Rallying for pedestrian safety

Colin MacLean
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Student Union, collision survivor demand action

Every time Bailey Oake crosses Westerland Road, on the St. John’s MUN campus, she can’t help but wonder, “What if?”

What if she had landed differently and struck her head?

What if the driver had been going just a little faster?

What if she’d not crossed the road when she did?

Those are questions Oake hopes nobody else ever has to ask themselves, at least not on this street.

“It’s not easy,” she said on Tuesday, standing next to the very street that changed her life.

On Dec. 8, 2011, Oake was struck by a car as she was walking on the crosswalk on Westerland Road, a street that runs between Prince Philip Drive and Elizabeth Avenue.

She bounced off the car and broke her back in three places when she hit the pavement.

It took several surgeries but she has largely recovered and is again preparing for the graduation she should have had last year.

But before she leaves her MUN experience behind, she’s looking for assurances that what happened to her won’t happen again.

Oake, supported by MUN’s Student Union, held a rally on Tuesday at the very crosswalk where she was struck.

They were demanding that both MUN and the City of St. John’s take a second look at pedestrian safety on campus.

They chose to highlight Westerland Road because of what happened to Oake, and they said they want the busy street’s crosswalks made safer for everyone.

They don’t really care how that’s accomplished. There were several suggestions from the crowd of about 30 or so people who attended the rally, including: installing speed bumps, installing pedestrian activated stop lights and reducing the speed limit.

It should be pointed out that there is already a pedway across the road. However, according to Oake and others at the rally, it’s hardly convenient.

“If I wanted to take that to get from the education building it would take me 15 minutes. So If I could leave from that door right there (she pointed to the education building) it takes one minute to get across the road. When you’re a student and you’re busy,” she said, letting the thought trail off.

Kirk Anderson, dean of education at MUN, was also on hand for the rally. He pointed out that MUN’s traffic problems are nothing new.

He recalled one incident in the 1970s, when a girl was struck and killed as she attempted to cross Prince Phillip Drive.

That death sparked outrage to the point where people were forming human chains down the road to demand something be done.

The campaign ended with the installation of a fence in the median of the parkway.

That’s proof that public pressure can work, said Anderson.

“We’ve more or less fixed Prince Philip Drive, we can fix this, too,” he said.

But as it turns out, the crosswalks on Westerland Road area are already scheduled for upgrading.

Speaking on behalf of the city, Coun. Gerry Colbert told The Tele­gram this intersection has already been identified as needing a safety upgrade.

It’s just a matter of paying for it.

There are several crosswalks in the city that meet the same requirements for upgrades, he said, and come budget time, it will have to be decided which get funded.

Whether or not the crosswalks on Westerland Road would be among those, the councillor couldn’t say.

However, he said that Westerland Road is only one part of a whole section of the city that needs an updated traffic study, something he’s spoken out about before.

“We’ve got a huge traffic and pedestrian problem in that whole precinct,” he said, which includes Health Sciences Centre, Confederation Building and the College of the North Atlantic.

“That is definitely the busiest area of the city, bar none. So there is an issue, no question.

“But I think you can’t solve one and ignore another, you may only create a problem in another area,” he said.

Which is why conducting a proper traffic study is a high priority, Colbert added.

There was some talk several months ago between the university and the city on jointly funding such a study, but Colbert said the two sides never signed anything official.

The city is still interested in conducting the research, he concluded, but its preference is that all the affected institutions, like MUN and the provincial government, chip in towards the costs.

As for Oake, she doesn’t care who pays for the upgrades to Westerland Road or a traffic study. She just wanted to share her story, and hopes to do something positive for other students.

“At least I’m trying to make a change,” she said.


Twitter: @TelegramMacLean

Organizations: College of the North Atlantic, Student Union, Health Sciences Centre

Geographic location: Westerland Road

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Recent comments

  • Samantha Mercer
    December 05, 2012 - 20:21

    SPEEDBUMBS. one simple word. I walk to school every single day and have for the last almost 4 years going to MUN! Thankfully i have never been involved in an accident, but i am cautious to the point that i feel like a nuisance to every person on the road. I make sure every single car is stopped around me and at a full stop too! I don't care if you're 25 meters away from me and you look like you're slowing down, i will wait in that crosswalk until everything around me is at a standstill! But even then it is horrifying!! Specially in the dark! Also, a huge improvement would be SIDEWALK CLEARING. Like come on, when the snow comes the sidewalks are near impossible to walk on, therefore, i need to walk on the road, which is even more of a death trap. I am so glad there is someone who is finally stepping forward!

  • Bailey
    December 05, 2012 - 20:10

    I shared my story to make a difference. Not just for drivers but for pedestrians too. I was not wearing headphones, I was wearing a bright blue jacket, I was not texting, I looked both ways before crossing the road, I waited for cars to stop, unfortunately the car coming in the opposite direction (which was far away from me when I proceeded across the crosswalk) did not see me. Cars move faster then people, I tried to run to get out of the way but didn't make it. We need to act as a community if we want to make a difference. Creating awareness about this issue is the first step.

  • EdB
    December 05, 2012 - 14:48

    I find it very interesting that our university students who should be the smartest of our population don't know any better than to walk out in front of a moving vehicle but I see them do it almost every time I am in the area of the university. We had tunnels under Prince Philip Drive, added three overhead walkways and also put fencing down most of the center of the road and still they are crossing the road wherever there is an opening. I do not doubt that there are incidents that are the fault of the drivers but from what I have observed teenagers often create the problem by walking out in front of moving vehicles without looking. Worse still will do this as it is gettig dark (or already dark) while wearing all dark clothing, I am surprised there are not more incidents. Lower the speed limit on Westerland Road and install a speed sensor and camera, issue tickets to drivers who speed. Have a plainclothes policeman visit there on a non scheduled basis for a while and greet the people crossing the road improperly with tickets for jaywalking. It wont take too long to correct most of the problem and it will probably be self funding. The problem as far as I am concered rest with both the drivers and the pedestrians - both issues need to be addressed to make a significant reduction of these events. Note I do not calll them accidents, as I believe they are almost all easily preventable.

  • Cindy
    December 05, 2012 - 11:53

    I cannot bellieve the pedway is not accessible from outside! Clearly that wasn't very well planned out! MUN should take the initiative to fix that. And while they're at it, they should put a pedway across Clinch Cres from the parking lot to the HSC/Janeway, especially now they have patient parking across the road.

  • Mike
    December 05, 2012 - 10:23

    Walking anywhere in this city is a risky endeavour these days. Drivers seem much more aggressive, inattentive, and distracted than ever before. Some serious policing is required curb this trend. I grew up in St. John's and have never felt so afraid to walk the streets in my life. I visited Toronto this summer and the drivers in the downtown are so much more respectful of pedestrians and bicyclists, while here in St. John's we pretend we are this nice, polite, happy go lucky bunch. Nothing could be further from the truth. Drivers NEED to slow down, stop being so aggressive, and learn to respect other users of the road.

  • Heather
    December 05, 2012 - 10:06

    I wouldn't be opposed to pedestrian activated stop lights, although they might not be practical because at certain times of the day the light would be constantly red and no cars would get through. Speed bumps might be a bit of help in slowing down cars, but it won't stop the morons from texting while driving, or otherwise not paying attention. However, pedestrians also need to pay more attention. More than once I've seen people step off the curb (crosswalk or not) and start going, without making sure the cars are going to stop. In regards to the currently existing pedway, that is not easily accessible from the Education building and other locations on campus. Perhaps one option would be to modify it to be more like most of the other pedways with stairs to the outside on each side of the road.

  • annoyed
    December 05, 2012 - 09:41

    I have been closed to being hit many times in that intersection myself. If not for the fact that I don't trust any driver and keep an eye on every car in that intersection as I walk I would have been hit. There is a pedway but there is no way to access it from outside. It only connects two buildings and that is a huge detour if you just need to cross the road. It also annoyed me that in the NTV news about this issue you can see drivers in the background cutting off pedestrians as they are crossing. One man was in the middle of the intersection and a car blatenly drives in front of him!! It seems that nobody ever has the money to fix something before someone is killed but they have the money to settle the lawsuits afterwards.

  • Cindy
    December 05, 2012 - 09:36

    First of all I'd like to say I'm glad Bailey is making a recovery and I don't wish anybody to have to go through what she went through. As somebody who drives that road everyday, I know it's busy and drivers sometimes don't stop on crosswalks. However as already stated, the pedestrian has to take some responsibility. I'm not sayin Bailey did this, but I have seen students cross on Westerland Road without even looking to see if cars are approaching. I have often said to my husband that the crosswalks should be removed so that more people will use the pedway. It is a dangerous road, however, I have more concern for the elementary students on Anderson Ave who have to cross over Anderson without a crosswalk or pedway before they get up to the crosswalk/crossing guard to cross Elizabeth Avenue. Drivers and pedestrians in St. John's both need to become more aware of each other on the roads. And we won't even begin to discuss cyclists!

  • Childs Play
    December 05, 2012 - 09:31

    Why is it that whenever you heare about a pedestrian accident, it is usually someone 18-24? Children are taught to use sidewalks, look both ways, be safe, use light colors in the 4dark, and do not live in their own world with txt and earbuds while walking. Teens tend to remember most of what they are taught at children. 18-24 year olds tend to be more reckless. Also, many may not be used to walking around much traffic as they move in to the City from the bays with one road for the first time. 25+ year olds now have cars and realize how bad they were as pesestrains not obeying the "rules of the (walking) road" and develop better walking habits. Instead of wasting money on doing up just Westerland Road, they should run an awareness campaign and remind the 18-24 year olds of what they learned as children so all areas of the City are safer.

  • A mom
    December 05, 2012 - 09:08

    Yes use the overhead walk ways that is why they were put there,how many children do you hear about being hit with cars from schools at Topsail Rd,Elizabeth Ave,McDonald Drive,Bonaventure Ave.None you know why we teach our kids to never take it for granted that you are safe on a crosswalk.Not like the children from MUN grow up relize you are on a main though fare not like our kids who are only elementary and Jr high we do not have walk ways or crossing guards,and yes alot of our children walk to school also.I just came back from visiting Penn State there was security everywhere on bikes when a student is seen disobeying the rules like walking against lights,walking outside the walk zones they were ticketed.Maybe that's what we should do, all the same I,m sure there is a few mature students at MUN.

  • Darlene
    December 05, 2012 - 08:38

    I am surprised the dean believes that Prince Philip Drive is fixed.Has he been there lately? I remember that unfortunate incident so very well. I was a student there at the time. MUN put overhead pedestrian crosswalks in place and have also linked one side to the other by tunnel. I'm not sure who put up the fence down Prince Philip drive but it was a measure to deter people from walking accross a busy 4 lane highway. Then someone in their infinite wisdom put crosswalks and lights at every intersection encouraging people to walk across a 4 lane roadway. In the interests of safety there should be no pedestrian crosswalks allowed on Prince Philip drive in the area of MUN. There are very safe means of travel via overhead crossways and tunnels. There is also an overhead crosswalk on Westerland Road that the University has provided yet because of convenience people choose to risk walking across a very busy street. The answer to Westerland road is overhead. Use it!

  • crista
    December 05, 2012 - 08:02


  • Bill
    December 05, 2012 - 07:35

    Why bother with a crosswalk? Get a pedway, not only in that location , but also on Elizabeth Ave. in front of the Arts bldg. Surely the city can afford this safety feature.

    • Read the Story
      December 05, 2012 - 08:01

      As stated in the story, there is already a pedway in that location. The main issue is speed on that road, and drivers being distracted and unaware of pedestrians. However, pedestrians need to take responsibility for their safety, as well.

  • Steve Pacholka
    December 05, 2012 - 06:56

    St. John's has to stop trying to murder my children every winter. The sidewalk situation is appalling. Drivers get the roads cleared during the tiniest of snowfalls only to have that snow dumped onto the sidewalk to create a death trap for pedestrians and families who rely on it. The City of St. John's makes it a very dangerous situation especially for families with young children and for those who use strollers or wheelchairs. Shame on you St. John's.