It’s always kind of exciting when Kemptville gets in the news. I always loved to hear The Branch get mentioned on the CBC’s All in a Day as a venue for live music on the weekend, it’s a reminder for our neighbours to the north that we are a presence in the greater Ottawa area.
This week, however, Kemptville has been in the news for a particularly grim reason. I’m speaking, of course, about the death of 63-year-old Gary Boal who was hit by a car on County Road 43 last weekend. The tragedy has brought to light the serious issue of safety along CR 43 that has been apparent to many, including myself, for quite some time. Just this week, I saw a parade of elderly people being pushed in wheelchairs along the highway on their way to the Kemptville Mall; presumably tenants of Bayfield Manor on their way for coffee at Tim Hortons or McDonalds. They were being pushed along a stretch of road that does have a sidewalk, however I am sure at some point in their travels they were forced on to the gravel shoulder, much too close to oncoming traffic to be safe for the elderly, or anyone else for that matter. There is currently another retirement home going in along the highway, close to the Colonnade complex and almost right beside where Gary was killed. Many of the people living there will not have cars and, therefore, will not have a safe way to get to the restaurants, banks and shops that are in Colonnade and along CR 43. Driving is not a safe or viable option for many seniors, but the lack of sidewalks, crosswalks, and lighting along that stretch of road makes walking a dangerous alternative.
It is not just seniors that are affected by the lack of walkable streets in Kemptville. I see students from St. Michael Catholic High School walking along CR 43 all the time to go to the restaurants at the Kemptville Mall. There are some sidewalks along that stretch, but, more than once, I have seen kids walking in the ditches along the highway. The Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario told the CBC that no students walk along Highway 43 to get to school: “All of the walkers live on the south side of Highway 43, and access the school via the crosswalk that connects the neighbourhood to the school property. All other students are bused,” the school board told CBC. This may be true on paper, but it is impossible for the school to control where the kids go on their lunch and after school, especially if they have permission to leave the premises. It will be even more important for both CR 43 and 44 to have proper sidewalks, crosswalks and lighting once the new Kemptville Public School is finished.
In the school’s current location, it is easy and safe for kids who live in downtown Kemptville to walk to school, but, once they are moved to the new building in September, this will no longer be the case. The last thing we need is for the next fatality or injury to be a young child.
According to CBC News, the Municipality of North Grenville is passing the buck to the County, as CR 43 is maintained and controlled by them. There have been plans for years to widen the road and it’s likely that they have been waiting for that project to be completed before they put in sidewalks. The problem is they haven’t been able to secure funding from the provincial and federal government, so the project has been left untouched. The Municipality often boasts that North Grenville is “Green and Growing”, however, how can they say that when it is impossible to safely use sustainable forms of transportation like walking and biking to get around town?
It is long overdue for someone to take responsibility for the safety of pedestrians along County Road 43, and this recent tragedy is proof of that. A man who made the responsible choice to walk home after having a few drinks with his family lost his life because of poor infrastructure for pedestrians, and that is not right. It is unfortunate that a member of our community had to die for this issue to come to light, but, hopefully, it will be the catalyst for the Municipality and the County to take this situation seriously and work together to make the streets in Kemptville safe for all forms of transportation.