Last week in the waning hours of the day while walking along the edge of the roadway facing traffic in a 50 km posted speed zone, I did something that I now regret. I stopped abruptly facing an oncoming vehicle, one foot on the asphalt, one foot on the gravel, both feet a possible step out of the grave. Perhaps more appropriately described as 'incoming vehicle'. I found myself in a dangerous position, glaring down 3,300 lbs of plastic, glass and steel. Apologies personified. What a stupid move on my part! But, the why?
The why was the simple frustration for what was suppose to be a relaxing afternoon walk that I have taken a thousand times along this roadway. But, today was different. It was reality of what has become an all to frequent event along this section of road. It was a fear over personal safety. As a walker I have witnessed safety compromised. Nothing new! But growing inversely with a lack of policing on our roads.
Ironically, this time of the year, I have stopped walking at night unless fully visible with a PPE vest to ensure at least the oncoming traffic sees this diminutive little man clubbing along.
On that weekend day, in broad daylight, although late in the afternoon and not an overly bright day, I should have been able to walk where a PPE highly visible vest would not be necessary. Renewed reality. As a walker you are on your own. A fear growing with a lack of patrols by police on our roadways.
So what changed? The change was the speed. I had just passed an intersection to the newest subdivision in PAB. Four vehicles came in my direction in the limited time and space along this speedway. Three of these vehicles were at speeds far exceeding the posted limit of 50 km/h. Although it's a relatively small sample size (COVID's new language), it is nevertheless statistically overwhelming, for it only takes one vehicle to turn things tragically south.
The first two vehicles were ultimate size pick ups. Both trucks, one very closely following the other, barrelling towards me. Both at speeds far exceeding the 50 km/h. Both taking up maximum road size and neither indicating any deviation to account for the lonely walker along the edge of the asphalt. No deviation whatsoever! Just a not so courteous 'fly by'. Extended mirrors adding to the back draft. Enough to set the tone for what was coming as I approach an incline and an upcoming turn in the roadway.
A third vehicle was visible. A sedan. The reaction time expanded given this vehicle was at the posted speed. Vehicle vs pedestrian: A blink in time minimized with speed. This driver at the regular speed gave an indication with a minor deviation as it passed my spot along the narrow embankment . The options for a walker at the juncture were limited. Not much of a road shoulder with the alternative of a ten foot drop into a brook below.
The same was not true for a fourth vehicle. In a split second that vehicle came roaring around the corner completing a deviation resembling a rainbow going across nearly the width of the road. No pot of gold here! Just the heavy glare of brake lights as it straightened back into its lane. Better slow down or it would be an unexpected visitor in the trunk of the slower vehicle. Meanwhile, yours truly, all 135 lbs, was standing in the ultimate 'stare down', one foot on and one foot on the asphalt, body framed for easy recognition of being alarmed. Framed. Helpless feeling for personal safety.
All is well that ends well. Less than a minute passed. Given it could have been thirty seconds or less it really does not matter. Hear rubber hitting the road coming in the opposite direction. A glance over my right shoulder. In the opposite direction the fourth vehicle was whizzing back in my direction. There was the driver poised through an open window. Well here goes! Would this be one of those "are you crazy?" or an "are you planning to die today" moment? Maybe fighting words? "What's up with the stare down?"
It was neither. It was an apology; a humbled, sincere apology. An apology by this driver for not seeing me along the edge of the road until the very last minuscule of a second. A blink of the eye moment! That apology was filled with heartfelt sorries many times over.
Thank you. Totally appreciated. Common decency still exists. No need to go there on the speed. Blood pressure back to normal. Time to continue my roller derby walk along the industrial park road. Meanwhile the speeds did continue for, as stated above, this is not a new experience. And likewise not all are speeding. But it is happening all too frequently in this area and other areas of town. Who really takes notice? I most certainly do as a walker.
Solution. Definitely more care and caution on my part. Brighter clothing in these dull afternoons now a must. Increased awareness for care and caution at an elevated level for all is also a must. Certainty a time to look for an increased police presence. But oh, increased police appearance has been raised both federally and provincially. We have met. There have been talks. Operations for policing regionally and provincially have raised their defensive heads stating, "Well, statistically there is no need for any additional resources".
Conclusion: "It is what it is. No new resources." When you consider that this past summer at any given time between Codroy Pond and LaPoile Bay there was just a single police cruiser on duty daily we all need to be aware. Let's pray that such an operational decision is not at the price of public safety. Like the stats in baseball putting shifts on leaving whole sections of the infield open there is always the one hitter who goes the other way.
Math 101. Nine federal housing units in PAB set aside for police services. 5 presently occupied. 4 vacant. Two units were occupied by RCMP graduates. New recruits. PAB a first posting. Both threw in the towel. Working in a four man rotation covering hundreds of km of road over 15 plus communities, then sitting at home 'on call' while supposedly off duty adds up to never being off duty. That appears to be the reality of the PAB detachment for the entire summer. Hopefully, things have improved for the fall and winter seasons.
Another not so brilliant idea was the stripping the credibility of the PAB detachment by removing its Sgt position. Sadly, the other four remaining active members had to pick up the duties. Plus, to accommodate this move, a special position was created in Stephenville, bringing that detachment to 29 positions. Window dressing hoping no one would take notice. An operational charade. PAB Sgt position gone. A corporal in temp 'acting' Sgt awaiting promotion in Stephenville. Another vacancy, what was a seventh position available in PAB gone to further stretch resources along the southwest corner.
Suggestion: If the RCMP brass, under contract by the Province, is sincere on the commitment to a community policing model then some change needs to happen. The RCMP needs to bring the PAB detachment up to historic operation speed of nine officers. There has to be proactive community policing model involving community consultations resulting in more boots on the ground, gender equity, a bilingual position and respect for PAB as a Provincial Gateway.
Disappointedly, the last female officer at the local detachment in PAB was transferred to another west coast detachment some two years ago shortly after taking the PAB post. Needed in Deer Lake. Message received. Female officer not needed in PAB. Sadly someone focusing on statistical drivers for decision making has placed gender issues for the PAB detachment at the lower end of operation priorities.
The need for a bilingual position is paramount. Hundreds, if not thousands of truckers and travelling public in Eastern Canada use French as a first language. Marine Atlantic recognizes this by having bilingual employees at its store front service daily. The local detachment needs an officer fluent in Canada's two official languages. At the moment a vacancy in PAB still exists.
A recent NS CBC article (Oct. 7/21) highlighted concerns related to cocaine and other illegal traffic in Cape Breton. To quote Cape Breton Police Const. John Campbell, "You look at Marine Atlantic and all those RVs in the summertime and tractor-trailers and containers and everything, you'd be naive to think that there's not contraband of some quantity in those, whether it's tobacco, cocaine, marijuana, firearms."
How can the RCMP justify adding to operations in Stephenville area while traffic flows of upwards to 300,000 pass relatively unnoticed through PAB? There needs to be greater accountability of the policing role provided by the RCMP. Traffic flow alone in PAB certainly necessitates the nine positions including a Sgt position. It is certainly easier to justify enhancing the PAB operation than adding to a detachment some 21 kms off the TCH in Stephenville, or having highway patrol for western Newfoundland operate out of Deer Lake at the expense of police service in PAB. When was the last time there was any highway patrol in the area? This was another service that used to be out of PAB.
Thank you, once again, to the driver who took the time to return and apologized. This is a second one in the last six months. The first was in a crosswalk near the intersection of LeGrow and Grand Bay Rd. I was standing in the middle of the road when the driver uttered a regretful, "Sorry."
The message to all is please slow down more than a notch. The resulting consequences of excessive speed has shown its tragic results in the past. We do not need history to repeat itself. As well, please actively campaign for a greater police presence along the southwest corner, by far the best corner of this great province.
If you have concerns relating to public safety please let our local detachment know. We have a good detachment. They do take notice and are responsive. Our goal as residents and community members is to assist in acquiring greater resources. It can only be done when community takes ownership.
Port aux Basques