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.