Squamish parents ask for safer routes to school

Community members, PACs and schools share concerns about traffic hazards to students

 The message to council from schools and parents was clear — if kids are to walk and bike to school, they'll need safer routes.

At council's May 28 committee of the whole meeting, almost all the seats in council chambers were filled by parents, administrators and school officials who were lobbying the District for safer paths to get kids to class.

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Speeding drivers, a lack of traffic calming and even wildlife were issues that parents said were making it unsafe for their children to go to school.

PAC members from several neighbourhoods and schools went up one by one to detail what they considered to be problems.

Teresa Rowley, who represented Squamish Elementary's PAC, said that it's a challenge for her Grade 1 daughter to get to school from their home in Hospital Hill.

"I really want to create a town where she can bike to school in a safe way," said Rowley.

"More recently, we've been leaving our bikes at home because I felt like it has been pretty unsafe."

She said that the safe biking route identified by the District from Valleycliffe to Squamish Elementary is circuitous and goes through an industrial area across the train tracks.

There's also a lot of logging traffic in the area, she said.

As a result, many people wind up crossing Highway 99 and Cleveland instead, which creates issues, she said.

The pedestrian islands get overcrowded and riders crowd the sidewalk adjacent to McDonald's, Rowley said.

The Jumar development has also added to the congestion, she said.

Stephen Fryer, who represented the PAC at Brackendale Elementary, said the absence of sidewalks on Government Road is a major concern.

"We have a painted line separating our kids from vehicles," he said. "It's very hazardous. There is peril there, for sure. Especially at the end of the day when you have two different schools coming out — both Don Ross and Brackendale Elementary using the same walking path."

Mara Halayko of the Garibaldi Highlands Elementary PAC said The Boulevard was a big point of contention in the area.

"I think the main reason is people don't realize it's a school zone," said Halayko. "You got a lot of Quest students coming down that road very quickly and if you don't know the Highlands is there, you're not aware it's a school zone."

She acknowledged the District put in a crosswalk, but people still aren't stopping, she said.

Halayko also said the 30-kilometre-zone sign is placed in the wrong spot.

"That sign should be in front of the crosswalk," she said. "Because by the time you see it, and it checks your speed, you're already past the crosswalk."

Julia Hazeldine Bonnell, a resident from around Highlands Way North, said there were major issues with that road.

"We at Highlands Way North are concerned not just with the safe routes to school, but the speed in general," said Hazeldine Bonnell.

"The speed on our street is astronomically high. We have people come off The Boulevard, just slingshot around the corner, are going 60, 70, 80 kilometres an hour."

She said she gathered 15 letters of support for calming traffic on the street at all times.

Hazeldine Bonnell said pinch points were necessary.

"We just can't get kids and elderly and dog walkers — they can't use our streets safely at any point during the day," she said.

The Sea to Sky School District also weighed in.

"The school board looks forward to working with the District of Squamish and our various stakeholders on a yearly basis to review the safe routes and come up with future projects and future initiatives," said Mohammed Azim, secretary-treasurer of School District 48.

There were a number of other people representing neighbourhoods and schools across town who urged the District to consider creating more safety measures for students on their way to class.

"This has been a great opportunity," said Chris Wyckham, director of engineering. "Staff have madly been taking notes, and it's great to have that sort of check-in."

Wyckham, along with councillors, said that they will be taking the feedback into account as they move forward.

Coun. Doug Race noted that the budget will have to be considered, as things like sidewalks can be costly.

Mayor Karen Elliott said a lot of requests may have to wait until the next budget cycle, but asked if staff could later bring forth some ideas that could be implemented in the short term.

The District has worked on the issue of safer routes to school under the previous council.

School Travel Planning, facilitated through the organization Hub for Active School Travel (HASTe) was started for several local schools starting in 2015. Best Routes to School maps were created and are available on the District's website.

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