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These Routes Were Made For Walking

Safety at crosswalks in Halifax Regional Municipality

by Katie Ingram

Last year 122 of 208 collisions in HRM happened in a crosswalk. photo: Katie Ingram
Last year 122 of 208 collisions in HRM happened in a crosswalk. photo: Katie Ingram
As of March, 72 flag stations have been installed around HRM. photo: Katie Ingram
As of March, 72 flag stations have been installed around HRM. photo: Katie Ingram

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax)—Crosswalks are designed to keep pedestrians and drivers safe, but Haligonians aren’t always in the green when it comes to crosswalk safety.

According to statistics from the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), last year 122 of 208 collisions happened in a crosswalk. This is down from 2014 as there were 156 crosswalk accidents and a total of 262 collisions overall.

Despite fewer accidents, some residents are still extra cautious when it comes to crossing the street, even if they have the signal to walk.

“I now check over my right shoulder two or three times while I’m crossing the crosswalk to make sure there is no one coming,” says Carly Lilley.

Lilley is one of the 2015 statistics. In November, she was walking across the Preston Street and Quinpool Road intersection at night when a driver ran over her foot, bruising it. This area has crossing lights and signal buttons to notify drivers and pedestrians when they can cross.  

“She [the driver] said she didn’t see anyone when she looked, but I was just about half way through the crosswalk,” says Lilley.

Erin Levy was also injured when she was hit by a car at the Morris Street and Queen Street intersection in 2011.  While the car itself didn’t cause her much damage, Levy suffered a cracked rib and bruising when she fell to the ground.

“The driver said she was looking at the people in the other crosswalk, parallel to where she was driving, but she wasn’t looking at the one straight ahead,” says Levy. “You think you’ve made eye contact with someone, but you might not have.”

The Halifax Regional Municipality says it has taken steps to improve and maintain crosswalk safety. Along with its Crosswalk Safety Advisory Committee, it has undertaken a number of projects to make crosswalks safer for both drivers and pedestrians.

One recent change that Taso Koutroulakis, HRM’s manager of traffic management, notes is how certain crosswalks look. Instead of two straight, horizontal lines, some crosswalks have a series of vertical or zebra lines.

“They [the committee and community members] were concerned with making uncontrolled marked crosswalks, or crosswalks that aren’t controlled by a stop sign or signal light, more visible,” he says. “What we did two years ago is that we converted all of these uncontrolled, marked crosswalks at about 500 locations from parallel lines to zebra markings.”

Koutroulakis admits there are issues the municipality is still trying to fix, such as the white crosswalk notification signs not being visible during storms and at night. However, they aren’t able to change these signs at this time due to other regulations.

“That’s provincial standard, as per the Motor Vehicle Act, so we as a municipality can’t legally use florescent yellow or green signs,” he says. “We are taking steps through the Transportation Association of Canada and are part of a project to look at the green and yellow colours to see if they can be used for crosswalks.”

The municipality often gets requests for new crossings, but Koutroulakis says they can’t just put a crosswalk anywhere.

“There are a number of factors that we consider when we receive a request, as we follow guidelines from the Transportation Association,” he says. “That takes into consideration a lot of factors, including pedestrian and vehicle volume, roadway geometry, speed limits and approximate distance from other marked crosswalks.”

Community groups and individuals have tried to make certain crosswalks safer by installing neon orange flags near busy intersections and residential areas. A pedestrian can take these Community Crosswalk Flags to help ensure they are seen by drivers as they cross the road. After crossing, they drop them in a container on the other side.

According to the site crosswalkflags.ca, as of March 9, 72 flag stations have been installed around HRM.

It’s not just the signs, or lack thereof, that can cause problems. Another common issue, especially during the warmer months, is faded or missing crosswalk or road markings.

“I’ve noticed it, especially after last winter,” says Levy. “When driving I sometimes have no idea what lane I’m in or where the stop marks are.”

HRM repaints all road markings at least once a year, as snow and salt causes them to fade. Recently, they’ve instituted a twice-a-year plan for some of the more frequently used intersections, like those in the downtown core. Koutroulakis says the traffic management department has a list of every crosswalk within the municipality to ensure that none are missed.

“It’s a very rare occurrence to miss a crosswalk,” he says, noting that the department usually only receives complaints if they are running behind schedule.

“We have a very detailed inventory that we give our contractor to paint, so the likelihood of a crosswalk being missed is next to nothing.”

Lilley finds there are some crosswalks and intersections that have longstanding issues that should be addressed.  One area is the crosswalk that connects Dalhousie University’s Howe Hall and the Guardian Pharmacy on Coburg Road. The area receives a lot of traffic as it’s close to a university and students use the crosswalk to get to and from class.

“It’s awful,” says Lilley. “My roommate and I were halfway through the crosswalk one time when a car came through and didn’t stop; I find that going across Coburg there should be more signs or lights.”

Levy says the Bedford Highway should have more crosswalks, as it too is home to a lot of businesses and a university.

“Sometimes you do have to go for a little while before getting a safe opportunity to cross and it is well used stretch of road,” she says.

Either way, Levy says that pedestrians and drivers should work together to ensure that everyone is safe as possible.

“It’s important to be aware of your surroundings,” she says. “You shouldn’t be texting and walking, you shouldn’t be texting and driving; take that minute, look in every direction before you cross or make your turn.”

Katie Ingram is a Halifax journalist whose work can be found in, among others, Halifax Magazine, Atlantic Books Today, Haligonia.ca, J-source and The Coast.

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