At the corner of Bay and Chambers streets you can find a tiger and a zebra, or at least a couple telephone poles painted like them.
The pole painting happened on Monday in an effort to bring attention to a crosswalk used by George Jay elementary students who parents say are being ignored by drivers.
“We’re really concerned about safety, when we’re bringing and walking our kids to school at that crosswalk cars aren’t stopping,” said Valeria Cortés, a member of the school’s Parent Advisory Council. “Cars are speeding and the visibility is very bad; you have to stop midway through the road to see anything.”
The school is situated near the busy intersection of Bay and Cook streets, which is part of a busy route leading to Royal Jubilee Hospital. During heavy traffic hours, a red light can cause a bumper-to-bumper lineup on Bay Street, which prevents students from being able to safely cross.
The PAC has tried for years to bring attention to the crosswalk and is pushing to have a pedestrian-activated light installed there, but at this point, Cortés said, they are low on the City of Victoria’s list.
“They do about five crosswalks per year, and I think we’re placed somewhere between 15-18 on the list,” she said. “We’ve had a few close calls in that crosswalk; it’s awful.”
In correspondence last year between Cortes, Victoria Police Chief Del Manak and Brad Dellebuur, the City’s manager of transportation, engineering and public works, the crosswalk was discussed but no plan was made.
“Staff have reviewed the crosswalk since meeting with the group,” Dellebuur wrote in an email to Manak and Cortés in September 2017. “An upgrade to install flashing beacons is supported, however, based on the Council-approved evaluation and ranking system for crosswalks, the intersection is not in the 2018-2020 list of planned crosswalk upgrades/new installations.”
A near miss in June 2018 with a student and a car near the school revived many parents’ concerns about safety and speed.
“It was caused by a child not looking both ways. He was not necessarily used to cars,” said pole-painting artist Beth Threlfall, who was hired by the school to do the jungle-themed paint job. She noted the child was new to the country, as a refugee, and wasn’t aware of standard street-crossing protocol.
“It was bit of a fright, and how it went rippled through the rest of the school. It was a good reminder to talk about safety, and remember that where the school is situated is a very busy area of town.”
In recent years changes have been made to mitigate the problems; in 2014 the City installed a sidewalk extension at the crosswalk – an extra bump-out that made the crosswalk shorter. In 2015 the section of Cook Street that passes the school was lowered from a 40 km/hour speed zone to a 30 km/hour school zone.
Still, parents and staff remain concerned and continue to push for more safety improvements.
On Tuesday morning, Threlfall waited to use her freshly-ornamented crosswalk, only to see four cars zoom past her before she flagged that she wanted to cross.
“I don’t know if painting the poles will make any difference,” she said. “But maybe it will strike up more conversation for everything else.”