Cape Breton residents call for crosswalks on busy Highway 104

·4 min read
Cape Breton Regional Municipality Coun. Steve Parsons says residents of Howie Centre deserve safe crosswalks to get across busy Highway 104. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)
Cape Breton Regional Municipality Coun. Steve Parsons says residents of Howie Centre deserve safe crosswalks to get across busy Highway 104. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)

People living along a busy highway in Howie Centre west of Sydney, N.S., say they're afraid to cross the road and they want crosswalks installed.

But Nova Scotia's Public Works Department says it won't allow a crosswalk at one intersection on Highway 104 because not enough people are actually crossing the road.

With a pedestrian fatality on the highway earlier this year, a Cape Breton Regional Municipality official says it's long past time to improve public safety.

"All residents want is to be able to get out for a walk, enjoy their day [and] walk their pets, but when it comes to going across the 104, it's a major safety issue," said Coun. Steve Parsons.

The highway leads west from Sydney River, where there are two crosswalks within a couple of blocks.

At that point, the highway speed is 60 km/h, but increases to 70 km/h shortly after that.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

From there, the speed rises to 80 and the next crosswalk is about five kilometres away at the Tim Hortons in Howie Centre.

There are five subdivisions on one side, but the only sidewalk is on the opposite side.

"One crosswalk in a five-kilometre radius, to me, is not enough," Parsons said. "We have a lot of people in this area living, a lot of active people running, jogging, walking, and all I want to do is help them create a safe environment.

"I'm not looking for pedways. I want simple crosswalks that, hopefully, people are going to feel safe when they're walking across the road."

According to RCMP statistics, there was one pedestrian injury collision on Highway 104 in Howie Centre in 2019.

There were two injury collisions the following year and another last year.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

To date, there has been one pedestrian collision in the area this year, and it was fatal.

Kristine Laite, who lives along the highway near the scene of Michael Tutty's death in February, has been asking for a crosswalk for at least a year.

"We need to take these extra measures to make sure that people can get to their destination safely by foot and that there is more well-lit areas," she said. "In my opinion, one death is too many."

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

In March, CBRM Coun. Steve Gillespie began installing fluorescent flag kits at some busy crosswalks in his district, including one on Highway 104 at Riverside Drive in Sydney River.

He was partly moved by seeing the flag system in use in Dartmouth, where pedestrians take a bright orange flag from a bucket and carry it with them as they cross the street and place it into another bucket.

It was also inspired by the death of retired librarian Ian MacIntosh, who was struck and killed in a crosswalk on George Street in Sydney last May, Gillespie said.

Laite said she has certainly noticed the bright orange flags.

"Since the pedestrian accident [in Howie Centre], I noticed that there are flags going up in Sydney River and Coxheath to help people with crossing the roads to make them more visible, and it's just kind of like, 'What about us?'" she said.

Parsons has been asking for crosswalks at two locations for more than a year.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

He wants one at the Pharmasave near Blacketts Lake, where the sidewalk ends and switches over to the other side.

He also wants one at the intersection with Lakeview Drive, where residents have been asking for a crosswalk so they can get to the nearby convenience store or fast-food restaurant.

"I've got calls from the Lakeview area," Parsons said.

"There's a CNIB client that wants to get across the road. Obviously, they need help with their children to do that, but in the vicinity of a crosswalk, they would feel much safer."

Crosswalk turned down

The provincial Public Works Department declined an interview request.

In an email, the department said it will review three crosswalk requests on Highway 104 later this year, but one has been turned down.

"Our assessment determined that the Lakeview Drive location does not have a sustained level of pedestrian crossing movements to warrant the installation of a marked pedestrian crossing," the department said.

It's difficult to understand that logic, Parsons said.

"If crosswalks were there, people would avail of them. If they're not there, then people are going to get in their car and drive across the street, versus trying to get across walking with that busy traffic lane," he said.

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