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Couchiching highway crossing launched

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Members of Couchiching First Nation will be much safer now that a crosswalk has been installed on Highway 11 to allow pedestrians to get from one side of the community to the other.

“Today is really a historic day because when it comes to road safety, nothing like this has happened in Northwestern Ontario,” Tom Marinis, with the Ministry of Transportation, noted Monday during the official launch of the new crosswalk.

“This is the first crosswalk in Northwestern Ontario that’s on the Trans-Canada Highway,” Marinis said.

“We’re doing something here that’s so important to help save lives and make living in Couchiching safer for everyone.”

Couchiching Chief Brian Perrault said it was a much-needed feature that’s been a long time coming.

“I’m very pleased, as many of our members will be, that we finally have this crosswalk,” he remarked.

“This started with our former chief Chuck McPherson, who wanted to improve the safety of the people.

“When we put the subdivision on this side of the tracks, people are crossing back and forth and you are taking your life into your own hands by crossing that road with nothing there hoping that nobody is going to come speeding up on you,” he noted.

“And especially for the children and elders that cross the road, it’s going to be a big improvement in safety,” Chief Perrault stressed.

“That’s the main [reason]—the safety of our members.

“I’m pleased that it’s finally in operation and we’re going to be taking a bit of time to get used to it and get everybody using it, but that will come in time,” he added.

Marinis noted there is an education component to the launch to teach everyone how to use the crosswalk properly, as well as to let drivers know the crosswalk is now operational and to be prepared to stop there.

“I wanted something as easy as one, two, three and that’s how this campaign came about,” he explained, saying the campaign is called “It’s As Easy As 1-2-3.”

1). Push the button

2). Wait for traffic to stop

3). Begin crossing

“It gives you the power to stop traffic and there’s no other device, really, that’s as powerful and simple as the red light, the yellow light, and the green light to stop everyone—stop the tractor-trailers, the pulp trucks, traffic—for you, the pedestrian,” Marinis said.

“It’s the safest spot and the safest way to get across the highway.”

He also stressed they really want to impress upon the children to make eye contact with drivers.

“Before you even step into the road, make sure they see you,” Marinis said.

There will be mail-outs to community members to inform people how to use the crosswalk, as well as information going out to parents to keep kids safe.

Marinis also handed out toques to those on hand, which include a reflective band and glow-in-the-dark lettering, as well as reflective zipper pulls.

In addition, the MTO has created an animation explaining how to use the crosswalk that’s going to be published on social media sites, on the Couchiching First Nation website, and will be linked to some media sites.

Marinis said people who live in this postal code, and go on social media sites, will have to watch the animation first before they watch what they really want to.

“So it’s kind of an advertisement, so I’m really excited about that,” he remarked, adding the animation also is something that’s never been done in this nature before.

“I’m pleased with the way our partners from the Ministry of Transportation have helped us out with this and with the education campaign that will assist us in having it used the way it’s supposed to be used,” Chief Perrault said.

Christine Jourdain, a past member of the band council, requested additional signage in each direction to inform people earlier about the upcoming crosswalk.

“If we can have more time for them to know there is a crosswalk, they can be prepared to stop because they are still doing 60 km/h through the community,” she reasoned.

Following the presentation at the Couchiching multi-use facility, a group went out to the crosswalk to put it to use.

Elder Richard Bird pressed the button and walked across the crosswalk for the first time while youngsters from the day care also braved the cold to test the new system.

It was discovered there isn’t quite enough time for the little ones or the elderly to cross, so the MTO will be making some adjustments with the timing.

“When you push the button, it automatically starts to sync the signal so you’re not waiting more than 10 seconds to cross the road,” Marinis noted.

“And what I like about it is it’s fully audible, so people can see the signal and hear it, as well, so they know when it is safe to cross,” he added.

“Traffic will remain stopped until you have completely crossed to the other side.”

Marinis stressed all parties involved should be thankful they came together to see this through.

“I know it’s been a long process but it’s finally here,” he noted.

“I hope this is the first of many initiatives that we do here when it comes to road safety in Couchiching,” Marinis added, noting he has some ideas for other projects.

“I’m really excited about coming out here again and working with this community,” he remarked.

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