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Rainbow crosswalk banned from regional roads

A rainbow crosswalk was installed at regional headquarters this past summer. However, council has supported banning such crosswalks on regional roads (photo courtesy of Durham Region)

By Chris Jones
The Oshawa Express

Much to the chagrin of several councillors, regional staff recommended a ban on rainbow crosswalks on regional roads.
The reasoning provided by staff is it can be distracting or disruptive.
While this was met with an overall shrug from some members of council, others were vocal in their displeasure.
Oshawa’s Ward 5 regional councillor Brian Nicholson was one.
“Is there something specific in the character of drivers that are different from those on local roads? Will some of them be confused by a crosswalk?” asked Nicholson.
Works committee chair and Whitby Mayor Don Mitchell pointed out regional roads see heavier and faster traffic.
Nicholson pointed out Mitchell’s statement may only be true in some communities around Durham.
The veteran councillor also noted other municipalities have rainbow crosswalks on busy streets, singling out Toronto’s Queen Street crosswalk.
“It has 10 times the amount of traffic one of our regional roads would have,” says Nicholson.
What Nicholson was most interested in, was if staff had any data to support their claim.
“If the drivers are the same, regional or local, I’m assuming there’s no difference in driving patterns on local roads,” he said.
Nicholson pointed out there are already two types of crosswalks, as stated in the report.
One is the two transverse lines which show the width of the crosswalk, and the other has ladder crosswalk markings.
The report calls a rainbow crosswalk a “decorative crosswalk” with the purpose of denoting social or recreation symbols.
Nicholson wondered if the only difference between the three crosswalks is the colour on the rainbow crosswalk.
Acting commissioner of works John Presta confirmed it is colour which is the cause of the distraction.
He also agreed with Mitchell, pointing out traffic on regional roads is higher than local roads.
Nicholson asked again if staff data that shows that the number of vehicles driving down the road creates a higher number of incidents at a crosswalk than other areas.
Presta hesitated before assuring he’d have staff follow up, and once again pointed out the higher traffic flow.
Ramesh Jagannathan, director of transportation and field services, chimed in, noting regional roads do experience higher speeds.
“It’s the same drivers, but really higher speeds,” he said.
He also added anytime there’s a deviation from “uniform and consistency” on traffic control devices such as crosswalks, there is a change in traffic flow.
Yet Nicholson was adamant neither staff member had answered his question.
“Do you have any empirical evidence to support that conclusion or is that just an opinion?” he asked.
Jagannathan confirmed Nicholson’s suspicions when he stated it is an opinion which many of the region’s agencies share.
After some back and forth, Mitchell said he believes small children are “attracted to bright colours” and fears they may run out onto the road.
For Mitchell, this is part of the reason he is comfortable with the banning of rainbow crosswalks on regional roads.
Nicholson pointed out all he wanted was statistical evidence, noting the answer he was given shows there is none, and it’s just an opinion.
“At this point there is no data anywhere… that a rainbow crossing on a regional road is any different or anymore dangerous than any crossing,” said Nicholson.
He points out the only difference between a rainbow crosswalk or a crosswalk on any other regional road is it would be coloured.
Nicholson said he could not support a ban on rainbow crosswalks based only on an opinion.
“There is no logical or empirical data that says a rainbow crosswalk is any different from a regular crosswalk,” said Nicholson.
He said he doesn’t understand what the difference is between a local and regional road when it comes to safety.
“Same cars, same drivers, same pedestrians, same process,” he said.
He doesn’t believe it’s a matter of technical evidence, but a matter of personal preference.
Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster pointed out his municipality has a rainbow crosswalk on a local road, as they could not get approval for a regional road.
“The original desire had been that it be in front of one of the high schools on a regional road,” he explained. “I don’t support the report as it is written.”
He points out his community stepped up and fundraised for the crosswalk.
“If we hear from the community that they like this, if we hear from the community that they will financially support it, I believe that the community should be able to do it,” he said.
Pickering city councillor Maurice Brenner wouldn’t lend his support either.
“I can’t support the recommendation that’s before us,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t understand or respect what staff have put forward, but sometimes practices, policies and procedures become systemic barriers.”
He goes on to point out just because there is an opinion on the matter, it doesn’t mean it’s the correct one.
Whitby councillor Chris Leahy sided with his mayor, and noted he’d much rather be cautious and not put any colour which is out of the ordinary on regional roads.
Yet, he did admit he’s okay with putting them in safe places, such as one outside of Iroquois Park in Whitby.
After much debate, the recommendation from staff was passed despite protests from several councillors.