High­way safety is­sues still a big con­cern in SRFN

The Standard (Elliot Lake) - - FRONT PAGE - By LESLIE KNIBBS For The Stan­dard

On Oct. 26, a traf­fic slow­down was held at Ser­pent River First Na­tion (SRFN) to voice high­way safety con­cerns and cre­ate aware­ness to driv­ers us­ing High­way 17, which cuts through the com­mu­nity.

With SRFN strad­dling both sides of the high­way, fam­i­lies and friends of­ten walk to visit each other. Ac­cord­ing to a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of SRFN, “many times ve­hi­cles have not stopped af­ter hit­ting a mem­ber.”

On Fri­day, the day of the demon­stra­tion, com­mu­nity mem­bers both young and old took part in hand­ing out brochures to driv­ers ex­plain­ing in de­tail the safety con­cerns of mem­bers. Indige­nous li­ai­son of­fi­cer Tod Showan, with the OPP, was on hand to keep things safe for driv­ers and demon­stra­tor.

In the early 2000s, a fourlane pass­ing sec­tion was con­structed on the sec­tion of high­way run­ning through the First Na­tion. Shortly af­ter the four-lane ex­pan­sion one com­mu­nity mem­ber was struck and killed. For the bet­ter part of the decade fol­low­ing the ex­pan­sion, the speed re­mained at 90 km per hour. As re­cent as last year the Min­istry of Trans­port elim­i­nated the pass­ing lane and built a bi­cy­cle and walk­ing path on the stretch run­ning through the com­mu­nity in an ef­fort to in­crease safety. This ac­tion by the MTO re­sulted af­ter many meet­ings be­tween com­mu­nity mem­bers and the MTO. At that time the speed was re­duced to 80 km per hour on part of the stretch of high­way with a small sec­tion re­duced to 70 km.

Since the re­con­struc­tion, the MTO per­formed two speed data col­lec­tions on the high­way, one in the spring of this year and an­other in the fall. SRFN ad­min­is­tra­tion was in­formed by the MTO that there was only a one per cent com­pli­ance on the high­way run­ning through the com­mu­nity. Ex­ces­sive speed­ing con­tin­ued as il­lus­trated in an OPP fol­low-up on the speed­ing prob­lem.

Fur­ther to this, the OPP sent pa­trols out to the com­mu­nity be­tween Sept. 10 and Oct. 1 this year tar­get­ing ag­gres­sive driv­ing and speed­ing. Thirty-eight charges were laid over a pe­riod of 54.5 hours.

Com­mu­nity mem­bers are up­set with these sta­tis­tics that con­firm their worst fears, the high­way is not safe.

Ac­cord­ing to Chief Elaine John­son, “Our First Na­tion had three pedes­trian deaths over the last 40 years. The last death was in 2017.”

she added, “a vis­i­tor from el­liot lake had his side mir­ror taken off his car by a pass­ing trans­port truck this sum­mer while he was turn­ing onto a side road. a school bus had stopped on high­way 17 with its lights and stop sign raised when a trans­port truck who was trav­el­ling in the op­po­site di­rec­tion was speed­ing so fast that he couldn’t stop and drove past the bus. We are just for­tu­nate that no child was cross­ing the high­way at that time. i have been passed by ve­hi­cles go­ing past the speed limit and pass­ing me on a turn­ing lane. many First Na­tion peo­ple have had sim­i­lar in­ci­dents of near misses and ve­hi­cles driv­ing ag­gres­sively on the high­way.”

on sept. 30, there was hit and run where a 20-yearold pedes­trian was stuck and in­jured; the driver did not stop.

at one of the first meet­ing be­tween srfn and the mto, a com­mu­nity mem­ber asked if it was pos­si­ble to make the stretch of high­way run­ning through the area a Com­mu­nity safety Zone. With this des­ig­na­tion from the mto, speed­ing fines are dou­bled au­to­mat­i­cally and the des­ig­na­tion has proved to be a speed­ing de­ter­rent in other com­mu­ni­ties such as es­panola and aok First Na­tion on man­i­toulin.

at the time of this first meet­ing the com­mu­nity mem­ber was told the OPP had said they did not have the man­power to en­force a Com­mu­nity safety Zone at that time. ap­par­ently, things have changed in this re­gard as stated in a re­cent email: “ser­pent river First Na­tion is putting in an ap­pli­ca­tion (to the mto) for a com­mu­nity safety zone. We have a let­ter from the OPP to sup­port our ap­pli­ca­tion. mto is aware we are sub­mit­ting this ap­pli­ca­tion.”

as for the slow­down in­for­ma­tion shar­ing at the demon­stra­tion, John­son said, “as for to­day, de­spite the cold dreary weather, we were able to make a state­ment. The young peo­ple had the op­por­tu­nity to ex­press their voice by giv­ing out in­for­ma­tion on safety of the high­way. This mes­sage af­fects us all. Not just our First Na­tion. We all should be con­cerned about high­way safety for pedes­tri­ans and all ve­hi­cles.”

Photo By LESLIE KNIBBS/FOR THE STAN­DARD

SRFN com­mu­nity mem­bers share safety con­cerns with trac­tor trailer driver on High­way 17 on Oct. 26.

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