Safe solution needed if children must cross the highway

Family's busing concerns put spotlight on safety of "walking distances."

How many miles did you have to walk to get to school?

According to urbandictionary.com, if you’re a parent or grandparent and addressing an ungrateful child, the answer is typically 10 (or 16 kilometres). As in, “When I was your age, I had to walk 10 miles to school, through the snow and without shoes.”

Obviously, the excessive repetition of this seemingly common historic phenomenon has created a bit of skepticism, especially when it’s coming from, say, your uncle Ed, who is in his mid-40s and grew up in Kitsilano.

Myself, though I did have to walk to school, it wasn’t anything like the shoe-less journey of our forefathers. My East Vancouver elementary school was only about half-a-mile from home. affordable shoes were readily available and snow days weren’t exactly plentiful.

I’m not sure what the story would have been if my elementary school had been four kilometres away from home  as is the case for Melissa Fallis’ daughters, Natalia, 8, and Ella, 6.

Because they live within four-kilometres (3.9 to be exact) from their elementary school, Natalia and Ella do not technically qualify to ride the school bus. This  means their parents, Melissa and Chris Evans, are responsible for arranging transportation, or the girls are expected to walk.

More on that in a moment.

Despite School District #83’s busing policy, the school bus has, and continues to stop near the Fallis’ Two Mile residence as a courtesy. This is a positive as, due to health, work and other reasons, Melissa relies on the bus to safely transport her children. A route change this year, however, now requires the girls to cross Highway 97A to catch the bus. This is a problem. For one, Natalia suffers from seizures, which makes having to cross the highway a hazard for her and others (as  stated in a letter from her doctor). And then there’s the highway itself. Even if there were a marked crosswalk of some sort, it would still be a risk for any child to use, let alone one who suffers seizures. A combination of tight, blind corners and typically speeding traffic sees to this.

Which brings me back to the school policy and walking distances. Obviously, not all routes are created equal. For Natalia and Ella to walk to school, they would have to travel along a curvy stretch of the highway, sandwiched between Mara Lake and a rock face, where accidents can and do occur. I know, having reported on a many of them. They’ve included an industrial medical vehicle colliding with the rock face, and a semi that lost a load of lumber on the lake-side shoulder.

One I’ll never forget involved an SUV going off the highway and into the lake. A dive team was required to retrieve the driver’s body which, when brought ashore in a body bag, remained frozen in a seated position.

Anyone with any concern for public safety would tell you this is not a suitable walking route for children. Thankfully, Sicamous council agrees and has asked the school district to review its policy.

As for the busing change, Fallis submitted a request to amend the route to the school district’s Transportation Committee. It was turned down. A letter in response from transportation committee chair and trustee, Chris Coers, states that while the board is responsible for the safety of students while being transported on the bus, it is not responsible for the safety of the route the student may travel to and from the school or bus stop.

The fact school district policy determines walking distances without discerning the safety of available routes was, apparently, irrelevant.

 

Now, Melissa is taking her appeal to the next level – the school board itself. If trustees are unwilling to grant an amendment, hopefully they will at last advocate on Natalia and Ella’s behalf, and lobby the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure for whatever changes are needed to ensure residents in Two Mile can cross 97A safely.

 

 

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