Pleas for better traffic safety often fall on deaf ears

"Good luck to Fruitvale council and its campaign for an upgrade to the crosswalk on Highway 3B at the entrance to the village..."

Good luck to Fruitvale council and its campaign for an upgrade to the crosswalk on Highway 3B at the entrance to the village after a tricker-treater was struck on Halloween.

Dealing with the pinkie-ring planners at the Ministry of Transportation is not a preferred activity for local politicians. Their appeals regarding potential or actual mayhem are usually met with references to insufficient traffic volumes and immutable regulations.

In the peaceful, shrinking West Kootenay, traffic volumes rarely warrant highway expenditures when measured against bureaucratic standards, let alone the realities of tight budgets and more obviously pressing needs in the province’s growth areas.

Not that this is all bad. Highway construction and other public policy decisions should be based on reason not political heat and clout. Obviously, this is not always the case, but it certainly should be the goal.

One comical local exception was the great crosswalk battle in Rossland several years back.

Unlike in Fruitvale, the ministry’s planners were intent on upgrading the crosswalks on the Golden City’s main street. They wanted to install big overhead signs and flashing lights on crosswalks all through downtown.

The community resisted, arguing the upgrade was overkill and the signs would obscure the view of the streetscape and hills beyond.

In a fit of pique at their expert views being challenged, the ministry sent in a Panzer division of highway contractors on the Saturday morning of Golden City days. After several hours of screeching noise, the old crosswalks had been obliterated and Rosslanders crossing the street were left to fend for themselves.

The message could not have been clearer if a few of the objectors had been lined up and run over with heavy equipment – don’t dare question our we-know-what’s-good-for-you righteousness.

Meanwhile, a few miles below, pedestrians in Warfield and the Gulch in Trail were dodging the same traffic on the same highway using the same old-style crosswalks – and continue to do so to this day.

Yes, standards are good but sometimes common sense is better. You also always have to beware of emotion clouding judgment, even when you’re an engineer or another infallible expert.

On the tragic side, is the ministry’s failure to deal with a small but proven-deadly situation just beyond Trail’s city limits on Highway 22. Several years back, a young woman returning from a late shift in Trail was killed when she drove over the bank above Rivervale, just beyond the traffic pullout.

It is a simple mistake to make in the dark or fog. As you hug the shoulder line to stay on course, it is easy to drift into the turnout and over the bank in a flash.

The danger could be easily ameliorated with some no-post guardrail. But calls to the ministry after the fatal accident evoked the response that this stretch of highway is deemed safe.

Safe, perhaps, for some guy sitting at desk in the regional office in Kamloops, who has a budget to balance and couldn’t find Rivervale on a map. But not so safe for the highway users he is supposed to be serving.

•••

Trail could advance crosswalk safety with a bit of effort not requiring intervention by the Ministry of Transport.

Along Rossland Avenue in particular, vehicles are regularly parked right up to crosswalks, making it difficult to see pedestrians when they step out into traffic.

The city should occasionally divert its bylaw enforcers from their frenzied campaign to keep downtown safe from shoppers and write a few tickets for parking infractions other than expired meters.

Some pedestrians could also help the cause by learning how to use crosswalks. I have come to a stop for people standing at the curb in a crosswalk who have then waved me on because they are actually lingering for some other purpose than crossing the road.

There are also the timid types who hang back and then insist on heartily acknowledging you for obeying the law and stopping, rather than keeping their eyes peeled for oblivious drivers who don’t.

As for those drivers who speed up and swing around vehicles that stop at occupied crosswalks, they might be convinced to mend their ways if the RCMP traffic program diverts some resources away from issuing speeding tickets and run an occasional enforcement campaign aimed at improving crosswalk safety.

Raymond Masleck is a retired Trail Times reporter.

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