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Crosswalk safety in Sydney, Cape Breton: ‘This accident should never have happened’

Ian MacIntosh, contributed.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Ian MacIntosh, father of three, grandfather, husband, Dalhousie Graduate and resident of Cape Breton since 1982 had recently retired from the Cape Breton library after 37 years of service. He was struck on May 15 while crossing legally on a signalized intersection crosswalk outside the Cape Breton Regional hospital on George Street by a driver turning left. He died one week later, aged 66.

Within a period of just over one year, Ian is the third senior aged over 65 struck and killed in Nova Scotia due to the flawed, unproven and unnecessary traffic signal system of combining a green light for drivers turning left or right with pedestrians crossing, creating extraordinary danger and an alarming consistent number of very serious incidents. 

Doctor David Gass, aged 75 and Kathleen Warren, aged 68 were both killed recently while crossing legally by drivers turning right on green and left on green at signalized intersections on Young Street, Halifax and Portland Street, Dartmouth. In a recent survey, the vast majority of local pedestrians stated they found signalized intersection crosswalks to be “very unsafe”. 

There is no known legal or policy justification for traffic signals that are inherently dangerous for those most vulnerable including seniors, children and people with disabilities. The Institute of Transportation Engineers say: “Vulnerable road user safety must be prioritized over vehicle movement in the selection of traffic control devices”.

The means of preventing this vehicle/pedestrian conflict through the use of directional signals or “protected” signal phasing when pedestrians need to cross is both widely known and implemented successfully in many other jurisdictions worldwide, including Quebec City and Montreal. Research concludes safe traffic signals that prevent conflict between vehicles and pedestrians have no impact on transportation efficacy.

I contacted Ian’s widow Kathryn (Kathy) MacIntosh to ask if she would be willing to share more about Ian. The following is Kathy’s written response to questions I sent to her by email, which I have left unaltered with minor edits:

Ian had a back injury when he was about 20 years old. After that, he found if he gained weight that his back would start giving him trouble. Because of that he walked faithfully to help keep his weight in check and also for the health benefits it provides. He always said it helped him sort out any issues at work or in other aspects of life. It helped him think – as he walked he’d mull things over in his mind.

When we moved back to Cape Breton in 1982, we were expecting our first child and we were planning to buy a house. Ian’s job as Regional Librarian was based in downtown Sydney. We took a compass and drew a circle with the library headquarters at the centre and a radius of 1.25 miles. Ian figured if we could buy within that radius, he’d be able to walk to and from work each day and still be able to walk to and fro at lunchtime. It meant we would only need one car. He did that walk for 42 years. I would pick him up or meet him along the way on particularly nasty days but he walked 99% of the time.

He retired in June, 2019 and, since walking was such a routine for him, he continued to take long walks about 5 days a week. 

He had several different routes that he’d take. One was through an urban forest trail system that is not far from our house. Others were different routes through the city. The route he took on the day of the accident was a relatively short one. When he was leaving that Saturday afternoon, I asked him what route he was going to take and he replied that he’d just go up around the hospital. His last words to us were that he’d be back in 45 minutes to an hour.

He was crossing George Street in a crosswalk with the walk signal. He was going from the side of the street where Canada Bread Shop is located to the sidewalk that runs along Hospital Boulevard. The car that hit him was exiting the Hospital Boulevard and turning left on to George Street. The car hit his hip, causing a severe break and his head hit the windshield of the car.  Evidence of this was the damage done to the vehicle and the likely scenario as described by the emergency room physician. Ian’s head injuries were severe and he never regained consciousness. I am including this detail to illustrate that a vehicle does not need to be travelling at a high rate of speed to inflict serious damage or death to a pedestrian.

He was rushed to Cape Breton Regional Hospital and was treated in Emergency until he was taken by Life Flight to the ICU at the QEII in Halifax. He succumbed to his injuries a week later, a short time after being removed from life support. The driver has been charged with failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk under the Motor Vehicles Act.

Ian definitely was a regular pedestrian and walked far more than the average person in Sydney. So many people have commented on that both before and since his death. Yet he found walking some routes particularly challenging. The site where the accident occurred was a particularly troublesome one. One day after going on that route he declared that he had almost been run over by two vehicles that were rushing to beat the light before it changed. There were also a couple of intersections downtown where he had close calls on several occasions. One was the crosswalk where Argyle Street meets George and the other was on Townsend Street. Sadly, he did not avoid the intersections where he had close calls in the past. I certainly wish he had.

This accident should never have happened. The driver must have neglected to look to his left before proceeding. No eyewitnesses came forward, as far as I know. The CBRM Police and the medical examiner have been in touch with me, which I appreciate. We, as a family, are heart broken and our community mourns his loss. He was a wonderful husband, a much-loved father to our three children, adored grandfather to our two granddaughters, a great brother to his own sister and brother, and a generous member of the community. Really, everyone who met Ian has only the nicest things to say about him. He was a kind, intelligent and gentle man who had a dry sense of humour and he was interested in everyone and everything. The outpouring of sympathy from the community has been overwhelming.

See also: Martyn Williams: There’s a mobility crisis for vulnerable road users, and Halifax must change its approach

If you walk, cycle or use a wheelchair and are affected by road safety issues, please join HRM Safe Streets for Everyone. If your local crosswalk needs a crosswalk flag, please contact the Crosswalk Safety Society. Please remember to report issues affecting your safety to our municipal authorities using the 311 service.

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