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The intersection of Overlea Boulevard and Don Mills Road was chosen as the first photo-radar site because the schools in the area draw lots of children.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Toronto has installed its first photo-radar site, placing it near a cluster of East York schools as part of broader efforts to improve pedestrian safety, though the city’s cameras won’t result in fines until the province follows through with changes to its regulations.

The announcement was part of a slate of road safety measures tied to the start of the school year, including a deal to spend more on private security instead of using police to fill crossing-guard shortages. These are all elements of the city’s long-term Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

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The roll-out of photo radar around schools will begin with a four-month pilot costing $50,000. Full implementation – with plans for cameras at one intersection per ward − is not expected before late 2019 and a provincial spokesperson said Queen’s Park would not stand in the city’s way.

The intersection of Overlea Boulevard and Don Mills Road was chosen as the first site because the schools in the area draw lots of children, its proximity to the Don Valley Parkway can prompt speeding and the locations of bus stops and a convenience store encourage pedestrians to cross the road away from the intersection.

For now, the cameras will be used to collect data about driver behaviour, and to fine-tune both the technology and the administrative requirements of running a photo-radar program.

Mayor John Tory said Tuesday that he’s been told that, under current city council policy, the cameras cannot generate even warnings, meaning drivers who speed near them will not be aware they have broken the law. He pledged to help change that policy “at the first available opportunity.”

But a prominent safety advocate said the cameras were a waste of money unless they have penalties that can deter speeding.

“It’s very misleading to call these safety cameras or refer to them as automated speed enforcement, that’s just wrong,” said Graham Larkin, executive director of Vision Zero Canada. “It makes people think that this is something with teeth when in fact what it is, is a very, very expensive ‘watch your speed’ sign.”

There are data suggesting that speed cameras that issue tickets can reduce the number and severity of auto collisions. In a 2013 report, the Royal Automobile Club Foundation in Britain showed that fatal and serious collisions fell between 25 and 46 per cent at the camera sites they studied, while personal-injury collisions fell 9 to 22 per cent.

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Although photo radar has been a political hot-button in Ontario, the current Tory government is drawing a distinction between cameras on provincial highways, which it calls “nothing more than a cash grab,” and in school zones. A spokesperson for Transportation Minister John Yakabuski said that Queen's Park would not stop the regulatory changes, set in motion by the previous government, which are required to have ticket-generating cameras near schools.

“Municipalities are in the best position to determine what needs to be done in order to improve road safety around schools to protect our children,” read part of a statement, relayed by ministerial press secretary Justine Lewkowicz.

The start of the photo radar roll-out coincided with announcement of a deal between the city and the private firm Neptune Security Services to fill in for missing crossing guards, a task that police had undertaken.

Police spokeswoman Sandra Buckler said that police had done 1,858 hours of crossing guard duties between Sept. 1, 2017, and Jan. 10, 2018. That role will now be filled by Neptune security guards – 84 of whom were on duty Tuesday morning for the first day back to school – comprising about one-eighth of the total.

“This is really about getting us to continue to meet our strategic objectives, being where the public needs us the most,” Ms. Buckler said.

The cost of the crossing-guard program in 2017 using police officers was $8.81-million. The projected cost of using private security is estimated to be $10.38-million, according to city figures.

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The police will continue to administer the program throughout the school year and the city will take full carriage of it next fall.

With a report from Molly Hayes

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