“Any time you have the mixture of young children, excitement and traffic, there’s always a potential safety concern. We haven’t got a whole raft of incidents or anything like that, but sometimes it’s better to take a proactive course of action rather than wait till something happens.”
— Brandon School Division board chair Mark Sefton
When it comes to a child’s safety and school zone traffic speeds, we’d be hard-pressed to find a parent who would disagree with Sefton’s comment above.
Without doubt, the safety of school children should be the concern of every right-thinking individual, whether they be parents, teachers or motorists. And woe betide the man or woman who is responsible for injuring someone with their vehicle out of negligence.
The visceral image of a child being injured after a collision with a vehicle conjured by these kinds of discussions is enough to make any parent ill.
On Monday, Brandon City Council approved changes to its traffic bylaw to allow for reduced-speed zones. Drivers will have to slow down to 30 km/h in residential school areas starting this September between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The reduced-speed school zones will apply to 20 schools in the city. There are a few exceptions — the intersection of 18th Street and Victoria Avenue near Earl Oxford Middle School, as well as Victoria Avenue East near King George School.
We can understand the feeling among those around the council table who voted in favour of the changes, to be “proactive” in ensuring child safety. And while this may not be the motivation, it’s also a really feel-good thing to do during an election year.
But there is a question that needs to be asked — was it necessary?
Recent changes in provincial law give the city the power to make such bylaws and municipalities are able to decide when speed reductions are in effect. And the council decision has come after several months of meetings between the city, school division and Brandon Police Service.
But there don’t seem to be any major injuries or deaths in Brandon school zones in nearly a quarter-century.
As we reported yesterday following a search of the Brandon Sun archives, two children were killed by vehicles in recent years, but neither incident was outside a school.
The closest fatality to a school that could be found was in March 1991, when a five-year-old boy was hit on Knowlton Drive — on a Sunday —after walking into traffic from between parked cars, in front of the Sportsplex near Kirkcaldy Heights School.
Brandon police Chief Ian Grant also told the Sun that he didn’t have statistics for the number of collisions and their severity involving pedestrians outside schools — though collisions that happened near schools that may or may not have involved pedestrians were examined.
The city will also have to follow strict provincial law when it comes to the number of signs posted near schools. To abide by law, between six and eight signs will have to be placed in the zones and as many as 16 on divided roads.
Some councillors have already warned of signage overkill, much like what happened with the “Share the Road” cycling signs on Lorne Avenue last summer.
While signage is a minor concern, we think Coun. Stephen Montague (Richmond) wasn’t wrong when he suggested there could have been other options to lowering the speed limit, like keeping the limit the same but increasing fines for speeding in school areas.
He also said better enforcement of no-parking and no-stopping zones near schools where stopped vehicles narrow the path for passing cars and limit lines of sight could also provide a benefit.
Any of these options — including speed limits — would require better surveillance of school zones by police officers.
When it comes to this kind of issue, it’s next to impossible to detach the discussion from relevant public emotion. Unfortunately, there can be a danger in making policy decisions based on sentiment, not fact.