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Vancouver Island dad pushing for safety improvements after son hit by vehicle

After receiving one of the worst phone calls a dad can get while at work, a Comox Valley man is pushing for more safety improvements near to a school.

Brian Garneau’s son was on his way to school in the area around Woods Avenue in Courtenay on Jan. 3 with his older brother when they stepped out to cross the road, not at a crosswalk. The older brother made it across, while the younger of the two was hit by a vehicle.

“I was in shock immediately and then it was fear because I didn’t know what I was going to be coming up to,” said Garneau.

Suffering a broken femur and other injuries, Garneau’s son was taken by ambulance to Nanaimo General Hospital for emergency surgery. The five-year-old is now facing a year-long recovery with plates in his leg and is confined to a wheelchair for the first six weeks of recovery.

Following the incident, Garneau is voicing concerns about traffic and pedestrian safety in the area and pushing for changes.

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Garneau primarily raises concerns about drivers driving quickly down Woods Avenue and would like to see the whole area dropped down to a 30 kilometres per hour zone.

“There’s only a half a block on 4th Street that is a school zone,” said Garneau. “People come around the corner of Woods [Avenue] in between 4th and 5th [streets] at Martin Place and they’re coming around that corner at 50 kilometres an hour, they don’t slow down for it.”

“There’s kids, there’s two schools, and it’s just a matter of time before someone’s going to get hit and it’s going to be a much different outcome.”

Garneau adds he would like to see the addition of a flashing crosswalk on the corner of Woods Avenue at Martin Place where drivers could see it in both directions and potentially get a path put in at a vacant property on Martin Place to nearby École Puntledge Park Elementary.

Courtenay mayor Bob Wells says the incident is a “painful reminder” that people need to be very cautious whether they are pedestrians or drivers. He adds that they will need to work with the school district, and have been with improvements on 17th Street, to decide where to make changes.

“That is a part of that whole process of first of all identifying what are the biggest priorities, prioritizing them and then really looking to see what treatments will be able to most effectively calm that traffic,” said Wells.

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Over the last four years, Wells says signal crossings have significantly increased and vary from locations either near a school or on the corridor. A pilot project in Crown Isle has also been underway so the city can measure the impacts of speed limit changes, and speed reader boards can also be a potential solution.

He adds there are a lot of different situations to consider when trying to create traffic calming.

“Other traffic calming measures really sort of depend on the road, the corridor etc,” said Wells. “Some people would like to see roads narrower or speed bumps but that can sometimes be a challenge especially if it is a road that emergency service vehicles are going to be using.”

Regulations on how roads need to be maintained also have to be followed and considered when making changes, according to Wells.

Wells says the city also has to advocate for changes to school zone speed limits and their hours because they are regulated by the province.

Residents of the city can contact council members and others through the city’s website and the information will go directly to staff who can address the issue.

Wells adds we should take this opportunity for parents to talk to their children who are getting themselves to school and for drivers to be extra cautious this time of year in particular with changing weather and shorter days.

Garneau says he is hoping to get an online petition together to make changes and bring it forward to council to advocate for changes.

He thanks people for all their support, adding there will be a beer and a burger night fundraiser at the Whistle Stop Pub on Jan. 17.

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