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Northern Alberta town unanimously approves Pride crosswalk

A tale of two towns: Barrhead, 30 minutes from Westlock unanimously approved Pride crosswalks weeks after Westlock voted to ban them.
About 150 supporters on June 4 joined Cailin Clarke, an advocate for Barrhead's non-heterosexual community, to paint the first rainbow pride sidewalk on Main Street and Kowalski Drive (50 Avenue) in 2022. Here Clarke (in front of the pride flag on the right) and former Barrhead native Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Northwood (on Clarke's left) pose with some of the supporters in front of a half-complete crosswalk.

The Town of Barrhead will have a crosswalk painted in Pride colours for the third straight year.

Councillors unanimously approved the request, which was made in writing by Caitlin Clarke, an advocate for the Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (2SLGBTQ+) community, to paint a Pride crosswalk for Pride month in June during their March 26 meeting. She made the request as part of the Barrhead United Church's OutProud group.

Roughly 20 group members were in the public gallery, including Clarke.

The crosswalk will be adjacent to the TD Bank and Tim Hortons on Main Street across 51st Avenue.

In the first year, the crosswalk was at Main Street and 50 Avenue, while last year, it was 50th Avenue at the 51st Street intersection in front of the town municipal office.

Coun. Rod Klumph said before they approved the request council needed to discuss potential safety issues regarding "decorated crosswalks", talking for more than 10 minutes about pedestrian accident statistics and traffic safety documents, specifically referring to crosswalk design and other municipalities' crosswalk policies, singling out Strathcona County and Edmonton in particular.

He noted that Alberta Transportation has a guide outlining the proper markings for crosswalks.

Klumph also noted that the United Nations, through the World Health Organization, has published a document on pedestrian safety.

"One comment that struck me as I read through it is that more pedestrians are injured in marked crosswalks, which makes sense because if you funnel [pedistrians] to cross at one location, there are going to be accidents of some sort, and statistics are going to go up," he said, adding the document also states that seniors are disproportionally represented in pedestrian crosswalk accident statistics due to their lessening physical abilities.

Klumph proposed that the municipality needs to do more to educate the public on proper pedestrian safety etiquette, especially about how people at controlled or uncontrolled crosswalks need to let drivers know their intentions to cross the street.

He also suggested that the municipality create a crosswalk policy, including a section on "decorated crosswalks", such as the one proposed by the OutProud group of the United Church, modelled after the City of Edmonton policy.

"It is a pretty good document because it gives guidelines on how decorative crosswalks must be designed," Klumph said. "You can have them, but there should be guidelines because there is a safety issue with decorative crosswalks."

Klumph said there could be potential liability issues regarding decorative crosswalks and how they are painted, which is another reason why he suggested the town have a crosswalk policy.

He said Edmonton's policy limits "decorative" crosswalks to controlled intersections only due to safety concerns and pedestrians' failure to recognize them as crosswalks, adding last year's Pride crosswalk was at an unsafe location.

"We don't want to put our residents in peril when crossing the street," he said. "We want the groups that may want to have a decorative crosswalk to adhere to best practices."

Klumph then moved to instruct administration to draft a crosswalk policy using Edmonton's policy as a template.

Mayor Dave McKenzie said such a policy is unnecessary as the province has already addressed most of Klumph's concerns in the Alberta Traffic Safety Act or other legislation.

Councillors Don Smith, Dave Swatzky, and Anthony Oswald said while they could support having such a policy, they added it would be unlikely they could have one in place before June. They suggested they approve the OutProud application and discuss a possible crosswalk policy at a later date.

"Let's approve Pride for 2024. We know what it looks like; we've done it for two years, and then, if we want to have a policy on decorative crosswalks, which I agree makes sense, have that discussion sometime in the future," Smith said.

Oswald added that while he supported, in principle, creating a decorative crosswalk policy, the approval of the Pride crosswalk and potentially drafting a policy are separate issues.

"It needs to be put on an agenda as a separate item and not be part of this discussion," he said.

Klumph then withdrew his motion.

Assaf interjected that he was pleased that the OutProud group had asked to put the Pride crosswalk at the four-way stop intersection.

"We want to send out the message that Barrhead is an all-inclusive community," he said. The intersection is so perfect because we could have a Pride crosswalk going one way, another celebrating and bringing attention to Indigenous issues, one for our disabilities coalition, and one for our Legion members recognizing our veterans."

Assaf had difficulty finishing his last statement as the gallery broke out in applause.

Barry Kerton,

Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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