Siksika chief says it's a win for First Nation after speed limit along Hwy 901 lowered

·4 min read

Siksika Chief Ouray Crowfoot says he's pleased the southern Alberta First Nation was able to convince the province to lower the speed limit along a deadly highway that runs through the reserve from 100 to 80 km/h.

However, he plans to continue pushing for additional changes to ensure safety on Highway 901, which connects Highway 22X in southeast Calgary to the Trans-Canada east of Gleichen.

"I feel it's good … it's definitely a win for Siksika," said Crowfoot.

Crowfoot has been urging the province to lower the speed limit — or install weigh scales or a toll — after a young man from the First Nation was killed while walking home last month.

Members of the community often walk the shoulders of the busy, undivided highway because they have no other way of getting around.

But over time, they say, it's become too popular with transport drivers wanting quick access to southeast Calgary, and as a result, the roadway is more dangerous for pedestrians and local traffic.

According to the province, nearly 700 big trucks and tractor-trailers travel that road every day.

On Monday, the chief, along with other members of the band council, met with Alberta's minister of transportation to discuss the community's concerns and suggestions.

Transportation Minister Ric McIver says the province not only agreed to lower the speed limit, but also to install flashing lights to warn drivers to watch for pedestrians.

"We're hopeful that that will make a positive difference," said McIver.

Goal to deter traffic

The mother of one of the victims, Bradley Black Horse, says this is really good news.

"I think it's going to help a lot, especially for the community," said Debbie Yellowfly, whose 30-year-old son died last month when he was struck by a semi while walking home.

"I still really grieve for him."

Mike Symington/CBC
Mike Symington/CBC

McIver says it will take a few months to implement these changes but he adds his department will not "drag our feet" on the matter.

The plan is to drop the speed to 80 km/h a few kilometers past the eastern edge of the reserve, right before the turnoff into a community in Siksika called Little Muskrat.

It will also be lowered up to the western edge of the reserve, near the Gleichen townsite.

Crowfoot believes the lower speed limit will allow drivers to have more reaction time to respond to incidents throughout the community, as well as encourage transport truck traffic to use Highway 1.

"I think a lot of these big truckers would, in frustration, just say, 'You know what, it's not worth it, you know, let's turn here let's take the 817 and go right into Strathmore and we'll hit Highway 1 from there,'" said Crowfoot.

"That's what I'm thinking will happen, hoping will happen."

McIver says he hasn't spoken yet to the trucking industry but he plans to.

Sidewalks, enforcement still needed

Crowfoot says the First Nation plans to keep pushing for a sidewalk or a pathway somewhere alongside the provincial highway.

He says that's a longer term goal and more costly project, but one, he says, both sides have agreed to keep working toward.

Crowfoot would also like the province to install photo radar cameras to enforce the new speed limit because Siksika doesn't have its own police department.

But he says the minster told him the province's policy is not to use photo radar in rural areas.

McIver says he will work with the band leadership to advocate for the enforcement of the new speed limit.

"We're certainly not doing anything to intentionally make the trucking industry's lives unpleasant we're just trying to create more safety in a particular corridor that probably has a much higher than average pedestrian usage," said McIver.

Debbie Yellowfly
Debbie Yellowfly

Memorial

In the meantime, Yellowfly says the family plans to put up a cross on Highway 901 where her son was killed to remind people to slow down.

She says the family is also planning a memorial this weekend for Black Horse.

He was born on Valentine's Day, and Yellowfly says that's why his middle name is Valentino.

She says it will take time to heal but she finds some peace knowing his death has helped bring about these changes.

"He really loved helping people and everybody knew it," said Yellowfly.

Crowfoot says the First Nation plans to track the number of fatalities, crashes and serious incidents after the speed has been changed to see how well these new measures have worked.

"We truly do think it's going to be a real catalyst for change."