Montroyal parents plead for safer passage

Narrow streets and fast cars make crossing Montroyal Boulevard feel like ‘Russian roulette’

Two months after a pair of teens were struck crossing Montroyal Boulevard a group of concerned parents and neighbours lobbied District of North Vancouver council to make the area safer.

Mother Debbie Anderson Eng described the Oct. 9 crash that landed two teens in hospital as: “a parent’s worst nightmare.”

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Eng was on her way to work when she was told her son Alex Eng and his friend Rhys McPhail, both Grade 9 students at Handsworth, had been hit. “I ran like crazy thinking, ‘My God, what if he’s dead,’” Eng recalled.

Eng described the “gut wrenching” site of seeing her son on a gurney being transported to the waiting trauma teams at Lions Gate Hospital. “Thankfully he said to me, ‘Mom, I’m OK,’” she told council.

Mother Susanna Li recalled frantically wondering if her 14-year-old son had suffered brain damage or permanent injuries as she raced to LGH to see him. “I had no ability to park my vehicle. I left it sideways between three stalls and I ran in there,” she said.

As horrific as the experience was, both parents were mindful of how much worse it could have been.

“It was the worst day of our lives,” Li said. “But it was also the luckiest day of our lives.”

For Todd Taylor, the Oct. 9 crash conjured up memories of Steven Barry Oakley and Greg Potter, two 14-year-old boys who were struck crossing the street in 1987.

“I saw his shoe sitting in the middle of the road,” Taylor told council. “And then we heard the sirens.”

A car jumped a sidewalk and plowed into a group of students at about 3:40 p.m. Oakley was killed instantly. Potter was severely disabled.

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Steven Oakley was killed and Greg Potter was severely injured when a driver veered off Montroyal Boulevard in 1987. The crash site was approximately 20 feet from the site of a collision that sent two teens to the hospital in October. - photo Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

Todd’s brother Scott Taylor, who was the first parent on the scene following the Oct. 9 crash, said the site was about 20 feet from the spot Oakley and Potter were hit.

“They were doing nothing wrong,” he said of the boys.

The boys “darted out” and were struck, according to North Vancouver RCMP spokesman Cpl. Richard De Jong.

Investigators ruled out speed and distracted driving as factors in the crash.

The boys only started running after it was clear the SUV wasn’t stopping, parents responded.

The neighbourhood was and still is a haven for young families, but changed economics have resulted in dwindling volunteerism, Scott Taylor said.

“In most cases, both parents must work,” he said, explaining the challenge in finding parents to help with traffic control.

Scott Taylor thanked council for listening to the presentations from the community.

“I’m optimistic that we can turn this near tragedy into something that is positive for all of us,” he said. “Now is the time to act before history repeats itself again.”

Father of three and Cliffridge Avenue resident Kris Hartvigsen recounted one speeding car that barrelled through his front yard and onto his neighbour’s property three years ago.

“The thing that saved my kids’ life that day was Pokemon cards, not traffic calming,” he said.

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The Hartvigsen children, Kai, 10, Cody, 7, and Kaycee, 3, stand in their front yard where a car careened through earlier this month. - photo Cindy Goodman, North Shore News

His children had begged to go to school early to trade playing cards that day, he said. But ordinarily, two of his children would have been setting off to school at exactly the time a driver failed to negotiate the curve on Cliffridge and smashed through the hedges in his front yard.

Following the 2015 crash, district staff began gathering information related to the volume of vehicles and their speed.

At the time, former mayor Richard Walton noted the limitations of the district budget and suggested traffic calming projects be prioritized based on relative danger.

Neighbour and mother Chrissy da Roza listed numerous hazards and deficiencies in the area during her presentation to council, noting sidewalks that “lead to nowhere” and a dip in Montroyal that makes it harder for drivers to see pedestrians.

“There are no other visual cues (such as signage or crosswalk lines) to help drivers to more easily see these pedestrians,” she stated.

Partly due to the bushes that encroach into view corridors, drivers can’t turn without blocking the crosswalk, she noted, advocating a three-way stop and a zebra-striped crosswalk in all directions at Cliffridge and Montroyal.

Extra speed humps and signage could also allow safer passage on Cliffridge between Montroyal and Prospect, according to da Roza.

“There are no crosswalks to help pedestrians cross Cliffridge safely from Canyon or Clements,” she stated. “There are dozens of school-aged children who live on these streets and need to cross Cliffridge twice daily.”

Similar issues at Cliffridge and Prospect could be improved by a four-way stop, according to da Roza.

The biggest issue is crossing Montroyal, according to Bernadette Dunnigan, who presented alongside da Roza.

“There is no safe crossing. I still feel the Cliffridge crossing is a death trap with the missing crosswalks. It’s time for a stoplight.”

Other suggestions included a 30-kilometre speed limit on Cliffridge and extending the sidewalk on the west side of the street to Canyon Boulevard.

Increasing traffic, speed, and a sense of “driver entitlement” have made the walk to school treacherous, according to Jeneen Sutherland, who recalled growing up on Ranger Avenue. “As a teenager I used to dart across that same intersection and it felt like playing Russian roulette,” she said. “It was dangerous then and it’s even more dangerous now.”

Fred and Linda Rabiner, who have lived in the neighbourhood since 1971, also supported the parents, noting that very little has been done in the past 47 years to accommodate pedestrians and calm traffic.

Speaking to the North Shore News in 1987, Oakley’s father Barry was quoted as saying: “Nothing is going to replace Steven, but we want to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen.”

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