Changes debated for deadly corridor

Chain link fence down the centre of the Trans-Canada Highway? As police and politicians desperately look for ways to stop the carnage that has seen three deaths in the last year on the notorious corridor through Duncan, new ideas are emerging.

At North Cowichan council on Wednesday, controversy about the corridor reignited when Coun. Jennifer Woike asked Staff Sgt. Jack McNeill what is being done to curb pedestrian deaths.

McNeill was there to give the quarterly RCMP report and was more than ready to talk about the problem.

Woike said that she had seen cities like Langford using chain link fence and signs as barriers to jaywalking but it went beyond that in North Cowichan and Duncan.

"We live in a unique spot. No one would ever walk across a highway in Abbotsford. But here, people just walk across the Trans-Canada Highway," she said.

McNeill agreed, using the situation of students crossing from Cowichan Secondary to fast food restaurants at lunchtime.

"The kids look like water buffalo trying to cross a river. The Band-Aid solution is for us to be there but that’s not going to solve it," he said, pointing to the fine for jaywalking which is just over $100.

"The majority of the people ticketed have no money to pay that fine. So, for many, a ticket means nothing," he said. "But there is a working group. We’re trying to slow the corridor. Nobody wants chain link fencing."

North Cowichan CAO Dave Devana said that the municipality is working on a TCH plan for the University Village area that would see an attractive chain link fence installed.

"But the business owners are very reluctant to allow that. It would stop people making turns into their businesses," he said.

Overpasses are also a possibility but they are expensive and "people would still want to dash across," Devana said.

McNeill said police are "trying to think outside the box."

Investigation has shown them that the girl killed while crossing the highway last August at 3 a.m. south of Duncan was trying to get a location where she could get free WiFi, he said, adding this is common in that area with quite a number of youth who had no other Internet access going to that location even late at night.

"We managed to get that shut down but it shows a need," he said.

Devana added, "the [transportation] ministry also wants to see safety in that corridor but we need to have a united front here."

Coun. Kate Marsh, who was following the meeting by telephone, said she thought young people need access to social media to be able to maintain self-esteem and feel they are keeping up with their friends.

Feelings of inequality among youth are "one of the many facets to youth suicide," she said.

McNeill said that, particularly in that area, "We need to address this with Cowichan Tribes. We also need to talk about stopping kids from climbing on the overpass. These ideas are in play," he said.

But in other areas along the corridor, there are other concerns, McNeill told council.

One of these is trying to find the best way to deal with intoxicated people stumbling around by the highway.

"There is a need for a drying-out facility to allow police to take intoxicated people. They are passed out in a ditch. We bring them in for their own safety but we need a place. Our cells are substandard. Many of these people are on borrowed time because they are living a dangerous lifestyle," he said.

"These are frequent flyers. The guards all know them. I don’t know how funding for it would work out. But there is a need for a short term facility."