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The man behind those traffic signs

Roger CattellOne April day when Roger Cattell was walking his kids to Bessborough Public School, he noticed cars not stopping properly at four-way stops and racing to make a light. He wrote to his councillor, got a reply saying his concerns would be raised with the appropriate city staff, and forgot about it.

That is, until the traffic death of a neighbour’s child in July, hit by a car at McRae and Millwood. (The driver has been charged with failing to stop at a stoplight and careless driving.) Cattell felt pangs of accountability and responsibility. Sending the earlier email made it someone else’s problem. Now was a time to do something.

He remembered a saying of his father’s: Manage yourself and the rest will follow. So, rather than wait for someone else to get started on an initiative, he talked to neighbours and this led to the idea of street signs.

Jen Avveduto started phoning sign companies and hit pay dirt with Sign-a-rama on Eglinton East and general manager Wally Tomaszek. He would donate the first 200 signs, with subsequent orders at cost.

Andrei Sherwin, a neighbour with a design background, came up with the sign design that made it stand out from other, more ordinary lawn signs. The message is simple. Slow Down. Kids at Play.

Emails to car dealerships produced the necessary money for major sign production. Distribution of 400 signs happened with the help of Starbucks employees, especially from the Laird and Kenrae location. Signs are free, but donations are welcome and are used to finance more signs.

An interesting point: when traffic police were in the neighbourhood a few weeks ago working at various major local intersections, they noticed that many of the car drivers pulled over for infractions were local. Cattell says, “We are all responsible.  We should not be wagging our fingers at others. We should all drive responsibly.”

When city officials looked at the intersection of McRae and Millwood they said its configuration was up to the necessary standard. But neighbours are still asking if the corner can be made safer. What sort of dialogue would be helpful?

Meanwhile, the sign program has raised interest of residents as far away as Etobicoke and Scarborough. The big 400-sign order was just for Leaside, but other neighbourhoods are starting to take up the idea and use it. There already is a sign on Young St. in Brighton, Ontario, the home of Cattell’s mother.

Other initiatives have arisen. There are several intersections with hand-made signs to alert drivers. The incoming principal at Bessborough Public School is working with traffic officials to study whether the area surrounding the school can be improved for parents in cars dropping off and picking up children.

Some local stores now have posters with the lawn sign graphic to indicate their support of this initiative.

“What happens from here?” asks Cattell. “Some people just want to vent, others might have ideas for solutions. These signs might be incremental positive change, creating a climate in the neighbourhood to encourage safer road habits.”

There is a Facebook site, leasidekidsatplay and there is an email address, if you want to become involved.

Anecdotally, traffic on McRae at least appears to me to be moving more slowly.