In the last few months, a crop of neon orange flags has sprouted at two North Leaside intersections, Rumsey Rd. and Donlea Dr., and Hanna Rd. and Broadway Ave. This burst of colour is the work of three Grade 6 students at Northlea Elementary and Middle School who came up with a simple, ingenious plan to increase awareness in both drivers and pedestrians.
Arnav Shah and Oliver Wong, both 11, attended a business camp at the University of Toronto this past summer which concluded with a project requiring the participants to apply their business skills to a real-life situation. Inspired by the problem of the increased volume of traffic in Leaside from the construction on Eglinton, and by the death of Georgia Walsh in 2014, they hit upon the idea of young pedestrians using orange flags to increase their visibility at busy intersections.
Their 11-year-old friend Quinlan Birmingham became involved, invented their name “The Crosswalk Company,” and started gathering and organizing data about vehicular and pedestrian habits at intersections. Next, instructions and flags were installed at the corner of Donlea and Rumsey because it is close to the school but not serviced by a crossing guard.
The basic concept is that pedestrians take an orange flag from the container on one side of the street, hold it out as they cross the street, and then deposit it on the other side before proceeding on their way.
“Our goal is to help all pedestrians by making drivers aware of them,” says Arnav.
“Making pedestrians pay more attention to traffic is almost as important as making them more visible,” adds Oliver. They also remind walkers to look both ways and make eye contact with drivers.
The boys, who were featured on the CBC’s “Toronto at 6” news on Sept. 19, are proud of their achievement, as are their parents and school. They point out that only 16 per cent of pedestrians used the flags during the summer, but the number has risen to 67 per cent since Labour Day. In the coming months, they hope to expand the use of the flags to more intersections with the help of sponsors. (See www.crosswalkcompany.org for details.)
Northlea’s safety-first initiatives
These enterprising “NorthLeaders” were asked to make presentations about their initiative at two school assemblies on Oct. 3, organized to honour teacher Peter Marteinson, who died earlier this year. As he was an avid cyclist and active lifestyle advocate, the assemblies were used to focus on road safety and unveil a new cycle-shaped bike rack dedicated to him.
Also in attendance were police officers from 53 Division who discussed bicycle and pedestrian safety. They staged a “Bike Rodeo” in the schoolyard after the assemblies to focus on cycling skills and provide tips on biking in the city.
Principal Barbara Sandler commented that the safety initiatives discussed in the assemblies were “intended to raise awareness and increase student safety.” In addition, she hoped the students would enjoy being active and become “ecologically responsible by biking and walking to school”.
Northlea also has a program for those who drive their children to school. The Kiss‘n’Ride program has been in place for the last few years, and it seeks to minimize the amount of traffic congestion near the school. Valerie Cooke, who organizes the program, explained that it covers three car-lengths on the Sutherland side of the school.
The program runs from 8:30 to 8:45 every morning when two volunteer parents from a roster of about 25 open car doors and ensure that children are safe getting into the schoolyard. The students are warned to be ready with their goodbyes done and backpacks on their laps, so they can exit as quickly as possible from the lineup of cars. The program is well-used and has helped to encourage carpooling.
All of these Northlea initiatives are more examples of the creative ways in which Leasiders are rising to the challenge of dealing with the growing traffic congestion and its resulting threat to safety on our streets.