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Bishop Feild parents pressure City of St. John's for pedestrian improvements at Rawlins Cross

Bishop Feild parents and students cross one of the 12 crosswalks at Rawlins Cross on Saturday. During at least two crossings, vehicles pulled out into the road before the group had finished walking across the street. The brick building to the right in the background is the school.
Bishop Feild parents and students cross one of the 12 crosswalks at Rawlins Cross on Saturday. During at least two crossings, vehicles pulled out into the road before the group had finished walking across the street. The brick building to the right in the background is the school. - Juanita Mercer

Downtown elementary school set to re-open in January 2020

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

On a sunny Saturday, a group of two adults and three children walked the 12 crosswalks at Rawlins Cross.

The Telegram watched as twice they were midway through a crosswalk when vehicles scooted just behind them around the corner instead of waiting for them to get across the street. 

Other times, drivers appeared surprised to see the group as they were about to turn their vehicles into the pilot project roundabout. 

“I’m frightened for my child, and other children, even now when there is not school there, because of the way cars don’t see us. They just don’t. They’re looking for other cars that may bang into them, they’re not always looking for children,” said Jocelyne Thomas, a parent of a child set to return to nearby Bishop Feild Elementary School when it reopens on Bond Street in January.

“We’ve had so many near misses, it’s not funny.”

Bishop Feild will re-open in January 2020. - SaltWire File Photo
Bishop Feild will re-open in January 2020. - SaltWire File Photo

Another parent of two children at Bishop Feild, Rhona Buchan, said parents are being proactive in speaking with the city to try to improve pedestrian safety before the school reopens.

“I believe they are open to considering changes to some of the crosswalks. We see this as a good opportunity to make the best traffic pattern possible,” said Buchan.

“There’s a moral responsibility to make an intersection this close to an elementary school — a stone’s throw from an elementary school — a safe intersection for children to walk.”

There are about 300 students and 30 staff at Bishop Feild, which is less than 200 metres from Rawlins Cross. Buchan said about 50 to 55 students will be bused, but the rest will either walk or get dropped off by parents.

Buchan, who is also a parent representative on the school council, met with city representatives earlier this month. She also sent a letter to the city, and encouraged other parents to send letters, asking the city to make four commitments:

  • First, to not conclude the pilot project until after Bishop Feild Elementary School has reopened and the school community has had the pedestrian experience of Rawlins Cross.
  • Second, to conduct community engagement — such as a survey — after Bishop Feild reopens, specifically on the issue of pedestrian safety at Rawlins Cross.

“One of the issues is the traffic pattern is functioning well from a driver’s point of view because there is a continuous flow, and they don’t want to break that flow and create impatience in drivers who are sitting at lights. But as parents we’d like to be really satisfied — and as walkers, as pedestrians — that the drivers’ convenience doesn’t rule the day here, that the child’s safety is given equal weight.”

  • Third, before school reopens, to add signage to Rawlins Cross indicating it is a school area and children are crossing.
  • Finally, to hire school crossing guards for Rawlins Cross. Buchan said she was told by the city there are difficulties with hiring and retaining crossing guards.

Buchan said she’s looking forward to continuing to work with the city to make Rawlins Cross as safe as possible for everyone. 

“This is a solvable problem,” she said.

Crosswalk beacons ‘main enhancement’: Hickman

Coun. Sandy Hickman, transportation lead on city council, said the city has received “some concerns” about pedestrian safety at Rawlins Cross.

He said one of the actions the city has taken to improve pedestrian safety is the recent decision to install rectangular flashing beacons at two crosswalks which have buildings close to the corner, affecting visibility of pedestrians. They are set to be installed at the King’s Road/Military Road intersection and the Monkstown Road/Military Road intersection.

“We’re hoping to have them installed by Christmas and certainly, obviously, have them in place before school opens in January, but we’re hoping to have them done in the next six, seven weeks," Hickman said. "So, that’s the main thing that was identified. And that will definitely enhance safety of both drivers and, of course, obviously, pedestrians.”

Coun. Sandy Hickman. - SaltWire File Photo
Coun. Sandy Hickman. - SaltWire File Photo

Buchan said she got the distinct impression from her meeting with the city that they believe flashing beacons would address pedestrian concerns, but she worries they won’t grab drivers’ attention the same as an overhead pedestrian light. She also questions whether beacons will adequately address all the risks.

Asked if the city will take extra precautions with Bishop Feild opening in January, Hickman said the city is working with the school board, but he did not specify anything other than the beacons.

“We know that there will be more traffic, but not hundreds of kids walking through the intersections. We know it will be dozens rather than hundreds walking through, but it doesn’t matter — every small child has to be protected, and we have made sure that we’ve gotten these two crosswalk installations in place in time, and we’re going to do that, and that will be enhanced over what it is now. 

“That’s the main enhancement, and our goal is to have it done before school opens, so that is definitely something with the students in mind.”

Hickman said the city believes safety has improved at Rawlins Cross with the pilot project, but they are always looking at ways to improve it further. 

He said the earliest a permanent layout will be decided for Rawlins Cross would be next summer because the city is waiting to see if there will be any changes to traffic and pedestrian patterns, and they are waiting on collision statistics from the province.

“This is not moving fast. It’s not going anywhere fast without major consideration, and major sharing and public engagement.”

Hickman could not say for sure whether there would be another level of public engagement before a permanent plan is in place at Rawlins Cross, only that “there will definitely be sharing.”

Twitter: @juanitamercer_


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