Former North Cowichan councillor Jen Woike appeared before council Wednesday to urge the group to take a second look at farm signage before they firm up plans to install more within the municipality’s rural areas.
Woike, who hails from a long-time farming family, said the size and message on signs is simply insufficient.
“It doesn’t matter if its spring, fall, winter or summer in the Cowichan Valley, any time of year, our tractors are on our rural roads. Inside every one of those tractors is someone’s husband, son, brother — even girls even drive tractors, yes, it could be someone’s mother, sister or daughter,” she said.
Woike said her husband had an accident 20 years ago while driving a tractor on Herd Road and already this year she’s been flashed the finger, sworn at, yelled at and swerved at, all while driving at minimum a 20,000-pound vehicle — and that’s if it doesn’t have any attachments. “These vehicles usually drive slow — around 35-40 km/h and they cannot stop as quickly as a regular car, truck or SUV can,” she said.
Woike described an incident this year when one of her employees was driving a large tractor pulling the hay baler. He had felt the pressure from two motorcycles behind him for about three kilometres.
“He went to make a wide right turn and hit a motorcycle who passed on the inside. It hit the front of the tractor. Luckily no one was hurt, the driver of the motorcycle walked away. His bike was a write-off but he walked away from it,” she said.
Woike said she’s been doing some research on effective signage.
“It has to be uniform, it has to attract attention. It has to be clear and visible and it has to be easy to understand. I personally think that the sign that we’ve had in North Cowichan with the tractor on it is not effective. It doesn’t warn people of what they need to be looking out for.”
Where to put new signs was on the agenda for Wednesday’s council meeting. That took a back seat when some councillors agreed the type of signs the municipality has traditionally used weren’t doing their jobs.
CAO Dave Devana explained the current signage is the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure standard.
“Other municipalities have varied away from this sign. We have not,” he said.
Councillor Maeve Maguire wondered why.
“Are these the best signs we can do? I’m thinking about what Mrs. Woike said about the type of sign we’re using,” she said. “Do we have other options? Are they doing it better elsewhere?”
Maguire went on to note signs aren’t the only way to alert drivers to farm vehicles on the road.
“Recognizing that signage is one aspect of this, it’s not the magic pill, it’s not going to solve everything and maybe an educational piece is also required,” she said. “But if there’s something we can do better for the signage then maybe we need to look at that.”
Council is at liberty to create new signage, North Cowichan engineering director David Conway said.
“We have so far chosen to follow the manual uniform traffic control signage and haven’t explored other types of signage,” he said, noting other jurisdictions often do complement their signage with education campaigns at various times of the year “with suggestions to motorists to slow down and be aware that there are farm vehicles crossing and on the road.”
Coun. Kate Marsh wasn’t so sure now was the best time to be making changes. She said it was time to get the signs up in their designated spots, and the sooner the better, as it’s harvest season.
“I do have a lot of respect for Mrs. Woike but I feel that the signage, with the addition of ‘share the road’ is adequate,” Marsh said. Not in favour of doing more work on the issue, Marsh highlighted what she sees as the root cause of near misses with regular traffic and farm vehicles.
“I think the problem is speeding everywhere. It’s not just on rural roads. We have speeding everywhere,” Marsh said.
But Coun. Joyce Behnsen and the majority of council agreed it was better to get it right than to get it done for this harvest season.
“Being as agriculturally based as we are and supportive of our farmers I think we really need to set the pace here, not just status quo from the Ministry, and come up with something that’s much more effective,” Behnsen said.
Council has referred the matter to the agricultural committee for further investigation into alternative signage. The issue will come back to council at a future meeting.
In the meantime, Woike is urging citizens to think twice before zooming around farm equipment on the roads this fall.
“During the spring and summer months please slow down, back off a little, take the time to enjoy the beautiful rural are that you are driving through,” she said. “These people are feeding you, give them a little respect on the road.”