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Photo radar lite lets speeders off easy

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The transportation committee spent the better part of four hours last week in more or less vehement agreement on the need to crack down on speeding.

Photo radar cameras sit like vultures waiting for aggressive speeders.-CHRIS CHIDSEY/FREEIMAGES

Photo radar cameras sit like vultures waiting for aggressive speeders.-CHRIS CHIDSEY/FREEIMAGES

City council takes yet another crack at the photo radar question Tuesday, after the transportation committee spent the better part of four hours last week in more or less vehement agreement on the need to crack down on speeding – but maybe not too hard.

“Everyone agrees speeding is an issue in the city,” chair Keith Egli said. “All over the city, every ward, if you ask any councillor, they’re going to tell you that one of the main – if not the main – question or concern they get raised by residents is speeding. Where we disagree, however, how to we address it, how do we fix that problem?”

The answer, when it comes to photo radar at least, is gradually, tentatively and with as many caveats and restrictions as possible.

Unlike Coun. Riley Brockington’s last unsuccessful stab at citywide photo radar, the city (pending premier-may-I applications to the province) proposes to limit speed cameras to school zones, as part of a pilot project and at the discretion of the ward councillor. It’s photo radar lite.

Any expansion of the program would require going to Queen’s Park for further permission slips. Once again, this council seems more comfortable the less responsibility it assumes.

Public presentations to the committee, from representatives of community associations, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation and Citizens for Safe Cycling, were overwhelmingly supportive of photo radar, and not just the half-measures proposed. (Nowhere on the speakers’ list was the Society of Maniacal Ottawa Drivers or the Coalition of Commuters Who Are Already 20 Minutes Late, Dammit!)

City staff presented stats both sobering (a pedestrian hit at 50 km/h is five times more likely to die than one hit at 30) and encouraging (tallies of substantive reductions in speeding and collisions in Canadian cities that use photo radar).

But if public safety is a crucial consideration, so is political job security, to which photo radar has in the past proven a danger.

“Ontario certainly has a history with photo radar, for those of us who are old enough to remember,” Egli offered, “and it didn’t particularly end well.”

Back in the 90s, the provincial NDP government’s photo radar program reduced speeding by 15 to 42 per cent in under a year. But they also lightened the wallets of speeders by $19 million in fines, stirring up resentment the Tories were only too happy to exploit in the next election.

Speeding tickets work by making us pay for selfish behaviour that endangers everyone, but we’re seldom grateful for the correction.

Council proposes to indemnify itself from the dreaded “cash grab” allegation by plowing all revenue from tickets into road safety measures – a sensible step, though, in which the problem helps fund its solution.

With that safeguard in place, why limit the program to school zones? The kids need protection, sure, but not everyone’s whole walk or bike to school, as Coun. David Chernushenko reminded colleagues, is neatly contained in the designated zone.

And the plan leaves out other vulnerable pedestrians. According to the Council on Aging of Ottawa, of all the pedestrians killed at intersections here over eight years (2000-2008), 53 per cent were seniors. Outside school zones, they’ll be no safer.

Courtesy:Steve Collins

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