Nova Scotia

Families of victims killed in HRM crosswalks push government to make roads safer

Kathy Warren died after a driver hit her in a Dartmouth intersection. A year later, David Gass died in a similar tragedy. Their families are asking how many more people have to die before crosswalks are finally made safe in the municipality.

Kathy Warren and David Gass both died a year apart after being struck by cars on city streets

Ernie Warren keeps a box holding his wife's ashes in his bedroom. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

For the past year, Ernie Warren has been nursing his wounded heart after losing his wife of more than 40 years, Kathy — another pedestrian killed by a driver at a busy crosswalk in Dartmouth, N.S.

The grandmother of three was struck by a car at the corner of Portland Street and Eisener Boulevard on Mar. 31, 2020, and died a week later in hospital.

Just as Warren was steeling himself to speak out for crosswalk safety on the anniversary of her death, beloved family doctor David Gass, a Dalhousie medicine faculty member, died last week. The 75-year-old was struck by a driver at an intersection with traffic lights on March 16.

"Oh God, not another one. How many more, come on, wake up, do something," Warren, 69, pleaded in an interview from his Dartmouth home on Wednesday. "Get this stupid pedestrian thing done with. This has been going on for years and years."

David Gass with two of his grandchildren, Jason and Keira Gass-Lachance. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

The deaths of Kathy Warren and David Gass, one year apart, share tragic similarities. They were avid walkers on a morning stroll and had the right of way when they were struck by a motorist turning at an intersection with traffic lights. 

In both cases the drivers received a ticket for failing to yield to a pedestrian.

And like the Warren family, the sudden, senseless death of Gass has left loved ones in emotional ruin.

"Our family has been ripped apart, my father-in-law is gone, my children's granddad is gone," said Lisa Lachance, who's married to Gass's daughter. 

Keira Gass-Lachance holds a photo of her grandfather, David Gass, while her mother, Lisa Lachance, looks on. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Lachance is joining Warren in calling for crosswalk safety solutions which she believes can be done immediately. She points to leading pedestrial intervals (LPI) — updated walk signals which give pedestrians a seven-second head start to walk into an intersection before motorists get the signal to start moving.

LPIs  have already been installed at some street corners in the municipality. 

Lachance is also raising red flags about vehicles turning left when pedestrians are in the crosswalk, which led to her father-in-law's death. She's considering raising this with the province as it seeks comments from the public on its proposed Traffic Safety Act which is set to replace the Motor Vehicle Act. 

Warren is also sounding the alarm about drivers making right-hand turns on red lights. That's how his wife was knocked down. He's calling for it to be banned at more major intersections — just as it is at the intersection of Portland Street and Baker Drive. A sign there indicates the move is illegal.

"How many people are going to get killed or hurt before they do something really simple," he said, with an urgency rising in his voice. "I don't want to see anybody else hurt or killed."

A pedestrian checks for cars before crossing as a vehicle turns in front of her on March 24. It's the intersection where Kathy Warren was struck last year. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

Gass's death, the most recent crosswalk fatality, has city transportation and public works staff under pressure to fix the safety issue just as the department requests an increase in its budget.

It has calculated that in 2018 and 2019, the number of collisions that resulted in injuries or fatalities from all types of crashes averaged 800 a year.

City councillors have directed staff to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in those collisions by 2023. It is an achievable goal which staff are committed to, said Brad Anguish, executive director of Halifax's transportation and public works department.

"The team absolutely hurts when these incidents happen and they get motivated by it. It kicks us and then we get rolling," he said, citing last week's tragedy.

Anguish spoke as Halifax councillors debated next year's transportation budget. Municipal managers have proposed spending more than $90 million — about $7 million more than last June's budget, which was smaller than normal because of the pandemic.

There have been 50 adjustments at intersections in the past year, such as leading pedestrian intervals, increased lighting visibility, along with road signs either being replaced or moved, said Anguish. 

Ernie Warren and his son, Lee. Kathy also left behind a daughter, Emma. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

More changes are coming. Anguish said another 20 intersections could get leading pedestrian intervals in 2021/22, pending approval of the budget. And after surveying 365 basic, marked crosswalks, approximately 100 will be upgraded over the next five years.

Warren has heard pledges from officials to address crosswalk safety before with no substantive changes. Portland Street's five lanes of traffic have been an "accident waiting to happen" for years, he said, and the risk is growing as the city's traffic woes worsen. He's on a mission to pressure politicians to deal with the problem.

For Warren, it's fulfilling a promise to his sweetheart — the proudly Scottish woman who stole his heart when they met at a pub 47 years ago. 

"I said that right at the beginning when she passed, I will not rest until something gets done. And get it done now, not another year," he said.

Warren says his wife was 'full of life' and stayed fit by doing yoga, Scottish dancing and walking. (Ernie Warren)

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Corrections

  • A previous version of the story incorrectly stated the average annual number of injuries and fatalities stemming from vehicle-pedestrian collisions in 2018 and 2019 was 800. In fact, that number represented the number of injuries or fatalities for all types of collisions.
    Mar 30, 2021 5:55 PM AT
  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of intersections that could have leading pedestrian intervals installed in 2021-22. The story initially stated the number was five; in fact, 20 have been proposed, pending approval of the 2021-22 budget.
    Mar 31, 2021 11:53 AM AT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.

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