The ring of a bell and a flurry of activity signal the end of the learning day for students at Cedar Hill Middle School, but the real test for the kids comes in the form of a safe walk home.
When school lets out, the traffic on Cedar Hill Road becomes dense with children trickling onto the streets, laughing with friends, gratefully checking their phones after a day of education, waiting for their parents and expending the energy that has built up in their small bodies throughout the day by sprinting to the playground.
As many children live in houses in the nearby neighbourhoods, many of them make their way home unaccompanied by an adult, with only one crosswalk to use. The road has a painted yellow sign indicating it is a school zone and the crosswalk has flashing lights, but it lacks any permanent speed reduction structure, something one long-time resident wants to change.
Janet Black has lived in the area for almost 50 years and has seen it go from a sleepy lane to a bustling thoroughfare, from modified cars that she says speed up the street – revving their engines and avoiding lights – to commercial trucks heading to drop off products at the Fairways Market around the corner.
“I’ve lived here in this house since I moved here in 1974 and so little has happened to this road, I’m amazed,” she said. “There is all this construction and all these new things that create added pressure to this area and yet nothing has happened to this street.”
After bringing the increasing traffic and lack of a safe crossing to the attention of the municipality a number of years ago, Black said she didn’t receive a reply.
However, after the death of 16 year-old in a crosswalk near the area in December 2021, Black is demanding action before another life ends in a preventable tragedy.
“I go through that intersection every other day and I am slowing down and I can see other people are not,” she said. “Even with all these signs and things sticking out of the ground to warn drivers to slow down, they’re not doing it.”
Cedar Hill Road has long been an alternate route to the shops and businesses of adjacent streets and for such a busy road, in proximity to two schools and areas that often mean pedestrian traffic, the lack of speed regulation is a head-scratcher for Black.
She wants to see speed bumps and another crosswalk with flashing lights.
“It is just like a car – they need to have their lights on for you to see them,” Black said. “Just because they are in a crosswalk doesn’t mean they are going to see them. All in all, it is an extremely dangerous mix of children on foot and vehicles, including buses, semi-trailers delivering to Fairway, and both kids and adults on bikes.”
After reaching out to Saanich engineering, Black said she was told it would take a number of weeks to complete an investigation of the street, in order to see if her complaint warranted action.
Kelsie Mcleod, a spokesperson for Saanich, said the department is currently handling a long list of calls for service, which is contributing to the amount of time it takes to complete investigations. She also said priority for projects is determined by Saanich’s Active Transportation Plan, which was adopted in 2018.
“We are working on an update to this plan, which will seek public input to consider the current needs and desires of the community, and establish another set of priorities for the next five years,” Mcleod said.
Currently that plan is set to guide active transportation investments for the next 30 years.
According to the plan, it “includes an implementation and monitoring plan to prioritize investments and actions over the short-, medium- and long-term.”
Additionally, Saanich is working to develop a Road Safety Action Plan, which sets the goal of reducing traffic injuries to zero and increasing the number of people who walk, cycle or use public transportation. This plan is set to complete phase two of four before April.
Policies to determine where, when and how crosswalks and other pedestrian traffic control instruments are implemented in Saanich are taken from the 1996 Crossing Control Manual, according to the website for Saanich Crosswalk Projects. The manual describes pedestrian control issues as “emotionally charged” and states that 20 per cent of pedestrian incidents involve people under 15 years old, with 60 per cent of those incidents occurring during peak hours with high traffic. More recent numbers show that 43 pedestrians (excluding cyclists) under the age of 18 were killed in traffic-related motor-vehicle accidents from 2012-2021.
These numbers suggest that, as a school road with a high volume of both pedestrian and vehicle traffic, Cedar Hill Road would be a good candidate for consideration of further traffic control measures.
The Crossing Control Manual, however, also suggests that in terms of traffic control devices, less is more.
It states “the overuse of devices may reduce their effectiveness” and selecting traffic-control devices should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Cedar Hill Road already has a crosswalk with flashing lights, signs which indicate it as a school zone and paint on the ground showing that children cross.
The crosswalk that currently allows children to walk from one side of Cedar Hill Road to the other has a flashing yellow light, which requires drivers to proceed with caution, yielding the right of way to pedestrians according to The Motor Vehicle Act. The Motor Vehicle Act also says pedestrians may cross with caution, but the Crossing Control Manual indicates that caution to an adult and caution to a child is different.
The manual states children perceive traffic differently than adults, citing among other things that children assume drivers see them and will stop, interpret traffic situations inaccurately by misjudging distance and speed, experience difficulty focusing on more than one thing at a time, and overestimate their knowledge and strength.
For all these reasons and more, Black would like to see physical speed barriers, such as speed bumps on both Cedar Hill Road and the adjacent Garnet Road as well as an additional crosswalk with flashing lights.
“When someone is hit and suffers life-changing injuries or dies, the driver is sometimes held responsible and other times they aren’t,” Black said. “Sometimes the people crossing don’t even look around before crossing and the driver that hits them is held responsible, plus they have to live with causing the death for the rest of their lives. So this is incredibly important.”
There are things parents can do to keep their children safe, including making a safe walk home strategy, in which they identify the safest path with the least amount of crossings. They can also encourage children to be aware and travel in numbers, or walk them home from school.
But traffic incidents don’t just impact kids and, for now, the road will remain a quagmire of kids, parents, cars and bikes all in each others ways, none with a place to go.