Dear Winnipeg

A Fun Blog About Infrastructure and Municipal Finance

Traffic Woes

[Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in February on Cheryl’s Child Care blog, and is republished here with her permission. This summer, the City of Winnipeg is looking to pilot 30 km/h speed limit zones on five streets throughout the city, to help gather data on a possible city-wide default speed limit reduction. Despite EPC’s decision in January to avoid a plebiscite on lowering speed limits, I have no doubt we will still hear plenty from drivers in the city about how it affects them (negatively). Unfortunately, what we probably won’t hear, and what a plebiscite wouldn’t have told us anyway, is how slower vehicle speeds affect non-drivers (positively). The piece below does just that, giving us the perspective of a group we hardly ever ask for city-building advice: preschoolers. While we’re all speeding off to work in our cars at 50 km/h, here is a window into the environment that creates for the children we’ve just dropped off at daycare, and why relying on Elmer the Safety Elephant (kids just need to look both ways before crossing!) isn’t enough. — Love always, Elmwood Guy.]

Dear Winnipeg,

I get excited every time I hear mention of lowering speed limits. At the moment it is only residential streets that the City of Winnipeg is considering lowering speed limits on but if I had my way it would be ALL the streets and lanes. If I were in charge back lanes would have a max speed of 20 km/h, residential streets would be 30 km/h, undivided main streets could be 40 km/h and only divided ones could be 50 km/h. Main roads with three or more lanes in each direction could have a speed limit of 60 km/h. Major roads with absolutely no pedestrian traffic could allow speeds up to 70 km/h. No roads anywhere inside city limits require any speed over 70 km/h – if you want to drive faster, take the perimeter.

I’m sure some people may be horrified at the thought of driving that slow and it may make you angry that I also think there should be traffic cams and photo radar everywhere. There is photo radar near my home – and there is also a guy that frequently stands on the corner and holds a cardboard sign to warn drivers of the camera ahead. I once told him he should just let them get a ticket – a consequence for their actions. He probably drives a black truck…I’ll explain why later.

It is no secret that I love to walk places – I do also drive, but whenever possible I prefer to walk in all types of weather. Actually, even in very cold weather I would prefer to walk than sit still in a frigid cold vehicle. Still, sometimes even I must drive instead of walking. Those drivers (and pedestrians) that choose to defy road rules cause me angst both as a driver and a pedestrian. Though sometimes even the drivers that are trying to be ‘helpful’ are really not.

My childcare home is located in a residential area that is bordered by several major streets. Even if we were to restrict our daily walks to the sidewalks in our little neighbourhood we would not be able to avoid disrespectful drivers taking shortcuts to avoid slowing down for traffic at the busy intersections. That is one reason why, throughout all our walks, in our neighbourhood and beyond, the children and I have constant conversations about all aspects of the environment around us.

Those conversation may be observations about decorations in someone’s yard/garden, birds, plants, people, animals and most definitely vehicles. Everything is a teachable moment – an opportunity to share an interesting fact, personal likes/dislikes, and of course identifying hazards. Is it safe to pet that dog without the owner’s permission? Is that tree/fence an appropriate place to climb or does if belong to someone else? Will that driver stop for us or should we wait?

Long before we have even reached an intersection we will notice if there are stop signs and count them. We discuss which direction we are planning to cross and whether the cars should be stopping for us or if they have the right of way and we should be waiting for them. Respect for drivers and pedestrians goes both ways. That is where we sometimes meet those ‘helpful’ (not) drivers that stop where they do not have a stop sign and try to let us cross – it is confusing for the children but luckily it doesn’t happen often.

I wish our encounters with disrespectful, anti-pedestrian drivers were as infrequent. As pedestrians we always follow the road rules – many of which already strongly favour vehicles over pedestrians. For example, at all the intersections with traffic lights in my neighbourhood, my little group can barely make it all the way across the intersection before the light turns red IF we start instantly when it turns green AND we hustle all the way across. If our light is already green when we reach the intersection we won’t have enough time to cross and will wait for the next green light – another opportunity to observe traffic and discuss safety rules.

We have encountered drivers who are too impatient to wait for us to cross the street before they make their left turn and will try to turn in front of us instead of waiting for us to cross first. One driver actually thought it was necessary to turn into the oncoming lanes first before crossing over to the proper lanes just so he didn’t have to wait for us to clear the lane he should have turned into. He must have actually planned this in advance considering, like us, he had been waiting at a red light prior to entering the intersection and was most certainly aware of our intention to cross.

Another one of my personal opinions is that all slip lanes should be eliminated. Even though I put reflective safety vests on all the children when we go for walks near traffic, some drivers don’t see us – or choose to ignore our attempt to cross the slip lane. Other cities have some great ideas for replacing slip lanes. I’m certain the businesses on the corner near my home would appreciate the increased pedestrian traffic if the slip lane was removed.

Back lanes are another issue. I am sure that there are drivers that think pedestrians shouldn’t use back lanes – ever. Personally I think both pedestrians and vehicles can both use back lanes if they need to access property located on that lane. The children and I DO walk down my back lane to get to my back yard but we don’t travel down back lanes when we have no purpose to go there. Whenever we see a vehicle we move off the lane, into the nearest driveway, and stand still respectfully yielding right of way to the passing vehicle. This is easy to do IF the drivers are also respectful and obeying speed limits.

I am fairly certain that only the drivers who actually live on our lane obey the speed limit – which is still too fast. The drivers using the lane as a thoroughfare or shortcut to avoid the lights drive much faster than the lane speed of 30 km/h. In fact, there have been vehicles that sped down my lane so fast that I couldn’t tell you what colour the vehicle was because all I saw was a blur as they passed my yard.

When there is no snow the lane is wide enough to allow cars to pass us even if they don’t choose to wait for us to get off the lane. In warmer seasons we do always walk on the edge of the lane but we still try to move into a driveway when a car approaches. In the winter the piles of snow along the edges of the lane make it impossible to walk there and the tire ruts are treacherous. For this reason we tend to walk in the middle of the lane in the winter.

When there is ice and snow, we move slower and have fewer spaces to get off the lane when we see a vehicle. I always remain in the centre of the lane until all the children have reached a safe spot and are standing still so there is no chance they may slip back into the lane. Consequently sometimes drivers must stop and wait for us and some of them find this very frustrating – especially the ones that are using our lane as a shortcut to avoid the traffic at the major intersections. This is where we have met the driver of the black truck…

The first time we saw this particular truck approaching, I stood in the middle of the lane as usual however, when the driver did not slow his approach I grabbed the last child and jumped to the side of the lane as he swerved slightly around us. I don’t care how great you think your steering skills are, I still expect that you will also use your brake pedal! We have encountered this truck several times now and he has never slowed down.

We haven’t been for long walks since the weather got very cold so our schedule has changed. We’ve also taken to only walking the short way down the lane just in case the driver of the black truck chooses that route. Still, one day when we were almost to my driveway, the three-year-old ahead of me yells “Ackk, it’s him again! I don’t like that guy.” and then scurries up the driveway into my yard.

The black truck had just turned onto the far end of the lane ahead of us. I find it sad that a three-year-old can recognize a disrespectful driver from almost a block away. Just slow down. Please.

Love,

ECE in Elmwood