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Update: New sidewalk going in, crosswalk and guard staying put

One parent’s safety concerns about her child’s school crosswalk prompted the Town of Newmarket to review the situation
20181130 terry fox school crossing stop sign KC
A school bus stops near the site of a new all-way stop in front of Terry Fox Public School, which caused the original school crosswalk to be moved farther down Sawmill Valley Boulevard. Kim Champion/NewmarketToday

The wheels of government may grind slowly, but one parent’s safety concerns about her child’s school crosswalk has led to action.

Terry Fox Public School parent Erin Ford stepped forward shortly after the school year began when it became apparent to her that the relocation of the school crosswalk and its crossing guard a long block away forced children to navigate three extra unsupervised crossings to get to school.

The original crosswalk, just steps from the school’s entrance, was moved to comply with the Town of Newmarket’s traffic safety recommendations in relation to a new, all-way stop just in front of the school at Sawmill Valley Boulevard and Peter Hall Drive.

Frustrated with what she perceived to be slow-moving progress on the issues, Ford launched an online petition at Change.org asking the Town of Newmarket and York public school board decision-makers to consider the following:

  • The school runs an awareness newsletter or campaign on the pedestrian safety issue, about which it has parental support;
  • Relocate the crossing guard to the new three-way stop sign crosswalk;
  • Stop using the newer crosswalk farther away from the school due to numerous safety hazards;
  • The Town consider placing flashing lights at the new three-way stop sign to help drivers see the crossing guard and children.

In an interview with NewmarketToday, the Town's engineering services director Rachel Prudhomme explains what has transpired since Ford first brought her safety complaints to them.

“We convened a meeting Oct. 2 at the school to discuss the all-way stop and the school crossing,” she said. “The school principal was there, representatives from York Regional Police, York Region District School Board, and Town staff from engineering and public works. We tried to make the situation better for parents and we came up with solutions that we implemented.”

The Town has already put in an order with its contractor and pledges to build sidewalks next summer within the school’s three busy driveways as a visual reminder to drivers that pedestrians use that space as well.

“Another thing we’re doing is working with the school to provide them with safety information and tips for its newsletter,” Prudhomme said. “We also want to help principals in the future to communicate more with parents when there are changes (such as a crosswalk relocation). When change comes into play, it can cause a bit of confusion for parents and kids. There’s that adjustment period when school first starts. I think that’s what’s going on here.”

As for moving the crossing guard to the new all-way stop in front of the school, as suggested by parent Ford?

“We’re not moving the crossing guard,” Prudhomme said. “According to us, that is the safest place where the crossing guard is at this time. It’s going to be left as is.”

That’s because a staff review of the area completed in March 2018 recommended the all-way stop be put in to accommodate growth in that community. The original crosswalk had to be moved because it can’t be situated within 150 metres of an all-way stop, according to traffic and safety guidelines.

“We have put in a lot of work on this crossing every time we get a new complaint from Ms Ford, and we do go out and investigate,” Prudhomme said. “And even if we don’t get a complaint, we’ve pledged that we will continue to monitor the crossing.

“We have been proactive in observing that location and I can say with full confidence that we haven’t observed any unsafe situations there. There’s some congestion on school property, and the school board has pledged to work on that.”

Councillor Kelly Broome, in whose ward the school is located, said as the community’s population grew, the crosswalk that was originally in a place was becoming “a little chaotic”.  

“The new Peter Hall community arrived across the street, from there the basketball court got put in, a splash pad is coming, and there’s nowhere to cross the road between Yonge and Bathurst streets, basically,” she said. “The residents came to me and said they wanted the all-way stop sign. After several attempts it was finally approved.”

Ford, however, said she has mixed feelings and plans to take a wait-and-see approach.

“I think it’s great they are taking our concerns seriously. Being heard was No. 1,” she said. “I am happy that the school is also taking action, they’ve got the safety cones now to put out. I think we did get somewhere. In terms of whether it’s a shut door, I could continue to pursue the other resource regarding an official complaint, but I want to see how the community reacts to these new changes, and give other people opportunity to provide their feedback.”

For now, her controversial Change.org petition will remain up.

Prudhomme said the town normally accepts petitions from residents, which get submitted to council for consideration.

“But in this particular case, with Change.org, anyone can sign that petition,” she said. “There were names on there that were from out of province, some from Alberta and downtown Toronto, very few of them appear to be parents. It’s not really the type of petition we could bring to our council.”

Ford maintains that at least initially, the signatures of support were coming from people in the community.

“But, regardless, if people who feel strongly enough from other places are signing, it’s still people voicing their opinions. The long and short of it, it’s a choice to sign,” she said.