Toronto’s busiest intersections will see new “traffic agents” start directing drivers and pedestrians Wednesday, part of a years-long effort by Toronto Mayor John Tory to help traffic flow downtown without adding to the workload of police.

The agents will help keep motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and transit vehicles in line when they herd together at traffic lights during the morning and evening rush hour.

“Actively managing intersections is a proven and effective way to keep traffic moving by ensuring all road users comply with the traffic signals, helping to reduce potential collisions and reducing occurrences when vehicles are stopped in the intersection after the signal has changed,” city staff said Thursday.

Tory said the agents are meant to “keep pedestrians safe and keep traffic moving.”

"It sounds old fashioned, but if there is someone there to wag a finger at drivers. congestion will improve."

The agents will be sent to 11 major intersections to start, with changes possible based on observed traffic patterns.

  • Front Street West and Bay Street
  • Front Street West and Simcoe Street
  • Front Street West and University Avenue/York Street
  • Adelaide Street West and University Avenue
  • Adelaide Street East and Jarvis Street
  • Queen Street West and Bay Street
  • Wellington Street West and Simcoe Street
  • Lower Jarvis Street and Lake Shore Boulevard East
  • York Street and Gardiner Expressway (on-ramp)
  • Bloor Street West and Bay Street
  • Bay Street and Richmond Street West

Tory said Wednesday he first asked then-Premier Kathleen Wynne to give Toronto the power to develop such a position in 2016.

“We need to have people who are not police officers, but they’re also not just people – some powers to move people along and in some cases issue a ticket,” he recalled telling Wynne.

He said it took the last four years to hammer out the legal issues required to allow for the new position.

The program came out of commitments from the mayor’s first term in office, when he first referred to the position as a “traffic warden” that could replace a paid duty police officer directing traffic.

A pilot project performed with police in 2016 showed officers at major intersections all but eliminated the pesky motorist habit of lurching into an intersection just as the light turns red and there is no room ahead to get out of the way of oncoming traffic.

It also was able to keep pedestrians from crossing against signal about 70 per cent of the time.

All 16 traffic agents hired by the City of Toronto are now designated as special constables, following Toronto’s effort to get the province to amend rules governing law enforcement powers.

One of the agents, Tenisha, told CP24 she has been out at busy intersections for the last few days preparing for the role.

"There have been a few people who kind of have no idea what we’re here for, we do get the occasional few people asking us questions but for the most part it’s been good," she said.

She said the biggest challenge will be to get all motorists and pedestrians to recognize the role of the agents in enforcing the rules.

The agents will be able to write tickets for Highway Traffic Act violations.

Tory said putting police officers at the 11 intersections to fill the role would cost $800,000 more than the $1.6 million the program was anticipated to cost when it appeared in a city budget in 2018.

Tory has made colourful efforts to advance the program during his time in office, even once dressing up as what he envisioned a traffic agent could look like for Halloween.