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  • Writer's pictureMatt Harrison

Nearly invisible crosswalks

My littlest one took a blank piece of paper, drew a black dot on it and asked, “What’s this?” I hadn’t seen the ‘polar bear in the snowstorm’ joke since I was five. Still funny. Sort of. Until it made me think about visibility in the winter and crosswalks.

Driving along Riverside Drive in Wakefield recently, a pedestrian on the road caught my attention — but not the crosswalk sign, which is nearly invisible in the winter months, being white, with black figures, a dotted line and an arrow pointing down towards the road. Worse, the yellow crosswalk bars painted on the road were buried beneath new snow. Even when cleared, they are masked by a layer of sand/salt grime.

Surely someone at the Ministry of Transportation realized that Quebec experiences at least six months of winter and how ineffective these crosswalk measures would be? Surely?

Every day, tens of children and their parents cross that crosswalk on Riverside Drive in the winter months. As a father who regularly picks up his children from Wakefield Elementary, I’ve observed cars slowing down, but not necessarily stopping at the crosswalk, likely for some of the same reasons listed above — which isn’t an excuse, but the province certainly isn’t helping out drivers with the poorly designed signs.

In 2018 Quebec gave pedestrians priority at crosswalks: “... motorists must stop their vehicles as soon as a pedestrian enters the crosswalk or clearly indicates the intention to do so... the pedestrian makes a hand gesture indicating the desire to cross; eye contact is made,” according to the SAAQ’s website.

Do most elementary students really know that they have to “make eye contact” with vehicles and “use a hand gesture” before crossing? And what is a “hand gesture”? A wave? A hitchhiker’s thumb? Jazz hands? The SAAQ doesn’t specify.

We don’t need “hand gestures.” We need enhanced crosswalks — that is crosswalks with additional features such as flashing lights that pedestrians can activate before crossing and/or overhanging lights/signs indicating a crosswalk is present below, which are better help to drivers.

“Many research studies have demonstrated the effectiveness [of such enhancements at crosswalks] in statistically significant increases in driver yielding behaviour,” according to a U.S. 2016 study on traffic enhancements.

And not just at this particular crossing. Throughout the Hills, there are other crosswalks that need enhancements. Take the crosswalk at the intersection of the 366 and Chemin de la Rivière and Chemin de Wakefield Heights. Brave/suicidal pedestrians who cross here basically play Russian roulette when they step out onto a highway where vehicles hurtle down a steep descent going 90-plus km/h. Yes, there’s one of those white crossing signs, indicating where a salt-rubbed crosswalk might be, but that sign barely stands out among the plethora of other signs.

This and others are tragedies waiting to happen unless we take steps now to improve the safety of crosswalks, designing them properly for the six months of winter we have in this province.

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