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Brakes put on red light cameras

Final vote to be made by regional council next week

Red light cameras

Red light cameras, such as this one seen in Parma Heights, Ohio, have been shown to help reduce drivers running red lights. However, a study commissioned by the region that found intersections in Durham are growing increasingly safer and wouldn’t need these cameras. In fact, some intersections were found to become potentially more dangerous should these cameras be installed.

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

One group of regional councillors is putting on the brakes for a proposed red light camera program in Durham Region.

A report presented to a joint meeting of the region’s works and finance and administration committees concluded that red light cameras would not make the region’s streets any safer and wouldn’t be economically viable to operate.

“Based on a violations study from a safety perspective, only one intersection in the Region of Durham had a positive ratio (of safety to costs),” Susan Siopis, the region’s director of traffic and field services, told the meeting, adding that the intersection was at Ritson Road and Bond Street in Oshawa.

The cameras would work by taking photos of cars running red lights, with tickets being sent out to the vehicle owner after being processed by a central server in Toronto. In Ontario, the fine for running a red light is $325.

The study found that four intersections would actually become less safe with the installation of red light cameras, as it would lead to an increase in rear-end collisions.

Another five of the 10 intersections studied were found to not have a safety benefit large enough to justify the costs of installing a red light camera.

The cost for each camera, including hardware, software, installation and maintenance, was a little more than $50,000. Once added costs, such as staff hours, are included, the annual cost for a 10-camera system would cost approximately $4.3 million over a five-year timeframe, according to the report. Over the same timeframe, the report finds that the region would net approximately $2.6 million in fines.

One reason that Siopis says red light cameras aren’t needed in Durham is because the type of accidents it helps to prevent – side angle or T-bone collisions – happen in far fewer numbers than in other areas.

“The Region of York sees 928 angle collisions per year. That works out to about 1.16 per intersection. The Region of Durham, by contrast, sees about 306 angle collisions at signalized intersections, and that works out to about 0.5 collisions per intersection,” she told the committee members.

Another example she cited was Kingston, which will soon be setting up red light cameras. Its studies found there were more red light runners, and would generate revenue from fines that would be nearly double that seen in Durham.

The reason why Durham would see fewer fines and less accidents prevented, Siopis says, is because the region has already put measures into effect that curb those problems.

“The reason is because you’re proactive. We’re proactive in terms of our signal timing, our safety initiatives, our geometric improvements at intersections – all the things that reduce the risk and therefore reduce collisions at our intersections is the reason why we’re not seeing the same number of violations or potential violations,” she said. “Things that we do deploy tend to bring down driver frustration as well. So when you don’t have that driver frustration, you don’t have as many people who are attempting to run that red light and make up that extra time.”

However, not every councillor was on board with the report’s recommendation of not going ahead with a red light camera program.

“I’m really disappointed by the report. Not so much by the recommendation, but I think that it falls far short of what the objective was,” said Councillor Bill McLean of Pickering, who said he believed the report looked at the idea of red light cameras as more of a revenue generator as opposed to making roads safer.

“When we brought this thing forward, it was the last thing on our mind that this would be a revenue-generating tool, and based on the presentation, I get a feeling you’re looking at it more of a revenue generator as opposed to cost recovery,” McLean later said. “When Councillor (Colleen) Jordan (of Ajax) and I brought this forward, the last thing on our mind was turning this thing into a cash cow or to make it a revenue-generating issue. This is strictly a safety mechanism to supplement the police and to create safer streets in our municipalities.”

McLean later questioned the choice of intersections in the report, saying the choice of the intersection observed in Pickering – Liverpool Road at Pickering Parkway and Brock Road at Bayly Street – were not the best ones.

Siopis later explained that some intersections were not included in the study for a variety of reasons, including that the type of accidents that typically happen there would not be prevented with the installation of a red light camera, or that how the area is laid out would not allow the accommodation of one.

Moving the report to a vote, Councillor Bob Chapman says that despite anecdotal evidence of one intersection or another, the report and the data within paint a clear picture.

“We’ve got evidence about…how many red light runners we have and all that, and it’s about the safety factor. And everyone thinks that it sounds like in some other communities, and they’ve done that analysis to say it will help with those angle accidents that happen out there,” the Oshawa councillor said at the meeting.

“Our fatalities have decreased in Durham Region over the last 10 years by about 50 per cent,” he said, later adding that the money that could be used to set up red light cameras and the subsequent staffing would be better spent at hiring more police officers.

The committees voted to approve the staff recommendation to not go ahead with the implementation of red light cameras. The final vote on the matter will come at the next meeting of regional council on Sept. 23.