Open Season on Pedestrians


Posted to Moncton Free Press, February 24, 2012

I was on my way down to the coffee shop, along St. George just after Vaughn Harvey when a pick-up truck pulled around me to pass, accelerating as it sped through the school zone, leaving a contrail of salt dust in its wake.

According to recent reports, is just another day in front of Hillcrest school, with recent police reports documenting speeds of 100kph through the 30kph school zone, and other reports indicating speeds of 140 kph.

It's all too typical of traffic in Moncton. Too many people have bought into the idea that our streets have no speed limits, that the yellow light means 'speed up', that red lights don't count if you're right on someone's tail, and that pedestrians never have the right of way.

The result has been a tragic string of accidents over the last few months. A woman hit by a bus speeding through a left turn. Another woman killed downtown. Another driver that drove through a fence. And on and on it goes.

If it were a crime wave the local newspaper would be up in arms. But it's a traffic wave, and the newspaper is cheerleading - for the drivers!

It calls the Active Transportation Plan "controversial" and an error. It argues against safety measures such as bicycle lanes and pedestrian overpasses. It strongly opposes "traffic calming" measures - exactly those measures that turned Shediac Road and Salisbury Road from freeways, like St. George, to peaceful residential streets, the way they're supposed to be.

It's one thing for the police to be laying in wait at school zones, handing out tickets until the traffic slows. But we need to do more. We need to foster an environment in this city where the traffic is calm, people are safe, and the lunacy is ended.

We need to make sure the sidewalks are plowed, so people don't have to walk in the middle of busy streets (the area near my own home around the George Dumont Hospital is particularly bad as sick elderly patients try to navigate their way hown the middle or Portledge and Highfield roads).

We need to make sure that there is a bicycle network that supports commuting, and not just recreational rides around the park (with cars parked in the parking lot).

We need to build a downtown area that is designed for pedestrians to browse and enjoy, not some place where cars speed in, park a couple moments, and then speed out.

We need, in other words, a city exactly the opposite of the one being recommended by the local newspaper.

We all understand that people want to get to where they're going reasonably quickly. That's why people want to see a proper Express Bus (and bus routes created by city planners, not politicians).

But that's no excuse for driving 140 in a school zone. Even on a road the length of St. George, travelling that fast will only save you a couple of minutes. Even police and ambulances drive more slowly, and they're in more of a rush than you are.

And if you're driving longer distances, we have highways. Nobody needs to speed along Shediac Road, not with the Veterans Highway running all the way to Shediac. Going the other way, the Trans-Canada will take you straight to Salisbury; no need to speed through housing developments. And Wheeler will get you from one end of the city to the other in five minutes.

The people who write for the newspaper need to excercise some sort of restraint. They ought to try getting out of their SUVs and walking around downtown or around a shopping mall for a change.

Big sprawling cities with highways running between schools and homes are a thing of the past. They are as archaic as they are hostile to life and limb. If you have to use a car to get the kids to school, to get the groceries, or to go out on the town, the city has been poorly designed.

Right now, that's Moncton. And the irresponsible attitudes fostered by the local newspaper share a large part of the blame for this, and indirectly, a large part of the blame for the fatalities we see on our streets.

Maybe it's not a crime spree. But maybe we should start treating it like one.

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