One crossing guard's thoughts on the job, the system of which it is a part, and the infrastructure that surrounds it.
By Stewart Klazinga
Published July 16, 2018
As a crossing guard, I have witnessed may troubling things. The following is just one such scenario.
A senior citizen, whom I am prohibited from crossing, approaches the curb of the sidewalk. At the same time, a driver approaches the intersection. The driver stops and looks toward me. At the same time, the senior sees the stopped vehicle and begins to cross the street.
As I am not allowed to cross this person, I make no motion, but I keep a close eye on both the driver and the pedestrian.
After watching me for mere seconds, the driver assumes an argument from silence and punches the accelerator, before checking to see where the senior is. At this point I bellow "STOP" as loud as I possibly can, since using my whistle would be a violation of my explicit instructions.
In this same instant, the driver slams their brakes, coming to a screeching halt mere feet from the now-terrified senior in the crosswalk.
Thankfully, that's how this scenario played out every time I was standing at my corner.
The saying goes that children are our greatest treasure. The language of the adage is communal, neither restrictive nor singular.
After my past year as a crossing guard, I find it difficult to believe that this adage is as widely accepted as I had thought. The very fact the job exists is enough to dispel any story-book notions of the village raising a child. Rather the child is being raised despite the village.
The dangers realized on the job are astounding. As if protecting a literal mountain of gold from an advancing horde, the assault comes from all sides. Some guardians have already fallen to the ever-stronger onslaught.
The remaining guardians beg for relief, holding out as long as possible to protect every single gold piece behind them, fearing the day when their defences are proven inadequate and someone makes off with a handful of the treasure.
But we're not protecting a fantasy pirate's treasure. We're not talking about gold pieces or gemstones. We're talking about children, living human beings who are barely at the start of their journey.
The advancing horde isn't an obvious army of orcs and goblins. The horde is far more insidious, hiding in plain sight. It's the inadequate design of our infrastructure. It's the impatience, incompetence, and anger of drivers. It's our inability to adequately enforce existing laws. And it's the failings in the training of our civil servants.
For the 2017-2018 school year, I was a crossing guard at an all-way-stop T-intersection. There were two perpendicular marked crosswalks. Of course, the intersection is located within a school zone, so the posted speed limit is 40 km/h.
To the north was a public school, a Catholic school, and a plaza with, among others, a bank, a pizza place (a GREAT pizza place even), and a grocery store.
To the south, a secluded chunk of suburbia made up of one high-rise apartment building (or what passes for a high-rise in Hamilton), a few two floor walk-ups, a townhouse complex, and many duplexes and detached homes.
Between the two sides is a very busy street which, at the next intersection, exits onto a major arterial highway.
Every day, I would see countless vehicles perform rolling stops at the intersection. On an all-too-regular basis, I would see drivers willfully ignore the stop sign, some taking the time to flip me the bird as they drove past, even double-barrels once.
Daily, there would be drivers who would enter the intersection while I was still in the crosswalk, sign in the air - sometimes with children still in the crosswalk, meaning I was standing in the middle of the road.
As per the Handbook, I had a pen and notepad on my person at all times. The purpose of this was to write down any information I could regarding dangerous drivers. For a crossing guard, this is an impossible task for several reasons.
First, the frequency and number of infractions is far too great for anyone to be able to record, even without the added duties of actually being a crossing guard. If I'm standing in the intersection I cannot put down my sign to grab a notebook. If I'm standing on the corner writing in a notebook it is impossible to diligently attend to my other duties of monitoring traffic, monitoring other pedestrians, and watching for children.
Then there's the fact that it seems every time there was a major infraction that seemed to warrant the time to write down the information, the license plate was illegible, either because of peeling paint or because of a plastic plate covering, or some other reason. I'll discuss police enforcement later, but this is one obvious, illegal, easily-enforced issue that seems to get zero attention from law enforcement.
Recording infractions should not be the duty of a crossing guard. Of course, having the ability to record any possible information in the event of a disaster is a good thing, but a crossing guard has zero authority over traffic enforcement.
As such, the entirety of that responsibility should fall to those who do have said authority. It also stands to reason that if there were better enforcement of these infractions, they would occur less frequently.
A concerted effort should be made on the part of our law enforcement to better protect our school zones. We need to adopt - and act on - a zero-tolerance policy. It would not take much for the public to get the message that school zone infractions will not be tolerated.
A team of as few as six officers would be able to patrol three random school zones every morning and afternoon. If they focused their attention on school zone specific infractions, like letting the rolling stop offender pass to get the next driver who drives into an intersection with an occupied crosswalk, drivers would have the opportunity to learn the specific laws as they relate to school safety, and the penalties are stiffer as well.
The infrastructure of the crosswalk I worked is also lacking, like most in the city. We need more traffic calming measures. We cannot just tell drivers to 'slow down'. That won't work. The curse of our streets is that drivers will take every inch given to them and then some.
As a standard, any marked crosswalk in a school zone should be raised, and preferably made of concrete. The school zone speed should also be lowered, and better enforced, during school hours. The current limit of 40 km/h is not slow enough, even if people obeyed it.
This intersection is unfriendly all the time, not only during the 45 minutes before and after the school bell. Not only are there families with young children living in the neighbourhood, but there are also a great number of seniors in the area. In fact, I would wager that of the two, the elder population is also the greater.
Early in the school year, I had many seniors ask what my work schedule was. This wasn't idle banter, they wanted to know when I would be there so that they could plan their trips to the plaza across the street accordingly.
Over the year, I watched countless seniors get frustrated waiting for drivers to stop long enough to let them cross the street. I watched countless seniors force their way into the crosswalk. I watched countless drivers scream past seniors as they were crossing the street because there was finally (barely) enough room for them to get by, or they wanted to get into the intersection before they were obstructed.
I hated standing there during these times, but I had no choice. I made it clear that I was watching the drivers, watching the pedestrian, and the situation in general. A few times, disaster was averted by nothing more than my booming voice calling-out to an inattentive driver.
The handbook made it explicitly clear that my job began and ended with children grade-school aged and younger. Crossing anyone who wasn’t either a child of grade-school age or accompanied by a child was expressly prohibited.
While I was allowed to assist any pedestrians I saw as "infirm" across the street, this was to be done as a citizen, not a crossing guard, so without the use of any tools or hand gestures. While I did walk with many across the street, these issues were still present with adults of all ages. I mention seniors only because they are the more vulnerable of the population.
In my opinion, this is a terrible and dangerous directive. In other municipalities, Guelph for example, a crossing guard has authority over any pedestrian who approaches the crosswalk. I think this is the safest directive for a crossing guard to be given. Far too often, a driver would interpret my lack of action as permission for their action, a misunderstanding that could have had devastating consequences.
Think back to the scenario at the beginning. It does not take much imagination to see a much different ending. Yes, the driver is at fault here. Regardless, we should take all possible steps to eliminate such scenarios. Giving a crossing guard the ability to cross any and all pedestrians would go long way towards this.
Changes are needed across the board. We need to change our infrastructure. We need to change our enforcement, at both police and civil levels. We need to change drivers' habits. And we need to change our approach.
If children truly are our greatest treasure, the guardians in place should not be so close to being defeated. There should be layers of them, standing strong and united, not a mere smattering begging for a respite.
Editor's Note: Stewart Klazinga is a registered candidate for Ward 5 in the upcoming October 22, 2018 municipal election. You can see the official list of registered candidates on the City of Hamilton's Nominated Candidates for Mayor and Ward Councillor web page.
Raise the Hammer has a longstanding policy of not endorsing candidates, and this article should not be regarded as an editorial endorsement of the author. However, all candidates are welcome to submit articles for publication. We will accept any submission that does not violate our submission guidelines. Raise the Hammer is a free, volunteer-run publication that does not charge money for access to content and does not receive any revenue of any kind, including for commercial or political advertising.
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