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Kids'-eye view of pedestrain safety underway

By Peggy Revell, Staff writer

Getting a kids’-eye view on improving pedestrian safety here is the goal of the recently-launched “Safe Routes” pilot project.
Organized by community partners and Safe Kids Canada, the project will see a group of roughly three dozen Grade 5 and 6 students from J.W. Walker use cameras to document safety issues they encounter on the paths and routes they use in the community.
“It’s interesting to see the difference when a child sees something in context versus how an adult sees something,” explained Fort Frances OPP Cst. Anne McCoy, who integrated the “Safe Routes to School” project to follow the D.A.R.E. class she ran with these Walker students.
“They just see things differently.
“So what we’re doing is the money is helping us purchase cameras to give to the students so that they can take them out into the community and they can take pictures in order to show us what their concerns and what the safety issues are that they see from their standpoint,” she noted.
“So we’re going to capture unique strengths and challenges of pedestrian environments in this community, and it’s a starting point for the community in terms of pedestrian awareness,” Cst. McCoy added.
“So this could lead to making changes, environmental changes, within our community to make areas safer.”
The project has its roots in the town’s local active transportation committee whose purpose, among various things, is to improve the safety of pedestrian routes in town.
“The original program was brought to our attention by Safe Kids Canada,” said Elaine Fischer of the Northwestern Health Unit, who is a part of that committee and is working as a partner on the “Safe Routes” project, as well.
“They were looking at pedestrian safety issues in communities and wanted to partner with a community in the north,” she noted. “So when we started to talk about some of the issues that our students face when walking to school, they were quite interested in hearing more, and that’s where the ‘photovoice’ project came in.”
“And it ties in very well with some of the work of the local active transportation committee,” Fischer added. “They’re also starting to implement some of the recommendations that were put forth in the active transportation plan.
“So the two programs are going to work together in terms of mapping out some safe walkable roads in the community to get people more active.”
While J.W. Walker was chosen because Cst. McCoy already was teaching a D.A.R.E. class there, its location also was ideal for the project.
“It’s a large pedestrian area because we have J.W. Walker, we have St. Francis School, we have the high school, we have senior apartments, we have older adult apartments, we have fast-food restaurants,” she explained.
“And it’s high-traffic density areas, too,” she added. “We have King’s Highway, McIrvine, we have the [train tracks], and we have a lot of bus traffic along Keating.
“So it’s a great area because it encompasses so many factors that we can take into consideration with the program.”
The pilot project first began with an online survey done with the participating Grade 5 and 6 students to find out their baseline knowledge of pedestrian safety, Cst. McCoy noted, followed by a PowerPoint presentation developed with the help of Safe Kids Canada which taught them pedestrian safety lessons.
Tom Foley, who was involved in helping out the local Substance Abuse Prevention Team’s photovoice project, then was brought in to give students training on the digital cameras, including how to use them and photography ethics.
Then students will be taken on observational research field trips to different sectors of the town based on where they live to start looking at the routes.
After students take the cameras out and record their observations, all the photos they’ve taken will be developed and 12-15 of the ones that “best captures” the safety situations they face will be chosen to be put together into a display, complete with captions, Cst. McCoy said.
She also hopes the project will be wrapped up in time so it can be put on display during the students’ D.A.R.E. graduation on June 16.
Alongside a presentation to classmates and the D.A.R.E. graduation, the project’s findings possibly will be presented eventually within the community and to town council.
In a way, this photovoice project brings together all of the safety issues that students have been taught through the numerous safety programs here, noted CN Police Cst. Peter LeDrew, who also has been collaborating with the project.
“Instead of talking about [road safety] or putting it on paper, it’s a visual,” he remarked. “So if they see a danger or something that makes them feel uncomfortable in their community or on their route to school, like the railroad, or a broken sidewalk, or heavy traffic, they can capture that with a camera and put it visually . . . so everybody can see it, so they can see the perspective.”
“It is just a different perspective,” echoed Fischer. “Safe Kids, obviously, focuses on kids’ safety and when you do plan for active communities, taking different perspectives does open peoples’ eyes.
“What you might encounter as a 12-year-old might be different from an adult in terms of some of the risks involved in walking to school or walking to work.”
This could include such things as shorter students finding shrubs or certain objects being too high to see oncoming traffic properly, explained Cst. LeDrew, or learning which shortcuts and paths that aren’t necessarily on streets or roads which students use and how these can be developed into safer routes.
“It’s not only negative but positive, too,” stressed Cst. McCoy. “We want them to tell us where there’s good points in the community, where are the areas out there that they do feel safe, and to let us know the strengths which we can improve upon, as well.”
Involving the students like this also gives them a sense of ownership over solving a problem, Cst. McCoy said, since it means learning about the process of change within a community, with municipal governance, the town’s committee, and how to “actually go about making active change.”
The importance of projects like this is to increase the awareness about issues in the community, noted Fischer, and to mobilize different groups of people in the community to help improve things.
“There is some mobilization at the school and we’re all really interested in seeing what comes forth from the project,” she said.

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