Hey, maybe the city doesn’t need photo radar after all.

Hamilton is in the midst of a $10-million-plus installation of cameras on the Red Hill Valley Parkway and at hundreds of major city street intersections in order to allow better signal and traffic control in emergencies.

But it turns out those cameras can track speeding cars, too.

Not enough to send you a ticket — the city deliberately chose an image resolution for the cameras that is supposed to be too low to allow eyeballing of your face, licence plate or curtainless bedroom window.

But the cameras are capable of tracking vehicle speed and speeding trends over time, said councillor and police board chair Lloyd Ferguson — and that could help police “focus enforcement where and when it’s needed.”

City council formally asked the province to allow photo radar on the Red Hill and Linc late last year after a consultant suggested a troubling spike in parkway collisions was due in part to chronic speeding. Toronto has made a similar request to use the contentious technology to save on policing costs.

The Ancaster councillor said he learned about the speeder-busting potential of the city’s cameras following a police board debate over whether to increase officer presence on the parkways. He suggested allowing police to “link in” to the city’s system would allow “more targeted” enforcement — without paying for more officers or new technology like photo radar.

Right now, only city traffic managers can see images or data from the 68-and-counting new cameras, said traffic engineering superintendent Dave Ferguson, but “preliminary discussions” have begun with potential partners like police and the province about how to share access. (The city would like to link into provincial Highway 403 cameras, for example.)

In the short-term, he said the city could program cameras to send “speed alerts” to police if vehicles are recorded routinely speeding above a certain threshold on the Red Hill or major city arteries like Main Street.

Police are interested to see if the city cameras can provide information “that will help with strategic enforcement,” said Acting Chief Ken Weatherill. But he stressed the camera images would not be used to nab individual speeders in the act or issue summons or tickets. “What we would want to do is look for trends,” he said.

For example, if cameras record persistent speeding on a section of the Red Hill at a certain time of day, police could focus enforcement in that area. The cameras could also be programmed to alert police if particularly dangerous driving behaviour or a collision warrants a more immediate response, added Dave Ferguson.

The city hopes to install cameras on all 550 of its signalized intersections eventually, but the first 68 cameras — spread mostly along last year’s Pan Am Games routes — are still being tested, he said. That includes ensuring collected data is correct and that traffic managers are able to remotely control intersection lights as designed.

Still, it’s possible some cameras could be ready to use for speed-tracking and police alerts later this year.

The city’s existing eyes in the sky wouldn’t provide the steep fine deterrent to lead-footed motorists envisioned by councillors who lobbied for photo radar.

But Coun. Sam Merulla, who spearheaded the request for photo radar, said he’d be happy to use both technologies in the city. “I would support any safety option that doesn’t jeopardize citizen privacy,” he said.

Photo radar in Hamilton? Where exactly?

Hamilton and Toronto are asking the province to amend the Highway Traffic Act to allow municipalities to use photo radar cameras to nab speeders on city streets.

Premier Bob Rae introduced the measure, seen by some as a cash grab, 20 years ago only to see his successor, Mike Harris, scrap it.

But there’s renewed interest in the cameras as municipalities try to curb ballooning policing costs.

In Hamilton, city councillors believe photo radar would be the best way to slow speeders on our crash-prone parkways, most notably, the Red Hill.

On Tuesday, [The Hamilton Spectator] asked city councillors — and readers at large — where they’d like to see photo radar if the province gives it a nod.

Coun. Brenda Johnson

“Ward 11 has four regional roads — Highways 6, 8, 20, 56 — ‎ located primarily within rural settings (deep ditches with no curbs and sidewalks) where speed limits vary from 60-80 kilometres per hour, which means traffic can exceed 20 km/h, which makes our main rural roads unsafe. Any one of those routes would be on my list of priorities.”

Coun. Chad Collins

“I regularly receive requests for police radar enforcement on residential streets and commercial districts. Photo radar should be an option at locations where we have long-standing speeding problems and regular requests for enforcement. These areas include residential neighbourhoods, school safety zones, commercial districts and major arterial roads and highways like the Red Hill Parkway.”

Coun. Jason Farr

“Linc and the Red Hill Parkway.”

Coun. Matthew Green

“Linc, Red Hill, sections of Main Street used as straight-aways for drag racing, and Lawrence from Kenilworth to Gage.”

Mayor Fred Eisenberger

“I have written to the minister and premier on behalf of council asking them to consider allowing the City of Hamilton to use photo radar on the Linc and the Red Hill (Parkway) … We have not yet received an answer from the minister or the premier.”

Jeff, via email

“The parameters for photo radar need to be expanded to allow for a 10 km/h cushion on the Red Hill. As far as city streets, I believe a driver should not be punished for turning left as a light turns red due to heavy traffic, so if the city can prove that it’s not just a cash grab (as I believe it will be) then maybe it has a place …”

James, via thespec.com

“Cannon Street East just before Andrew Warburton Memorial Park.”

Susan, via thespec.com

“James Street South at St. Joseph’s Drive. Drivers going south on James will frequently run the red on the curb lane that goes up the Mountain access. The light is red so pedestrians can cross James Street while two lanes are turning onto St. Joseph’s Drive.”

East Ave N. via thespec.com

“Victoria Street. Anywhere near King William.”

Michael G. Ladouceur, via email

“My choice would be King Street West between Sterling and Forsyth (especially westbound toward the university) between 7:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.”

Patriot, via thespec.com

“Naturally, the best place to install them is where most people are caught speeding and where most accidents occur. And that would be the Red Hill Valley (Parkway) and the Lincoln Alexander Parkway …”

Thomas, via thespec.com

“We do not need photo radar. What we need is police to patrol the streets and ticket people for the dozens of other traffic infractions which are more dangerous …”

Sheri Daich, via Twitter

“photo radar on Barton between Dewitt and Fruitland Road. People drive in high 90s. Frequent racing. #dangerousdriving”

Lisa Lusche, via Twitter

“Barton and Strathearne I watch people run that red every day. 50 times a day.”

Source: The Hamilton Spectator