Sue Groesbeck, head of school of Stratford Hall independent school on Commercial Drive, has one word for the traffic situation she says is putting over 500 students in danger: “Horrifying.”
The death Sunday of a pedestrian who was struck in the crosswalk at 12th Avenue and Commercial Drive on Sept. 17 — a crosswalk many of her students use daily — was especially upsetting, said Groesbeck, who has lobbied for years for traffic-safety improvements in the area.
Stratford Hall is a coed, K through 12 school with over 500 kids, and a staff of almost 80 adults, situated on the east side of Commercial between 14th and 16th avenues. Morning drop-off is on Commercial, and the children cross the street several times a day to use Clark Park for sports and recess.
Groesbeck said the school has been advocating for changes, including having that stretch declared a school zone, for years without success. She said, “We’ve been denied and denied and denied.”
Now a motivated group of Grade 5 and 10s at Stratford Hall has taken on the task of researching and gathering data to try to effect change as part of their governance studies. They’ve partnered with their school liaison officer, Const. Cheryl Leggett, to document traffic flow and safety, and, with the help of a donor, and a substantial discount from the Anson traffic group, rented an electronic traffic-speed reader so they can build a substantive, data-driven case to bring to the city.
The school wants improvements, such as overhead lighting for the crosswalk at 15th Avenue, and to have the area designated a 30-km/h school zone. “Children are at risk,” said Groesbeck.
Groesbeck is out with a team of crosswalk guards, traffic cones and hand-held stop signs every morning between eight and 8:30 during the drop-off period when hundreds of kids cross the street. Cars travelling north on Commercial come around a curve with limited visibility and have little time to react. “Every day I’m out there, head to toe in yellow, I’ve got a stop sign and people (cars) screech up to my kneecaps.”
Groesbeck said the Vancouver police have been responsive to their pleas, and are often on site handing out tickets to drivers speeding up to 80 km/h as they approach the intersection, but she fears it’s just a matter of time before another tragedy occurs.
The City of Vancouver declined to answer any Postmedia News questions for this story, but provided a written background statement that said, in part, that recent improvements to the 12th and Commercial intersection include a pedestrian countdown timer installed in 2015, and LED lighting installed in 2013.
The statement also said that because Commercial Drive is an arterial road, “installing a 30-km/h school zone proves difficult,” and that “speed humps and other traffic-calming measures are not feasible options for arterials and collectors,” in part because of the impact it could have on “operations of a variety of key services, including buses and emergency-response vehicles.”
The statement also said the city is “actively reviewing the safety of Vancouver’s intersections and corridors as part of a comprehensive transportation safety action plan” and that the crosswalk at Commercial and 15th is a potential candidate for a new pedestrian signal.
Sunday’s pedestrian fatality was the result of an accident that occurred at 3 p.m. on Sept. 17. A police spokesperson said Wednesday that the accident is under investigation, and that the driver of the car did remain at the scene and is co-operating with the probe.