Saanich looks at cutting crossing guards

Emily Jessop has an anxiety attack every time she walks her seven-year-old son to Tillicum Elementary School, with his two-year-old brother in tow.

“It’s terrifying,” she said of the traffic that speeds through the area. “Really scary.”

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And that’s even with a crossing guard on duty at the busy crosswalk at Burnside Road West and Seaton Street, a block from the school.

Jessop said crossing guard Jaline Tanne is vital to the safety of the crossing, and she and other parents are concerned now that Tanne’s role is up for review as Saanich reconsiders its crossing-guard program.

She said she has seen vehicles “whipping through the red light” at the crossing and is afraid of what could happen should Tanne not be there.

“People fly up Burnside coming from Tillicum Road,” said Jessop, who walks her eldest to school every day.

“I’m a stay-at-home mom and I don’t drive, so I have to walk him down Burnside.

“There’s no other way to get there.”

Audrey Smith, president of the Greater Victoria Crossing Guard Association, said Saanich hasn’t reviewed its crossing-guard program for 15 or 20 years, but is doing so now, in part because of improvements such as pedestrian-activated lights. The association manages the crossing-guard program with funding from municipalities.

“They wanted to review and see if maybe they could just cut the crossing guards because the infrastructure has been changed.”

Smith said a crosswalk on Cedar Hill Cross Road near Braefoot Elementary School is also up for review. She said crossing guards make minimum wage plus holiday pay for about $7,000 per guard per year, but jobs are not the issue. “It’s a pedestrian-safety concern,” she said.

Smith said that View Royal is also looking at changes for its crossing guards and perhaps reducing their number from five to two. She said removing the crossing guard, or “the gatekeeper,” at crosswalks could mean more parents feel they have no choice but to drive their children to school.

Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said the municipality might end up eliminating four of 16 crossing-guard positions, but the full review has yet to be considered. While no date has been set for the review to come to council, it’s expected to happen soon.

Saanich’s annual funding of $71,000 for crossing guards will stay the same for the current budget year. “But the locations of the crossing guards may change based on the need that is expressed out of this review,” Haynes said.

He said Saanich has a “crosswalk hazard rating formula,” developed in conjunction with Victoria and Oak Bay, that looks at such factors as pedestrian and vehicle volumes, speed and road width in assessing crosswalks.

“We want to put them in the priority locations.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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