2 + 1 = Saved Lives

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As much as possible, I try to avoid driving on two-lane roads like Highway 11 in northern Ontario during the winter. There is something frightening that the only thing that separates me from oncoming traffic is an imaginary line in the middle of the road – even though we can’t see it for much of the winter. One might survive a collision with a vehicle of similar size, but there is no chance if you hit a tractor-trailer. They are like small trains.

Ask most northerners and you will hear many winter stories of near misses. People will also tell tragic stories of family and friends who did not survive the Russian roulette of driving on the ice and snow covering these two-lane highways.

Most people I talk to agree that these northern roadways should be made safer. Every year, there are more large transport trucks in long convoy lines, but our governments are not responding to these killer highway conditions. Thankfully there are some people who are actively looking for solutions.

My friend Mark Wilson from Temiskaming Shores, Ontario, recently told me how it is possible to make our highways safer with an innovative and cost-efficient idea. He is a member of Going the Extra Mile for Safety (GEMS), a group that is advocating for the creation of a 2+1 road model for Highway 11.

The 2+1 road model is essentially a three-lane roadway. One lane always moves in one direction and the two other lanes move in the opposite direction. A barrier that divides the highway eliminates the possibility of passing by pulling out into oncoming traffic. At one section, one side has one lane and the other has a regular lane and a passing lane. Then at the next section of roadway, the divider changes and the passing lane is provided in the other direction. Both sides receive an equal opportunity for passing lanes on a regular basis.

The 2+1 roadways have existed in Sweden for the past 20 years in similar conditions to those we have in northern Ontario and that country has reduced the fatality rates of their roads by 75%. These roads have many other benefits besides saving lives. They are easier to build compared to constructing large four-lane-divided highways. A 2+1 roadway uses the existing highway with construction costs that are 75% cheaper to build.

On our current two-lane highways if a driver makes a mistake, often people are killed or badly injured in hitting oncoming traffic. There is nothing to separate vehicles from each other. Sometimes we can assign blame, sometimes we can’t. But in the end, the results are the same.

The genius of the 2+1 roadway is that when those mistakes occur, the danger is reduced for everyone. If a driver happens to stray from their lane towards oncoming traffic they most probably end up bouncing off the cable divider. This saves lives as two vehicles meeting each other at over 90km/h often results in death.

Over the past couple of decades more of my family and friends from the First Nations up the James Bay coast are buying vehicles and taking to the southern highways for vacations. Highway 11 is a worry for me as the traffic is heavy and in the winter the road conditions are terrible much of the time.

One of the most tragic stories that affected my family and my community of Attawapiskat has to do with losing 15-year-old Shannen Koostachin on May 31, 2010, to a terrible accident on Highway 11 that also claimed the life of Rose Thornton of Haileybury. Shannen was a talented and passionate advocate for Aboriginal youth in the north. In her memory a much-needed school was constructed for the young people of Attawapiskat. A monument to her is located in New Liskeard in a quiet park facing Lake Temiskaming.

Here in the north, we are taking our lives into our hands when we drive on two-lane highways. We have the technology, the know-how and the ability to make our roads safer. Mark Wilson along with many other dedicated volunteers are doing their best to promote a solution for better road safety. Let’s support them in any way we can as the lives of our loved ones depend on it.
For more on GEMS, go to www.tsacc.ca/m/groups/view/GEMS-Going-the-Extra-Mile-for-Safety or contact committee chair Helene Culhane at heleneculhane@gmail.com or 705-647-5771.


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