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Current city of Toronto policies do not allow 30 kilometre-per-hour limits on streets without traffic calming measures.Getty Images/iStockphoto

A key city hall committee has voted to explore stop-sign cameras as a way to increase neighbourhood safety, but balked at opening the door to lower speed limits on more residential streets.

Councillor Jon Burnside, the former police officer who brought forward the idea for cameras, called it a cost-effective way to increase enforcement.

"Police can't be everywhere, but if motorists think … a camera could be anywhere, they change their behaviour," he said Thursday after the public works and infrastructure committee unanimously backed a closer look at the idea. "I'd like to see it rolled out as a test. And then if it works and it changes behaviour and we increase safety, then great. [If] not, then so be it."

The motion before the committee asked only that the idea's feasibility be examined, including costs and how such programs work elsewhere. Implementing such a system could not be done unilaterally by the city and would require co-operation from the police and the province.

Mr. Burnside said there were various approaches to camera enforcement that could be used. The city could purchase the equipment and run the program itself. Or it could outsource the program to a private company that takes a slice of the revenue. Portable cameras could move around the city, leaving drivers unaware of where they might be at risk of a ticket.

The cameras were one of a few road-safety issues on the agenda at the committee, which also considered bike lanes and police enforcement of illegal parking. But the idea of lower speed limits sparked the most heated debate.

Current city policies don't allow 30-kilometre-per-hour limits on streets without traffic-calming measures, such as speed bumps. Staff had brought forward a list of criteria that would allow neighbourhoods without traffic calming to be considered for these slower speeds.

The push to allow stricter limits is in line with a growing movement among major cities to reduce speeds in the name of public safety. Data show the risk factor changes sharply as speeds increase. Pedestrians hit at 30 kilometres per hour have an overwhelming chance of living while those hit at 60 kilometres per hour have an overwhelming chance of dying.

The committee was deadlocked on the idea. After a lengthy debate that saw the proposal assailed from both left and right, the item lost on a tie vote.

The result means the idea will go to full council without a formal position by the committee.

Some councillors who supported the idea said the criteria were too complex. Others argued for a broader approach to slower speeds, rather than a street-by-street strategy that could be confusing.

Under questioning from Councillor Gord Perks, who supports the broader approach, city staff said a request would take about three months to be assessed under their proposed criteria, and potentially much longer if there were multiple requests in the queue.

From the other side of the spectrum, the idea of lower speed limits was criticized as pointless, because driver behaviour wouldn't change. It was also called unnecessary, because traffic is already slow enough.

Councillor Anthony Perruzza, who voted against the idea, said he accepted the principle that slower speeds were safer but added facetiously that perhaps the limit should therefore be dropped to zero.

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