With school back in session, what better time is there to remind drivers to slow down, and Burnaby's David Kilpatrick has a story or two to explain why. "Officer Kilpatrick," is a well-known character around Burnaby schools. He's been with the city for 31 years, and for 12 of those, he's worked as a bylaw enforcement officer mostly at local elementary, secondary and independent schools. At 6-6, dressed in uniform, often wearing a reflective jacket, he's an easily recognizable figure with parents. He has a friendly disposition towards what's often an emotionally charged issue. I first met Dave years ago, when he was salvaging some old wood from my dad's lawn in Burnaby. Dave collects old types of interesting and rare wood for woodworking projects in his free time, when he's not canoeing. He was writing a ticket, when the Burnaby NOW caught up with him on the phone Wednesday.
Jennifer: Hi Dave, how are you?
Dave: I am fine. I'm looking forward to retirement.
J: Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
D: Sure, I'm 55 years old this October. I've lived in British Columbia since 1962. I came from Quebec. I deal with all kinds of issues throughout the city. When schools are closed, I do general enforcement work all over the city. I focus primarily on the elementary schools.
J: What are the worst driving habits you see around schools?
D: Everything from distracted driving, talking on cell phones. Basically it all comes down to one thing: they are in too much of a hurry. Speed is a concern, and people are under stress. They tend to get tunnel vision when they are trying to get their kids to school. Afternoons tend to be worse. Parents in the afternoon tend to come early. They look for curb space and want to stay until the child comes. It (creates congestion) aside from tempers flaring from driveways being blocked, and risking rear-end collisions if they are rearend parked if they are waiting to pick up a child.
J: What's your advice to counteract that?
D: One program is the walking school bus. Parents look at days they are available to escort children. You may have one parent on one day, escorting 12 kids to school.
J: So you have parents taking turns walking kids to school?
J: Which schools are the worst for traffic problems?
D: We have possibly the biggest elementary school in Western Canada in Burnaby, that is Marlborough Elementary. Because of the population and the size of the school, because it's a French immersion school, parents come from further away, and it's surrounded by arterial roads. Then you get children filtering between cars, instead of using the crosswalks, which is so dangerous.
J: In your many years doing this job, have there been any fatalities or close calls?
D: second Street School had a child knocked down in the crosswalk with a marked signal...(It was) a car coming off the flanking street. (It) was also a student going to a secondary school who struck the child on the marked crosswalk. The child sustained minor injuries but was shaken up. Nelson Elementary had two kids hit in a marked crosswalk. In one case, the mother was one or two steps behind her child and watched her child get hit.
This one is burned into my brain: when you see something that's horrific, it leaves a certain feeling from within. I was at Windsor Elementary School, probably about eight or nine years ago, school had gotten out. They have a midblock cross walk on Imperial - there was an adult crossing guard that was standing on the school side - (who) didn't see this child running out of the school grounds, - and we were both shocked. The crossing guard screamed "stop" as the little guy stopped in the middle of the road. There was a mini van doing close to 50 miles an hour. The mirror missed the child's head by less than a foot. The child would have sustained fatal or serious injuries if that van had struck him.
J: What about non-school days?
D: I know one case where a child was struck and killed. It's my understanding they ran out from (behind) a parked car when it was raining. The vehicle struck them. - When a child comes out from behind a parked car, it's so inherently dangerous. Not only can the child not see the car coming, the driver can't see the child. The child was from 12th Avenue school. - The principal was almost in tears when we were talking about it.
J: What's the solution to make traffic safer around schools? What's your best advice for drivers?
D: If the parents do have to drive to school, they have alternatives to parking in front of the school. They can park a block away and walk to the school. Part of the challenge with what I do around school revolves around the fact we don't have enough vehicular access around schools - It's a bit of a struggle changing the way people think, encouraging people that they can have their child safe - if they walk their kid to school.
J: Most parents have to work, so they may not have time to walk their kids to school.
D: If they have to drive to school, the message is: they can enhance the safety for all the children in the school by not going to the front door and closely looking at their driving habits when they approach the area.
The trick is raising the level of awareness with drivers and changing the way people think and trying to raise their consciousness. We need to slow down and just chill. People need to leave earlier if they are taking their kids to school driving. They can walk to school occasionally on nice days. It's only going to help, - and it provides parents an opportunity to teach their kids how to be safe in traffic. At the end of all this, it comes down to choice: Do we put safety first or convenience first? One has to come second.
J: Parents are often concerned about traffic problems around their children's schools. Do you see any long-term solution that would work, given the number of adult crossing guards is limited in Burnaby?
D: People think crosswalks guarantee their safety. The reality is we guarantee our safety.
What we are trying to do here is get the parent to know their behaviour, and what they do is the role model for children. If the parents jaywalk from behind parked cars, (children) will learn that's an acceptable way to cross the roadway. We need to be good models for our kids.