City undecided on school zones for legal photo radar

You reach for your child’s bag and yank it hard as a car careens around the corner. 

Close calls like this could be reduced if the province, as recently promised, makes photo radar legal in school zones — but not all downtown schools will be getting them.

“We can’t afford to put a camera at every school, but there is no doubt in my mind that there are examples of schools in the downtown area,” said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

He added that until the planned provincial bill is passed, city council cannot move forward with the selection process for which schools need them most.

He said he expects the bill to be passed by the spring.

The legislation would give municipalities the authority to install photo radar in community safety zones and school zones. It would also allow cities to reduce speed limits in residential areas and fast-track the installation of red light cameras at major intersections.      

Andrea Ernesaks, press secretary with the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, said the bill will not involve cost-splitting between cities and the province.

“The municipalities, in terms of signage or implementing the actual cameras, they would have to foot all of the costs,” she said.

She said there has been little criticism of the bill at Queen’s Park, and she expects it will pass.

“We haven’t heard anything overly negative about the legislation in particular,” she said. “Obviously, it’s going up for first reading soon. That will give us a better idea of where things stand.”

In Centretown, Centennial Public School, Glashan Public School, Elgin Street Public School Cambridge Street Public School and St. Anthony School are all located along or near busy downtown thoroughfares.

Although Watson said he does not agree schools in the downtown should get preference over suburban and rural schools, he is open to councillors bringing forward proposals.

Watson acknowledged that not everyone in Ottawa welcomes the return of photo radar. It was outlawed more than 20 years ago by then premier Mike Harris, who regarded the practice as a cash grab.

“The whole purpose of photo radar is not simply to gather cash, because all the money will go back to public safety initiatives and enforcement,” said Watson. “These cameras are marked. We don’t hide them. Hopefully the deterrent of possibly getting a fine will slow you down.”

Glashan principal James Tayler said any measure that would make it safer for students is welcome, but he disagrees that speeding is the biggest issue. 

“The problems that we were having was more a lack of visibility at the intersection,” he said.

The City of Ottawa, at the request of the school, recently repainted the crosswalk and reprogrammed the lights at Kent and Catherine streets to give Glashan students more time to cross the intersection.

Tayler says these changes have made the intersection safer.

Watson said that despite some objections, he thinks photo radar will be beneficial for schools that need the technology.

“We’re concerned about the number of accidents and near accidents in and around school areas, where people are travelling far too fast and putting kids’ lives at risk,” he said.

Yasir Naqvi, Ottawa Centre MPP and Ontario’s attorney general, said multiple municipalities have made it clear that the planned bill is necessary, and that it was Ottawa residents who brought the issue of speeding in school zones to the province’s attention.

“All these tools will help to make our streets safer and more importantly make sure our kids and . . . pedestrians and cyclists are safe as well,” he said. “Change is being brought forward and not only for Ottawa but for cities all across the province.”