A spokesperson of the parent advisory council (PAC) at North Saanich’s KELSET Elementary School welcomes measures by the municipality aimed at improving traffic safety at the school.
“I’m excited, because a traffic study will give credence to what our concerns are and then from there, we can start figuring out where funding would come from to fix it, because we want it fixed,” said Marie Fish, one of two PAC presidents.
North Saanich council Monday approved $25,000 for traffic study that would recommend improvements to safety concerns around vehicular and pedestrian traffic on Forest Park Drive in the vicinity of the school.
Council also asked staff for feedback about the timing of the study to ensure it accurately captures conditions around the school given the uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Once underway, the study will also look into any potential traffic issues as North Saanich contemplates the creation of a library across from the school.
The public also heard that ICBC might help finance the cost of the study.
Council considered the issue after receiving feedback from the school district as well as the PAC.
Fish said issues include parking for parents dropping off and picking up children. “If you go to KELSET, there is not a lot of parking,” she said.
“In fact, there is only one parking lot and that is designated for school staff and there is no drop off on the road. It’s supposed to be within that circle [in front of the school entrance] but the circle is also where the buses park and drop their students off.”
Drawing on a traffic study prepared prior to the school’s construction, the municipality created parallel parking spots for 30 vehicles on the north side of Forest Park Drive, but they appear to be insufficient as parents have been parking in the parking lot of nearby Panorama Recreation Centre as well as residential roads near the school, creating conflict.
While Fish acknowledges these concerns as understandable, parents also feel like they need more space to be able to park and walk their kids into school to make sure they are safe.
Another issue concerns traffic flow from and to Forest Park Drive as well as speed along it. Located off East Saanich Road, Forest Park Drive requires parents to drive uphill as they approach the school. While it is technically possible for drivers to reach East Saanich Road again by following Forest Park Drive through the Dean Park neighbourhood, then turn onto Dean Park Road, normal practice sees drivers make turn back down Forest Park Drive. The road also generates commuter traffic.
“Of course, when you are coming downhill, unless you are very conscious and aware of your breaking, it is incredibly easy to speed over the 30 km/h speed limit, which does happen, and parents are very fearful,” said Fish.
Jason Reid, secretary-treasurer for School District No. 63, said the district is looking forward to working with the municipality.
“I wouldn’t say that KELSET is a particular high risk in comparison many elementary schools in the region,” he said.
“But some of things that are concerning to us are the vehicle speeds, and the congestion and the safety concerns, and we do feel that there are measures that can be taken to improve safety there.”
Primary concerns include the speed of vehicles on Forest Park Drive, as well as congestion and safety concerns during pick-up and drop-off.
Reid said safety is not just a KELSET issue, adding that traffic safety has not been a significant issue for the past 12 years when compared other elementary schools. But he acknowledged that traffic does not flow well through the neighbourhood and growing enrolment has “exacerbated” the issue of safety.
This of course raises the question: how appropriate was it to build a school at that location?
“I’m not going to comment on that,” said Reid.
“That was over a decade ago. I wasn’t around then. I know it was discussed at the time and it was a site that the District had that was suitable for an elementary school, notwithstanding that it may not have been ideal in every attribute. But I don’t feel I can comment on that. I wasn’t here then and it’s a long time ago.”
Reid said improvements could appear within six to 12 months in drawing comparisons to recent safety measures put in place at Deep Cove Elementary school. As for the costs, Reid said it is too early comment on figures, as well as any cost sharing with the municipality.
“If we are making improvements to, or changes on, our site, we would most likely bear those costs, and if there were road work improvements, I would expect that North Saanich would likely bear those costs,” he said. “But it’s a little bit premature to comment on that, because we don’t know what the options are at this stage.”
For Fish, the question of traffic safety concerns everybody.
“At the end of the day, kids’ safety is No. 1 and everybody, meaning North Saanich, the school district, the school, the PAC, our local RCMP – everybody wants to solve this, because nobody wants anybody hurt.”
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