Traffic and students on Motherwell Drive outside of White City's new elementary school. Photo provided by Lori Kopeck.
Lori Kopeck never thought her kids' experience growing up in White City would be so different from her own.
Kopeck is raising her family in the growing Saskatchewan town east of Regina. She is one of a number of parents in her neighbourhood concerned about children walking to the new elementary school without a safe pathway to be on.
"We don't have any sidewalks in White City,” Kopeck explained, “but they do have a network of pathways – this whole system that you can utilize, but Bower West does not have any of that.”
Bower West is one of the newest areas of the community and is being developed in a number of stages. Phase one and two of Bower West does not include the same kind of pathways that are integrated throughout the rest of White City. The area is also home to the community's new elementary school which means children are regularly walking in the neighbourhood.
Lori Kopeck took both of the pictures shown above while waiting outside White City's new elementary school in fall 2014 which show how close traffic passes by children walking to and from the school.
Jennifer Scullen lives a few doors down from Kopeck. She says she doesn't allow her children to play in her front yard in fear of the busy traffic passing by.
"Because there's 1,400 cars that go up and down our street in a 24-hour time period. They're going 50 kilometres an hour ... our children are at that age that they don't get the concept of pedestrian safety."
Children walk to school on Lott Road East as traffic passes by. Photo provided by Jennifer Scullen.
Traffic on the street hasn't always been as busy as it is now. In 2008, White City was approved to open Lott Street East to Highway 48, which connects with the Trans-Canada Highway. That has turned Kopeck and Scullen's street into a connector street with very high traffic volumes. What makes it worse, the women say, is that the street has a width of only 7.5 metres leaving little space for whatever traffic is on it.
The frustration finally pushed the women to start looking into what can be done. They began collecting volumes of research and petitioning the neighbourhood. Scullen said that's when they heard a few stories of close calls.
"This little girl was playing near the driveway and there was a car coming and he was actually drifting along the street. And he just came a couple of feet from hitting her. If the father hadn't of grabbed her, I don't think she would have survived," recalled Scullen.
Scullen and Kopeck, joined by other concerned neighbours, collected 251 signatures on a petition that asked town council to:
Approve a walking path along the north side of Lott Street East
Reduce the speed limit to 30 km/h in all phases of Bower West
The petition was presented to the town on Dec. 9, 2014. Then on Jan. 21, 2015, Kopeck, Scullen and two others went before White City town council. The group's presentation included a request for four different motions. The motions included engaging an engineer to figure out where a pathway could be placed on Lott Road East, to allocate funds for a pathway, to lower the speed limit in the neighbourhood, and to establish a Traffic Safety Team to keep an eye on the progress.
The town's mayor disagreed with the traffic data used for the petition, saying some of it was inaccurate.
"Our council does represent the entire community. One of our councillors actually lives on Lott Road East and he does not perceive the problem to be as significant," Bruce Evans said. "His view is the concerns that are being expressed are not any different than any other child that walks to school in any other part of our community."
"There's no question that Lott Road East was, right from the beginning, meant to be a connector road between White City Drive and Highway 48,” Evans continued.
The mayor explained that town council is actively reviewing the traffic numbers, not only on Lott Road East, but throughout the entire community. Evans said it’s all an effort to ensure the entire town is safe.
"We have purchased a machine that will allow us to take traffic counts and also speed counts on all the major and secondary streets in the town. We have also indicated that we are going to turn all the information over to someone who is an expert in the traffic-engineering industry because certainly we are not experts on council,” Evans said.
The traffic counter was bought in the spring of 2014, and a report was released in November showing some of the first traffic counts. Three sets of data were displayed for Lott Road East for traffic on a Thursday, Sunday and Tuesday in March. The tables show traffic volume peak in the morning of the weekdays over the hours of 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. There is another spike of traffic in the afternoon over the hours of 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Evans argued that the peak times wouldn’t be when pedestrians are on the street. However, the women on Lott Road East disagree, saying children would usually be walking to school during the morning’s peak volume.
Scullen and Kopeck say the situation on their street very different than that of other neighbourhoods because of the heavy traffic and the fact the school is so close. The women also can't send their children to school on the bus because it's full by the time it passes their homes. Though their children would only have to walk about two-and-a-half blocks to school, it's a walk that continues to make both mothers nervous.
The women say the data represented in their petition was acquired via the town’s traffic counter. No matter what the traffic numbers are, the women argue the vehicles wouldn’t be an issue if pedestrians could get off the street.
"We're sharing a very small road and we're not safe," Kopeck said, adding that she hopes town council takes action on the issue soon.
"In the interim of us waiting for another expert to come out and access the problem, the lives of every resident in our community are at risk.”
Evans said the town is continuing to review traffic and pedestrian safety throughout the community.