Toronto wants higher fines for drivers stopped in intersections

A drone image shows traffic in Toronto. (Michael Cole/CBC - image credit)
A drone image shows traffic in Toronto. (Michael Cole/CBC - image credit)

Toronto wants to step up fines for drivers who block intersections illegally and is calling on the province to approve the hike.

The city sent the request to the Ontario government a month ago but has yet to hear back, according to Coun. Jennfier McKelvie, who represents Scarborough-Rouge Park. It's also hoping to use automated enforcement such as cameras to photograph drivers in the act.

Stopping a car in the middle of an intersection is often called blocking the box. It can happen when a driver tries to get through an intersection before a light changes and ends up getting stuck, clogging up traffic for other drivers as well as blocking crosswalks and bike lanes.

"The city is calling on the province to allow us to increase the fine for block the box," McKelvie told a reporter. "It is highly disruptive for both the drivers but also for cyclists and pedestrians."

According to the city's legal counsel, Toronto needs approval from the province before proceeding with increased fines and automated technology. The city says it wants to raise fines for blocking the box from $85 to $450 and from $120 to $500 when the intersection is in a community safety zone.

Dakota Brasier, press secretary for Ontario Transportation Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria, said in an email on Tuesday that the city has the tools it needs to crack down on drivers who block intersections illegally.

Councillor Jennifer McKelvie
Councillor Jennifer McKelvie

Coun. Jennifer McKelvie, who represents Scarborough-Rouge Park, says the city sent a letter to the Ontario government a month ago, asking for permission to increase fines for drivers who block intersections illlegally, but it has yet to hear back. McKelvie is calling for automated enforcement to crack down on the problem as well. (CBC)

"The Ministry of Transportation takes the safety of all road users very seriously, and Ontario has some of the safest roads in North America. We are working hard to ensure they stay this way," Brasier said.

Brasier pointed to Section 145 of the Highway Traffic Act, which she says allows municipalities to create an offence for unnecessarily blocking intersections and set their own fines.

But McKelvie says the higher fines would signal to drivers that the city is "very serious" about stopping the behaviour, and would help curb congestion.

'Holistic strategy' needed to ease congestion: professor

Matti Siemiatycki, director of the infrastructure institute at the University of Toronto, said on Tuesday that increased fines are an important measure to help tackle traffic congestion in the city, but aren't a silver bullet.

Siemiatycki said addressing Toronto traffic requires more than individual measures. He said the problem of congestion needs an all-hands-on-deck approach, adding it requires a "holistic strategy."

Higher fines need to be backed up by enforcement to be effective but other measures are needed too, he said.

"We need to speed up construction. We need to be providing better public transit and cycling alternatives. Ultimately, we have too many cars and not enough space," he said.

"And some of these measures may provide a little bit of remediation, but overall, they're not going to cause a huge amount of different in a city that is just being strangled by gridlock at the moment."