Safer roads require community effort
By Darren Lum
Published Aug. 14, 2018
Standing at the intersection where Haliburton Lake Road and Eagle Lake Road meet, Peter McLuskey will never forget how his home, located only a few feet away was the epicentre for medical treatment, following a collision of a pair of vehicles.
One of the vehicles involved in the accident came to a rest at the bottom of his driveway and the other in front of the house across the road. Injured parties from both vehicles and firefighters and paramedics ended up in McLuskey’s home.
The one-year anniversary of the collision prompted him to contact the paper to prevent a repeat.
“I just don’t want any more accidents. It’s that simple,” he said. “When you have people bashed up and they’re in your house and all sorts of emergency service people. It’s not a lot of fun.”
McLuskey doesn’t want to think about a different outcome for the collision.
“The thing that has really, really stayed with me is in the vehicle ... was an 11-month-old child. And that child was really, really lucky the baby seat held,” he said.
Every year he hosts children participating in the touring Monarch Bible Camp. He doesn’t want to think about what the toll of human loss could be if there is a collision when the campers and counsellors are in the area.
It was only 15 minutes earlier when there were close to 50 people in the area, including children who had just finished a presentation to educate their parents and guardians about their experience at the Eagle Lake youth camp based at McLuskey’s residence.
The resident and avid cyclist is familiar with the challenges related to the Eagle Lake intersection which has drawn the attention of residents and the Haliburton County roads department.
In addition to poor driver attitude and aggression, drivers face challenging sightlines from rock cuts and for anyone starting from Eagle Lake Road, looking to turn north toward Fort Irwin it’s hard to see vehicles going around the bend heading east from Hwy 118, and where Eagle Lake Road is situated it can put road users facing the sun in the morning or the evening.
Among the things that have been done to try to solve the problem in Eagle Lake was the cutting back of vegetation from the sides of the roads and moving the stop signs. A digital radar sign, showing rate of travel was put on Haliburton Lake Road close to where the 80 km/hr zone transitioned to 50-kilometre zone, coming into Eagle Lake. The sign has been moved around the county. The roads department last week released its analysis of data which resulted in an overall slow down.
“The other significant thing was they have had discussion with the OPP,” he said.
McLuskey said he appreciated the boost in the OPP presence since. They have had cruisers at the intersection for up to two hours at a time and have had RIDE checks with four cruisers during times when cottagers are leaving the area.
Another problem is with how far the community is from medical care. Even when emergency personnel respond immediately, he said, it takes them time due to the distance. It puts anyone involved in a collision in Eagle Lake at risk.
McLuskey believes there shouldn’t be collisions in a small community like the one he has called home since 2004.
Being a former resident of Toronto for 25 years and Calgary for 13 years, he is well aware of how the rushing mentality manifests itself.
His message: relax.
McLuskey points out he isn’t the only one trying to make roads safer, as several area residents also met with county road representatives. County and municipal politicians have come to the area, McLuskey said, but have deferred to the staff actions and recommendations.
Haliburton Highlands Easy Ryders cycling club president Robin Bell knows the intersection at Eagle Lake and takes his own precautions to keep himself safe.
When he’s coming south down the hill of Haliburton Lake Road from Fort Irwin travelling through the intersection he will slow down, making sure vehicles that approach stop.
“They don’t realize how fast the bike can travel down the hill. Therefore I seldom ever [pedal] down that hill. In fact, I’m feathering the brakes for a good part of the last half. I’m ready to pounce on the brakes because I’ve almost been caught a couple of times by somebody turning out there, or going straight through, or turning left towards me ... either way it can be an awful mess if I’m not paying attention,” he said.
It’s advice the club shares with its club members.
He suggests the installation of a sign, alerting road users there is a “junction ahead.”
The rider of more than 50 years said at the start of every riding season the club holds an orientation, Let’s Get Rolling. This meeting in the spring provides its members an overview, which includes safety education, to its more than 100 strong membership of varying ages and skill levels. Although the club works to mitigate dangers, looking out for each other, including ride captains leading groups, the club’s main message to all cyclists is to take responsibility for their own safety. Everyone must wear a helmet, have a bell, or horn, and are encouraged to have a mirror on their bike to ensure rearward visibility.
Locally, he’s had his share of run-ins with disrespectful drivers, whether it’s getting a taco thrown at his head, or a few notable aggressive drivers, passing with little space. There was one instance when he was pushed to the edge of the road close to the Eagle Lake intersection and then the driver stopped and hopped out to confront him. With a witness, nothing escalated beyond verbal aggression. That said, he believes drivers in general are far more aware of cyclists, which he believes has improved in the last five years.
Throughout these experiences, Bell maintained his composure and was aware of the lead-up to the interaction and what was happening in each instance. He said it’s easy to lose control if you’re caught unaware and startled by the noise of a horn or the roar of an engine as it approaches.
Haliburton County director of public works Craig Douglas said the Eagle Lake intersection is a psychology experiment since everything required is in place such as speed signage and the overhead flashing amber.
“All of the required stuff are there. It’s a mystery why people are not stopping. I’m assured that they are not just rolling through and not seeing. All the residents sit on their porch and watch it happen,” he said.
He hopes the digital radar sign, moving the stop sign and clearing back vegetation to improve sightlines for road users will make a difference. The digital radar sign provided valuable information and recorded a reduction in driving speeds. He hopes it will have a lasting effect on drivers and change behaviour.
That said, he’s open to ideas.
Douglas has appreciated the insight and input provided by the community, particularly McLuskey.
“He’s great. He’s so close to it. We appreciate the feedback. It’s really nice to have eyes that are that close to it and can notice change or not notice change,” he said.
Even when a speed wasn’t on the radar, also known as “stealth mode,” it was collecting information. The results released about County Road 21 can be applied to Eagle Lake.
“We can’t be everywhere all the time. There’s something going on that is a hazard, or a safety issue, or just something silly we’re not aware of then that’s good.”
When asked about implementing a round-about at the intersection, Douglas loves the concept in theory.
He was part of the process of one constructed in Bracebridge. However, a round-about is not feasible due to spacing issues. Simple versions used in Europe cannot be applied here, he said. Another idea used in populated areas, which is a traffic calming strategy, is to make the area appear narrower. It forces traffic to slow down. Douglas didn’t rule it out. Cost is not as high as curbing, but it is a factor, as he pointed out the maintenance and the application is far more sophisticated than it first appears.
The roads department has also implemented recent clearing of vegetation back from the sides of County Road 21 (between Haliburton and Minden). It was a joint venture between the roads department and Bell Canada to reduce the collisions between deer and vehicles. It was identified as a “hotspot for deer. Deer wintering and deer crossing.” The Ministry of Natural Resources and the OPP identified this as a highly frequented area for crossing and collisions.
In Highland Grove, the 50 km/hr area was expanded to about one kilometre more out in the north and a kilometre to the south. This will slow people down sooner as they approach on County Road 648.
The main message for everyone is to pay attention and have consideration for one another. It will go a long way to changing attitudes, and, hopefully, improve safety for all users of the roads.
McLuskey said safer roads can be a reality if there is an attitude change.
It comes down to respect for others.
“To me what will really turn this around is if the community sees it as a problem and a community member says, ‘I have to do my bit and I have to slow down and I have to talk to people.’ And to the people who are renting cottages: they should be engaging with the people who are paying big bucks to rent. ‘Look, you have to understand this is a small community. You have to treat it with respect,’” he said.