Crossing guard Linda Grantham escorts a group of children across Goldstream Avenue at the intersection with Jacklin Road. The stress of the job due to the way people drive in the area has prompted her to decide to leave her post this year.

Protecting children, one walk sign at a time in Langford

Longtime school crossing guard worries about aggressive drivers at busy Langford intersection near Ruth King school

Linda Grantham has been a crossing guard for more years than she can remember. But now, she’s giving up her stop sign and handing in her reflective vest because she believes it’s just a matter of time before a child is seriously injured at the Goldstream Avenue and Jacklin Road intersection.

“I go to bed at night thinking about it … you shouldn’t have to live like that,” she said. When she wakes up in the morning, Grantham often wonders if that will be the day a child gets injured. “I get overwhelmed. Why can’t you people realize this is a school zone?”

The stress of it all is starting to get to her and Grantham is planning to retire at the end of the school year.

With her purple hair, bright red sign and yellow vest Grantham shouldn’t be hard to miss, but she has to wave her sign to attract the attention of some drivers.

These days she tries to get through to the children to make sure they all look both ways before entering the intersection, even when the pedestrian signal tells them it’s safe to cross. “I’m getting at least three (vehicles) a day running the red light.”

While she was being interviews by the Gazette on Tuesday, roughly half a dozen drivers ran red lights. There were also countless vehicles speeding through the school zone surrounding Ruth King elementary during that time.

That’s nothing, Grantham said, “you should be here on a Friday.”

She waves and signals at drivers, trying to get them to slow down and at the very least take notice of the children on the road. In return, she’s the recipient of rude gestures and foul language.  Sometimes drivers even get out of their vehicles to yell at her. “You have to have tough skin, otherwise you’d be crying all the time,” she said.

Grantham says she’s been complaining about speeders and red light runners for years. She’s taken those concerns – and sometimes licence plate numbers – to the school and West Shore RCMP, but says the problem is worse than it’s ever been.

West Shore RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve Wright said “school zones are always a priority” for the detachment. He wasn’t aware of an increase in concern for this particular area given the department hasn’t been inundated with calls.

In terms of enforcement, he said a number of factors determine where officers are posted, including complaints and crash data. School zones are typically enforced on a rotating basis.

“We have very limited resources … given the number of schools in the area we’re stretched so thin,” he said.

To help spread some of those resources a little further, the detachment also involves the speed watch program, which sees community volunteers stationed in areas reminding drivers to slow down.

Grantham noted “it never used to be like that, people cared.” Having lived in Langford since 1971, she has seen the area change dramatically over the years and credits the expansion of housing in the area as a contributing factor to the traffic issues. “It’s getting really scary with all these buildings and traffic.”

Ruth King principal Jennefer Byrne said, “it’s enough that we’re concerned every day.” She or the school’s vice-principal stand outside daily   to make sure children are safe. “It’s a busy road, a busy intersection,” Byrne said. “I’ve been here for five years and I’ve definitely seen an increase in traffic.”

Administrators have been working hard within the school to help address some of those concerns. In response, a large number of parents now drop their children off behind the school on Matson Road in an attempt to help get some of the traffic off Jacklin Road. The school’s PAC has also been engaged and a new safety program will be rolled out in the fall, she said.

Over the years, the school has been in contact with their RCMP liaison, Byrne said. “I think they are aware; there are times when they are parked on Jacklin.” She acknowledged that police can’t be there all the time.

Grantham said while some drivers do yield to the pedestrians crossing at the intersection, some believe as soon as that signal switches to the flashing hand, pedestrians no longer have the right of way.

City staff clarified the flashing “don’t walk” or upraised hand is meant to warn pedestrians not to enter the intersection, as it is too late for them to safely cross before the light changes. The timing of the signal is meant to give those already crossing enough time to reach the other side, and they are in the right to continue when it starts flashing.

Langford engineering director Michelle Mahovlich said the intersection uses a standardized signal that accounts all types of pedestrians, including younger children who may need more strides to cross safely. The City provides the School District with funds for crossing guards at intersections such as this one, she added.

Grantham has a theory about the problem. “There are no consequences,” she said, adding that people will just continue in their ways until they are forced to change.

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