‘Think of the children!’ is a tried-and-true debate-stopper, but more often than not one that succeeds because of its ability to inhibit rational thought.
— Jack Marshall, ‘Think of the Children!’: An Ethics Fallacy
This city has a mania for signs.
There appears to be a belief that more signs, more often, with more information, will somehow be the magical salve to solve whatever social ill ails us.
So we are not really surprised to see that the new school zone speed limit signs are, in a word, overkill.
Each sign is actually made up of four separate signs bolted to the same pole, including for some reason the all-important bylaw number. And there have been six to eight sets of them erected in each new zone — up to 16 new signs on divided roads.
Multiply that by the fact there can be multiple zones around 20 Brandon schools, and that’s almost as many school speed-limit signs in town as there are "Share the Road" signs.
Now, as we wrote in this space two months ago, this Helen Lovejoy-esque rush to clutch our pearls and think of the children seems to be a solution in search of a problem. We couldn’t find any instance of a child being killed outside a school, on a school day, in decades. (Actually, we couldn’t find any at all. We just stopped looking after going back more than a quarter-century.)
We’re not necessarily opposed to reduced speed limits in general. After all, such burgs as London, England, and New York City have recently lowered their speed limits citywide to 30-40 km/h.
Still, we continue to have two problems with Brandon’s piecemeal approach to school zone limits, as they have been implemented here.
The first is driver distraction.
Police Chief Ian Grant told us two months ago that drivers would get used to the signs, and he didn’t think it would be a big issue. We wonder if he has taken a drive past École New Era School recently.
We did, since it’s just up from the Sun offices, and we did a quick count of the signs that motorists are faced with as they drive down Louise Avenue in front of the school.
There are more than two dozen signs on just the one side of the street in front of the school, including multiple "No Parking," "No Stopping" and "No Idling" signs, as well as crosswalks and the new speed limit signs. There’s also a stop sign at the end of the block, a fire hydrant to be aware of, and "No Trespassing" and "Warning" signs at the schoolyard entrance.
Depending on the time of day, parents dropping their kids off at school might have to be watching for several sets of school patrol crossing guards while they do all the normal business of driving, like navigating and watching for other vehicles. Not to mention the kids in the back seat.
While drivers may indeed get used to the volume of signs, it’s already plausible that some parents are at maximum cognitive load. That may be why there’s an epidemic of people just pulling over wherever "just for a second" and paying no attention to the no-stopping and no-parking zones.
(As an aside, why is there even a lane in the large no-stopping zones in front of schools? They should be replaced by curb bump-outs, which could do double-duty by reducing the length of school crosswalks.)
The second issue we have with the new speed limits is their absurd 85, Monday-to-Friday, September-through-June enforcement.
Not only does the sometimes a law, sometimes not approach make it difficult to parse the signs as one drives by, but it doesn’t pass the sensibility test.
Drivers passing by a closed school on Christmas morning (a Thursday this year), will have to slow to 30 km/h, even if it’s -40 C and every kid in Brandon is happily opening presents at home.
But drivers are free to cruise past schoolyards at 50 km/h all summer long, even if the playground is full of unsupervised children enjoying hot afternoons.
The confusing compromise that we’re all stuck with now is proof that we’re hardly led by Solomons.
Either the limit should be permanently lowered or it should have been kept as it was.