Monday, April 30, 2012

Every Province Has Its Highway 63

Listening to The Current on CBC Radio 1 this morning brought back one horrific crash-in-waiting I witnessed on Highway 7 many, many years ago. Unfortunately, as the recent preventable carnage on Highway 63 near Fort McMurray in Alberta proves, our provincial governments still see the death tolls on these two-lane yet major highways as small numbers -- not as human lives lost, tax dollars streaming out the window in related injury-treatment costs and lost productivity (where there's death, there's way more injuries), and insurance battles that suck money from premium holders and quality of life from claimants.

When I saw the idiot frog-jumping the long line of cars snaking towards Ottawa that day long ago, I foresaw the destruction to come. I didn't witness it live, but a few minutes after he hopped out of view -- pulling out onto the wrong side of the solid yellow line to pass as many cars as he could -- our steady pace slowed considerably, and soon police diverted us. When a stupid driver smashes into an oncoming car in his zeal to pass the "slowpokes" aka the ones he wants to lead, he snuffs lives -- usually never his own -- and closes down the whole highway for hours. For the helpless witnesses, it was the stuff of nightmares as well.

Afterwards -- after my heart stopped beating like a frightened animal -- I wondered why the Ontario government had not yet added a passing lane on both sides. Highway 7 is not some hick highway tying a few towns together; it is the main thoroughfare between Ottawa and Toronto. Oh sure, there's the 401 and Highway 416 route, but it's a longer drive. The bus, for heaven's sake, takes Highway 7 because it's the most direct route. Yet Ontario knew about the regular solid-yellow-line passers and finally in reponse put in a few far-apart passing lanes. Those lanes didn't stop that driver.

I wondered the same thing when I took a day trip along the Sea-to-Sky highway back in the 1990s to Squamish, BC. Fortunately, the Olympics forced the British Columbian government to fix that scary road.

It sounds like Alberta in the 21st century is not much different than Ontario was in the 20th. Actually, I don't know if the Ontario government has seen the light yet because I haven't driven along Highway 7 in years. After my "accident" on it at the north end of the city -- another perfectly preventable one if only the jackass drivers hadn't thought it their god-given right to speed, tailgate, and ignore signs -- and if only the police didn't tacitly condone that behaviour by filling in the paperwork but apparently taking it nowhere (it was, after all, the same time frame as a well-known politician got away with red light running because the York Regional police had a habit of not filing the paperwork) -- I stay away from that highway as much as possible. Even before that, we had begun driving to Ottawa late at night so as to avoid the road-clogging truck traffic and thus the impatient solid-yellow-line passing dangerous jerks.

I believe most of the death and injury we see on roads and highways is because of selfish, thoughtless driving. But our provincial governments play a big part when they refuse -- in the cause of short-term monetary thinking -- to make our highways safe, whether by widening them, building safe shoulders, installing clear signage, straightening dangerous curves, or taking out traffic lights at the bottom of fast-speed hills and installing overpass bridges instead.

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