July 23, 2014 6:18 pm

‘A child was killed': Extreme messaging will slow speeders, former cop says

TORONTO – Rolling stops, red light-running and speeding seem to have become ingrained in Toronto’s driving culture; especially on smaller streets.

Spend just 15 minutes standing at almost any residential intersection and you’re bound to see multiple offenders go through.

So, what do we do about it?

“Education, awareness, perhaps changing the way we message things,” suggests former Toronto Police Traffic Services Sgt. Tim Burrows.

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Now retired, Burrows worked the traffic beat for years in Toronto.  He’s seen plenty of educational campaigns along the way and suggests it might be time for a bolder, more direct approach to signage. Particularly in areas where major incidents have occurred.

“Instead of ‘children at play,’ put the stark, harsh realities into people’s faces,” he said. “’A child was killed’ or ‘children have been injured here.’  Change the messaging up a little bit to make it a little more resounding to people that are driving through that area.”

Less than a week after her death, a photo of Georgia Walsh’s smiling face looks over the intersection of Millwood Avenue and McRae Road where she was fatally struck by a minivan.  Police have not released any investigative details, nor have any charges been laid.

Still, the reaction in the community has been swift:  Condemning a large influx of aggressive, fast-moving traffic that locals say is detoured through the area due to Crosstown LRT construction on Eglinton Avenue and the establishment of big box shopping centres in the area a few years ago.

“Slow down” has been painted in red on nearby hydro poles, pink ribbons are tied to street signs in Walsh’s honour and concerned residents have launched a homegrown lawn sign campaign.

Leaside residents are urging drivers to slow down in the wake of Georgia Walsh’s death

With funding from local car dealers, they’ve been printing lawn signs reading “slow down, kids at play.” Organizers estimate about 30 per cent of the requests they’ve received actually come from areas of the city beyond Leaside.

Local father Roger Cattell has helped spearhead the effort and  in an email he said the program is moving along “slowly and steady,” with 50 signs printed and installed so far.

“This is all being done through volunteers and the kindness of others. We will eventually have distributed some 4-500 when this is done,” he said.

While signage is key, there’s more to it than that.  There are still calls for lower speed limits in residential areas and the city’s Medical Officer of Health has suggested bringing them as low as 30 kilometres an hour.

Burrows says a lower speed limit is bound to reduce deaths and injuries simply because “anytime you’re going to lower speed limits, especially in a residential area, you’re going to lower the impact of collisions as they happen.”

To deal with construction and its ensuing detours, some suggest more restrictions preventing left turns from major to residential routes during rush hour, like you see all over Moore Park.

“They definitely do make me feel safe,” says area resident Matthew Bloom. “Especially in this neighbourhood because there’s a park right there, so there’s a ton of kids always walking around.”

Another alternative Burrows pitches is bumping up the fines drivers could face in construction zones to protect the residential communities around them.

“If you made a construction zone the same as a community safety zone, where the fines are increased, penalties are increased, the courts can put greater penalties on people, I think there you could really have an opportunity to start to make some change.”

It’s not a quick fix, however.  It would require legislative changes at the provincial level.

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