose better protection of the vulnerable in these community safety zones?
To do this, photo radar appears to be the most practical and least expensive means of enforcing speed limits.
The plan is not yet set in stone, it still needs to be approved by the entire Niagara Regional Council. However, the public works committee approved a motion to use four photo radars over a 22-month period.
If the board gives final approval to the plan, the effectiveness of the units would presumably be monitored over a 22-month period and if they perform well, more could be acquired.
This is the latest action taken by the Niagara Regional Council to make local streets safer for pedestrians and motorists.
A year ago, she asked the provincial government to reduce the speed limit on built municipal roads to 40 km/h, from 50 km/h currently. The regional council followed the St. Catharines City Council, which had taken the same action.
Niagara Region staff have already identified 13 locations where the units could be placed, based on studying vehicles and the distance above the posted limit they drive in those areas.
A key point in debate (if there is much debate) is that the program should be revenue neutral, meaning that area staff expect the money they bring in from tickets should pay the cost of acquiring and operating cameras and processing. information.
A Niagara Region staff report, cited last year when councilors were calling for lower province-wide speed limits, showed that in Niagara about 2,650 collisions were reported each year between 2013 and 2018.
He also noted that Niagara’s collision fatality rate was one of the highest in southern Ontario compared to other jurisdictions.
Knowing all of this, if photo radar can make places like school zones, streets with parks and daycares, and areas with seniors’ residences even a little bit safer, then we’re all for it.