‘An accident waiting to happen’ | Spare News

‘An accident waiting to happen’ | Spare News

Traffic concerns outside a Winnipeg elementary school — by no means an outlier in a city with sprawling suburbs, inconsistent sidewalk infrastructure and cold winters — are sparking calls for more 20-mph roads to encourage safe and active transportation.

For the past three months, Pat Burgess has shared with anyone who will listen about the struggles she experiences daily at Westdale School after the last bell rings at 3:30pm.

The grandmother has contacted school administrators, trustees and City of Winnipeg officials – but she said no one was prepared to step in and rectify the situation, which she describes as “an accident waiting to happen”.

“Every day I hold my breath when I see students running into the lane between parked cars,” said Burgess, who has been picking up students at Betsworth Avenue Middle School for the past five years.

“I know this situation isn’t unique to Westdale, but there has to be a better way to keep our students safe.”

A portion of the car park was historically designated for attendants to be used during pickup and drop-off. Noting that mass transit poses a safety risk to students, school administrators closed the concrete slab to the public at the start of the 2022-23 school year.

The shift simply shifted the hazard off the property to surrounding streets with faster-moving cars and few sidewalks, Burgess said, noting the decision was made without consulting drivers and she has received recommendations from the city, which allows pickup from support local schools.

The grandmother noted her safety concerns have increased after hearing that a JH Bruns Collegiate student was taken to hospital two weeks ago after being beaten during the morning rush hour.

Westdale staff have encouraged families to drive part of the way and students to walk the rest of the way to school and to try to drop off and pick up students off-peak to reduce congestion.

After Tuesday’s release, middle school students clambered over snow banks and dodged a combination of parked, double-parked and moving motorists to find their rides. Many of them failed to check both directions before walking across the lane, whose view was obscured by exhaust fumes from idling cars.

Several irritated drivers shook their heads as they squeezed in between the lines of cars that pulled up on either side of Betsworth Avenue, even though the south-facing section was a no-parking zone. A motorist honked his horn in support of illegally parked drivers.

Ian Walker of Safe Speeds Winnipeg said the main obstacle to more students walking and cycling their commutes is parents’ fear of collisions between cars and pedestrians, ironically leading them to drive children to class and the overall fleet up to increase the street.

“We have to make driving more difficult. We’ve made driving so easy that everyone does it,” said the parent, teacher and chair of the local advocacy group.

Although many neighborhoods don’t have sidewalks, Walker said installing traffic calming measures and reducing speed limits to 30km/h on all routes near schools is key to allowing motorists, pedestrians and cyclists to share the road.

“There is no shared responsibility when cars are going 50 km/h. It just doesn’t work,” he said, adding that school departments and trustees should advocate for changes to protect children and young people in their care.

The Pembina Trails School Division said it worked with city officials to reduce speed zones on Betsworth Avenue, establish stop-and-go zones with signage, and ensure an adult monitors traffic flow at rush hours.

Superintendent Lisa Boles said “some close calls” on school grounds prompted Westdale administration to change drop-off and collection routines.

“The department takes all safety concerns seriously and has conducted a comprehensive review,” Boles said in a statement, noting that the department has deployed both internal and external resources to monitor activity on the surrounding streets and school parking lot watch.

City communications officer Ken Allen said city officials are aware of traffic concerns and are “actively working with the school.”

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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