'I want it yesterday': Head of newcomer group calls for 30 km/h zone after tragedy

A local newcomer organization took back a street in the Centennial neighbourhood Wednesday, in an effort to promote street safety and redesign after a young girl died while crossing the road.

IRCOM blocks traffic for day-long street party to highlight road safety

Four-year-old Galila was killed after being struck by a vehicle crossing the crosswalk at Isabel Street and Alexander Avenue. (Supplied by Galila's family)

A local newcomer organization took back a street in the Centennial neighbourhood Wednesday, in an effort to promote street safety and redesign after a young girl died while crossing the road.

Dorota Blumczynska, executive director of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM), told CBC News that the community does not feel safe walking around the area.

"People feel invisible here," Blumczynska said. "People feel that the motorists are commuting through their home, despite the fact that both Ellen and Isabel [streets] are home to almost 300 immigrants and refugees, and two-thirds are children and youth."

There are many residences and several schools in this area of Winnipeg, and Blumczynska says this should be highlighted by the amount of playgrounds nearby.

"These things signal a residential community … and yet, many drivers are literally racing through us with these blinders on, because they're speeding from door-to-door.

"It seems an inconvenience and a nuisance to ask people to slow down, to open their eyes, to leave their house five minutes early, so that they could save a life."

Jen Malzer, a transportation engineer in Calgary with expertise in pedestrian strategy, says everyone should be looking out for everyone.

"Slowing down a little bit isn't that much to ask for," Malzer said. "And we know it has very little impact on your arrival time, especially if you're driving … in an urban centre.

"If you get stopped by that red light, it's not going to change your overall travel time that much. Even though it may feel not nice to get slowed down, it's not going to delay your arrival."

Blumczynska, who says she has been asking for more precautions for years, would like to see more traffic calming and traffic lights in the area. But her priority is to have a 30 km/h zone on Isabel Street, spanning from the bridge to William Avenue.

"I want it yesterday," she said. "I want it six months ago. I want it on March 17.

"Thirty kilometres [per hour] may not stop every injury, but it may stop fatalities."

Many roads in North America are vehicle-centric according to Rothman. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Wednesday's event was triggered by the death of four-year-old Galila Habtegergish, who was hit by a vehicle in March while crossing the street at the corner of Isabel Street and Alexander Avenue with her mother.

Blumczynska said there will be a new daycare opening at the Dufferin School on Isabel Street, which means many more young children will be crossing that street. She believes that if no action is taken now to improve traffic safety in that area, then it's only a matter of time until what happened to Galila happens to another child.

Linda Rothman, an assistant professor from Ryerson University who researches unintentional childhood injury, told CBC News that it's seldom that children are struck by vehicles.

The problem, however, is that when these collisions do happen, the injuries are often more severe and there is a greater likelihood the child could die.

"What we really want to be doing is preventing them whatsoever," Rothman said. "Kids do unexpected things, so we have to make sure that the environment is forgiving enough."

Retrofitting streets

Rothman said that many North American cities are car-centric and that people are starting to see the positives of retrofitting.

"We've got these big roadways with cars speeding down them, and now all of a sudden we decided that we want people walking and cycling on them, and we're trying to fix mistakes we've made in the past," Rothman said.

Malzer says pedestrians and walkability have not been top of mind for urban planners.

"Pedestrians are so accommodating," Malzer said. "They walk around things, they go through, over.

"It's not uncommon that you find a sidewalk — no matter what city you're in — that has a pole in the middle, and it's essentially impassable if you have a stroller or a wheelchair. So it's time to start thinking about walking again."

Marie-Soleil Cloutier, professor of urban studies at l'Institut national de la recherche scientifique, says the demand for these types of changes used to be done solely by advocacy groups, but now decision makers like city councillors are bringing ideas to the floor.

This happened in Winnipeg this week when Coun. Vivian Santos proposed the idea of implementing a "shared street" concept in parts of the Exchange District.

Playing in the street

IRCOM, with help from a number of local sponsors, held a 12-hour street party on Ellen Street as part of ModeShift, a week-long event designed to discuss transportation and traffic.

Blumcyznska from IRCOM said the street party was chosen instead of a panel discussion because it's a more open form of engagement about the community's issues.

No vehicles were allowed through on Ellen Street, between McDermot and Bannatyne avenues. The blockade allowed children to create illustrations on the asphalt with chalk, sing karaoke, ride bikes and play soccer and street hockey.

"This is so beautiful," Blumczynska said. "If there was ever a tribute to Galila's life, this day, this moment is a tribute to Galila."


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