Tsleil-Waututh Nation is sending a reminder to drivers to slow down as they pass through the 40km/h zone on Dollarton Highway, near their community, and to be aware that students will be crossing the road to attend the Nation’s school.
The relatively new Tsleil-Waututh Nation School, at 3075 Takaya Dr., North Vancouver, grew from 10 students to 60, from kindergarten to Grade 12, after the pandemic struck in 2020 and families in the community wanted their children closer to home. Having a bigger school had been a vision for TWN for many years, said vice-principal Sarah Martz, adding that COVID-19 had propelled them into making it a reality for their members.
With the return of school this week, Andrew Van Eden, community safety manager for TWN, said they wanted to remind the wider community that there was a school in the area, given how new it was.
“Lots of children are attending the school on reserve, as opposed to in previous years where they've attended school within the North Vancouver School District,” he said. “So, that means that we have lots of children on the roadways around the community, heading to and from school.”
As a land-based learning school, Martz added that at any given time during the day, a class group could also be heading to the forest or down to the beach.
“It's just really important that people are aware that there will be young people on the street and classes on the street,” she said.
Both Van Eden and Martz said speeding drivers were a concern for community members.
“We find regularly with the RCMP and the Integrated First Nations Police Unit, when they're down there, there is quite a bit of speeding on that road,” Van Eden said. “We have had motor vehicle accidents there and distracted driving incidences, and a few decades ago, we did have a pedestrian killed there.”
Martz added it was “frightening” to see how fast some drivers were going.
“People just fly through there,” she said. “They don't see that it's a 40km/h zone and it's quite dangerous. Just two weeks ago, or this past month, a driver lost control and actually took out one of the crosswalk poles. It's frightening."
Van Eden added that there were also many community members who lived on Dollarton who needed to cross the highway to access the community’s services.
“We have Elders, we have young families who are down on Dollarton, who need to get across the road to access the Health Care Centre, the school, the daycare, the government offices, the park. And so, they're of course crossing the roadway, probably more so than the other neighbourhoods.”
He added that limited infrastructure for pedestrians on Dollarton also created some difficulties for the students.
“From their school to the beach, for example, there's one only one crosswalk and not complete sidewalks on both sides. So, it is something that will definitely need to be improved in the future … we hope.”
Van Eden noted that, on a positive note, the crosswalk had been upgraded to include amber flashing lights, which has raised visibility.
Sgt. Peter DeVries, spokesman for North Vancouver RCMP, said with the opening of the new school last year, the RCMP were helping TWN set up some of the safety programs and school zone enforcement initiatives that are delivered at all the other North Vancouver schools.
“This is stemming not from a traffic problem per se, but because there will be students walking to school,” he said.
“Going back to school routines means more of the community’s young students are on sidewalks, side streets and in crosswalks, and that means we all need to refocus on driving safely, paying attention, and removing distractions.
"Our commitment is to have officers out on the streets of North Vancouver every day, working hard to keep our streets safe. We want to remind people that traffic safety is one of our top priorities, and enforcing speed limits and distracted driving in school zones is an effective and meaningful strategy to reduce harm on our streets."
To get the message out there to drivers before school starts, on Thursday (Sept. 2) TWN held a road safety activation with partner agencies ICBC Road Safety, North Vancouver RCMP, the Integrated First Nations Police Unit, the North Vancouver School District trustee and Speed watch volunteers.
“It's was a really great initiative,” Van Elden said. “We're just wanting to raise awareness to motorists to be on the lookout and to be traveling safely.”
Van Eden said the Integrated First Nations Police Unit would be very active in the community and very present when school returns, both on Dollarton and on the residential streets of the community to ensure drivers are slowing down and stopping at the four-way stop signs.
He said the message to drivers in the area was a simple one.
“Please slow down, and please be aware there are children crossing the street,” Van Eden said.
Martz added she hoped drivers would “just obey the road signs, to keep our kids safe.”
Elisia Seeber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News