March 04, 2015

Parents apply pressure for Brisbane safety zone

As published in The Erin Advocate

With heavy traffic on County Road 124 and dozens of cars forced to park on the shoulders, parents of students at Brisbane Public School have mounted a strong campaign to get Wellington County to establish a 40 kilometre per hour safety zone.

A delegation made up of Parent Council Chair Rachel Ingram, School Trustee Kathryn Cooper and Town Councillor Matt Sammutt appeared as a delegation to the County Roads Committee last month, armed with a petition from 325 parents and a traffic study that highlights the risks at the Brisbane site.

Sammut said committee members were “extremely positive” about the idea of a safety zone, but that County staff were resistant to the idea of trying to slow traffic to 40 kph in an area where the speed limit has already been reduced from 80 to 60 kph. Parents also want a flashing amber sign in each direction to warn drivers of the safety zone, at a cost of $7,900.

The speed limit would be lowered only during school transition times, 8 to 9:30 am and 2:30 to 4 pm. Instead of approving the proposal, the committee sent a recommendation to the full council that staff should review all schools on County roads and report back to the committee.

Sammut said that if the eventual decision is to install flashing signs, but leave the speed limit at 60 kph, “It would be better than nothing, but parents would be extremely upset.”

Traffic problems at the school have increased since the addition of junior kindergarten and all day (every day) kindergarten, pushing the school population to 416. With little parking available on site and no room for expansion, parents must park on both sides of the former Hwy. 24 roadway during drop-off and pick-up times. The school is served by 17 buses, and vehicles parked on the side of the road create visibility problems.

The traffic passes at a rate of one vehicle every five seconds in the morning (slightly less in the afternoon), with more than 18% of them being trucks, according to the traffic study.

As a parent, Sammut decided to get involved after witnessing a near miss between a small child and a truck. He said a safety zone would only cost drivers a few seconds of time, but provide a great benefit to the school community.

In October, parents met with school, board and county staff to demand action. Mark Bailey, Chair of the Upper Grand District School Board, told the county in December that many drivers do not obey the speed limit, with some exceeding it by more than 25 kph.

“The high traffic volume and speeds make it dangerous for children and their families,” said Bailey, asking the county to move quickly to establish a safety zone.

Ingram told the roads committee that there has been at least one accident at the site this year, and that the county could face a liability problem if there is an injury. According to criteria published by the Transportation Association of Canada, Brisbane definitely qualifies for a safety zone, the delegation said.

They provided research showing widespread use of 40 kph school safety zones, including urban areas such as Guelph, and at rural schools in Peel Region.

“The County has a duty to provide safe roads around schools, especially elementary schools,” said the delegation during their presentation. “Be proactive before a tragic accident occurs.”

Clearly, the situation cannot be allowed to continue. If common sense does not prevail at County Council, the school board will have to re-organize its services to relieve the pressure. But even with a smaller school population, a safety zone would still be the right thing to do at this site.