Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The Most Dangerous Crosswalk in Fort McMurray
It's a bit worrisome to me that when I indicated on Facebook that I was writing about this topic several friends chimed in to guess the crosswalk in question, and not one guessed the one I write about today. This worries me as it means we have a problem with a few crosswalks in town, and this is a problem that is likely going to get worse as we grow, and especially as we try to transition into a more pedestrian-friendly urban centre. Currently we are not pedestrian-friendly in our downtown core, and I say this quite assuredly as I am someone who enjoys a good walk to get to my destination. During the winter months, though, many of our downtown sidewalks are virtually impassable due to snow and ice, and in the summer months the tremendous wear and tear the seasons take on the concrete is visible in the cracks, ruts and holes that appear on the sidewalks. Maintenance of sidewalks is definitely an issue, and one area in which we need to improve, but today I am going to write about the most dangerous crosswalk in Fort McMurray, because yesterday I saw another close call that could have ended in tragedy.
And where is the most dangerous crosswalk, you ask, given that there are a few contenders? I would argue that it is the crosswalk at Franklin and Richard, the last intersection before the new overpass/underpass and route to MacDonald Island. This end of Franklin, which was once very quiet and with light local traffic, has become a bustling spot as vehicles take advantage of the new overpasses and underpasses to get across the river more quickly. The side effect, though, has been increased traffic, often travelling at higher than posted speeds, right through a poorly controlled crosswalk that is located in a heavily residential area, and right outside a local pub.
I drive past this crosswalk almost daily, and since the overpass opened I have seen at least a dozen close calls with pedestrians, particularly in the evening or at night when the lighting in the area is poor. There are several residences on one side of Franklin, and on the other is the enticements of that local pub, restaurants, and all the amenities people might wish to walk to. Added to the mix later in the evening are the occasional intoxicated patrons leaving the local pubs, and with a poorly lit, poorly marked and poorly thought out crosswalk right in the path of traffic zooming downtown or uptown you have a recipe for disaster.
And it has already happened, although fortunately the individual struck by the vehicle in January of this year was not badly injured. At some point we will not be so lucky, and someone will be fatally injured in this area. I believe it is only a matter of time, because the combination of factors that make this our most dangerous crosswalk have the potential of making it our most deadly, too.
I would suggest that as opposed to the current solution, which is a couple of crosswalk signs and reflective posts, a controlled crosswalk of the kind seen outside the Centre of Hope on Franklin be installed. This system allows pedestrians to control the lights, hitting the button to cross and stopping oncoming traffic until they can safely reach the other side. There may be equally reasonable solutions, and I leave that to the traffic safety experts to determine - but I know there needs to be a solution, and fast. Why do I know this?
Because yesterday when I saw someone in the crosswalk and watched a car breeze by them, inches from hitting them, I saw the terror in their face. They and I and the driver of that car all knew that we had been mere inches and seconds from a potential tragedy. It was a heart-stopping moment, and I have had all too many of them at the crosswalk at Franklin and Richard in the last few months since the overpass opened - and I would suggest we address the issue before someone is killed, and not after.
I am sure you are thinking about other crosswalks in town with similar issues - the one behind the Peter Pond Mall and headed towards Superstore, for instance. There are in fact several downtown, and the safety issues regarding crosswalks are one of the impediments preventing us from achieving the pedestrian friendly atmosphere we wish to promote and enjoy in our downtown core.
And this is why today I am asking that we as a community begin to think about that pedestrian friendly atmosphere, and up our game in the protection of those who choose to walk. We as drivers and pedestrians must take some responsibility and contribute to creating that safe atmosphere, but our government must also take those steps in order to ensure that close calls don't become tragedies instead. I look forward to seeing crosswalk safety being emphasized as our downtown becomes a walkable, vibrant, and energetic urban core - and I believe we don't have a second to waste to make it happen.