Tired of hearing loud vehicles at night in Toronto? City staff hope noise radar can put the brakes on

City staff in Toronto are looking at a new way to tackle an issue as old as the car: excessive car noise that keeps people up at night.

On Monday, the city council voted to ask staff to investigate the possibility of installing what is called noise radar in residential neighborhoods.

It is a relatively new technology that connects microphones that are calibrated to start recording at a certain noise level, which then triggers a nearby CCTV camera. The cameras, when everything works well, then take a picture of the offending vehicle, whose owner then gets a ticket under the municipality’s noise rule.

However, there have been drawbacks to the system in other jurisdictions where it has been tried, including Edmonton and Paris.

Still, Deputy Mayor Ana Bailao, who brought the idea to the council, says she wants to see if it could work here in Toronto.

“There are different cities that do it. Do they use all the same technology? Is it different technology? Do they get different results?” she said..

Deputy Mayor Ana Bailao, representing Department 18, Davenport, says the city owes residents the opportunity to investigate the possibility of implementing noise radar in residential neighborhoods. (Rob Krbavac / CBC News)

“Can we try some of those who are successful elsewhere? That’s what I look forward to hearing from our staff.”

Bailao said noise has been a growing problem since the pandemic began last year.

“The race, the loud noises you were at home started to notice even more,” she said. “Complaints have clearly increased over the last few years.”

City staff are now investigating the problem. They say noise complaints have generally increased in recent years from 12,997 in 2018 to 18,177 in 2019 (figures for 2020 do not include the months of March to mid-June because staff were assigned other tasks during shutdowns).

And it’s hard to say whether vehicle noise complaints have grown since that category of complaints first emerged in 2020, and the number has been skewed by pandemic locks, which caused some law enforcement agencies to be redirected to other tasks.

The delegation that will investigate noise radar will consist of staff from municipal licenses and standards, transportation services and the city’s legal department.

The current noise rule, which came into force in 2019, divides traffic noise into two categories. Cars and trucks must not emit noise “that is clearly audible on receipt.” Their are no decibel limits. Motorcycles, on the other hand, are prohibited from emitting 92 decibels at a point 50 cm away.

‘Not as simple as red light cameras’

One issue they need to tackle is enforcement, city officials say.

Lawyers cannot issue tickets against moving vehicles, according to Ginny Adey, police chief with Municipal Licensing and Standards, so police should be involved before a ticket is issued.

“It’s not as simple as red light cameras would be,” she said, because the Edmonton experience showed that the noise radar camera often could not identify the source of excessive noise in a particular photo.

They will revisit a pilot project carried out by Edmonton City last summer. In this experiment, four noise radar units were rotated through nine locations. And the results were less than ideal.

In fact, city council members there decided not to pursue noise radar at a meeting in February last year.

Among the problems they discovered:

  • “Downtime on equipment due to vandalism and relocation of equipment increased pilot costs.”
  • “The need to exclude certain noises or noise levels, such as sirens from emergency vehicles, was performed manually and was labor intensive.”
  • “Ultimately, the automated technology was unable to distinguish between noise sources and could not identify individual offending vehicles to a degree that would meet the evidentiary test required for court purposes.”
  • Financing the three-month pilot project cost the city about $ 192,000, including staff costs.

Adey said Toronto’s staff report will be submitted to the council in early 2022.

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