Below: Nathan and Michelle McClinton stand at the corner of 87 Street, near to where their dog Zero was struck and killed Aug. 14. The family is calling for a three-way stop at 87 Street and Highway 642 to stop people speeding through the area. Above: RIP Zero is spray painted on a curb, a colourful reminder a family dog died there. – Stephen Dafoe Photos
By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – She was named Zero, a name given to her because she looked like the dog in the Tim Burton film A Nightmare Before Christmas. But the death of the McClinton family’s beloved 15-month-old blue heeler / pit-bull mix has turned to a personal nightmare for the McClintons, one they don’t want to see happening again to someone else’s animal or child.
Michelle McClinton said the dog got loose from her property on 87 Street and Highway 642 Aug. 14. She believes the animal may have chased a rabbit across the highway towards the pump house. “She went across the street and apparently she was sitting on the meridian,” McClinton said, adding the dog was ultimately struck by a large F150 hauling a trailer. “I don’t even know if the driver knew he had done it.”
RCMP told McClinton they believe the driver was not speeding. Still, the family is left puzzled as to how someone could hit their animal. “What we cannot fathom is how you do not see a white dog,” McClinton said. “The roads were clear. The weather was great. How do you miss a white dog on the road?”
Though the family has many questions on how the dog wound up crossing the highway and how it came to die, what is certain is no amount of questioning or speculation will return Zero to the family home. The loss of an animal that was a part of the family for more than a year is hardest on son Nathan who held Zero as she died and father Rick, a man the dog took to most, is difficult. “She was joined at the hip to my husband,” McClinton said. “When he went to work in the morning she would sit by the front door and wait for him to come home. He is beyond devastation and it is breaking my heart.”
Wants further tragedies prevented
Zero’s death is not the first dog killed on the road, according to McClinton, and while she understands dogs are in danger when roaming at large, she is particularly concerned with children in the neighbourhood. McClinton said there are a number of Sturgeon Composite and Namao School students who are picked off and dropped off at her corner. Additionally, residents south of 642 cross the highway to make their way to Morinville Community High School and Georges H. Primeau.
“I want Morinville residents to realize this is a problem and it needs to be addressed,” she said of speeding. “Maybe they don’t realize how many children are affected by this. Years ago that was never a development; there was never children there. It’s grown and kids are walking across [the highway] to go to school.”
Always conscious of drivers speeding past their home, Zero’s death made the familiarly particularly conscious as they listened to vehicle after vehicle speed in both directions on Highway 642 the eve of their dog’s death.
“I can hear them picking up the speed,” McClinton said, adding she can hear drivers accelerating as they round the bend in 642 and head east along the highway towards 87 Street. “By the time they get over here they are already at 80 to 100 k[ilometres] an hour.”
She is calling on the Town of Morinville and the province to put in a three-way stop at the intersection of 87 Street and Highway 642. “What I want, and I think it is the one and only thing that is going to work, is a three-way stop,” McClinton said. “I want you to stop coming in. I want you to stop going out. I’m sorry. The speed has got to stop.”
McClinton said she believes the increase in speeding is due to two things: the area is not patrolled and people have the mind-set there are no children in the area. “People automatically think provincial highway,” she said, adding people feel they can do what they like because there is nothing or no one out there. “It’s a very heavy populated area.”
Town taking some measures
McClinton has been directed by the Town to Alberta Transportation. That initial conversation did not produce the answers she wanted, the initial view was that a three-way stop would cause congestion and possible rear-end collisions due to the change in traffic control. She said she would continue to press the fight as she did with Morinville’s Responsible Pet Ownership Law’s clauses on reptiles. “I’m not backing down on this,” McClinton said. “I’m not going to have my dog die for nothing. I’m doing it to protect the children. I’m doing it to protect anyone that’s walking. I’m doing it to protect any animals that might be out there. Yes, my dog should not have been out there but it happens.”
David Schaefer, Morinville’s Director of Corporate Operations, said a three-way stop is not a decision the Town can make. “It’s always a possibility,” Schaefer said of McClinton’s suggestion of a three-way stop on the highway. “That would be a decision of Alberta Transportation.”
The Town of Morinville is taking some steps on Highway 642 for 87 Street and East Boundary Road. Schaefer said he has spoken to McClinton and told her Morinville has put in a request for a gradual speed transition area east of East Boundary Road. “The province has agreed,” Schaefer said, adding the letter has gone off for the Minister of Transportation to sign. “They are going to be creating a transitional.” Currently speeds go from 50 kilometres per hour in Town to 100 km/h out of town. Once implemented, Schaefer expects at least one intermediary speed between the 100 km zone and the 50 km zone to slow drivers down further as they come into town. He cannot say with certainty the same will occur heading out of Town; however, he said it is not at all uncommon for the speed zones to match on both sides of a highway.
Schaefer said he is not sure if adding stop signs would benefit the situation. “Experience has shown stop signs don’t always regulate traffic, which is why the province would have to do the review,” he said. “We have that here around town where we’re looking at stop signs and turning them back into yield signs. There is a time and a place to use a stop sign and the stop sign is not there to regulate speed. It is there to regulate traffic control.”
The Director of Corporate Operations said a cross walk at the Highway 642 / 87 street intersection is not likely to occur in the short term, due to no sidewalk on the south side of the highway. Schaefer said the existence of a trail system at that location may warrant the province to take another look. “A crosswalk could warrant the necessity for a stop sign,” he said. “There are times and place in which we do it.”
Other crosswalks and safety items in works
Although the 87 Street crossing is unlikely to get something soon to control traffic, Schaefer said the Town of Morinville is working on some immediate items for the community’s school zones and downtown core.
Yellow curbing at all corners along 100 Avenue in the downtown area are being extended from 5 metres to 10 metres to allow greater visibility for pedestrians crossing the street and for vehicles turning onto the highway off side streets. “The 642 Functional Plan pointed it out, and this supports better visibility,” Schaefer said. “Increased visibility should increase safety.”
Morinville’s school zone crossings will have a wider zebra markings paint job to make the crossing areas more visible to motorists. In tandem with the painted markings, Schaefer said the zones would also have one solar flashing crosswalk sign at each of the school locations. It is hoped to have the improved safety elements installed shortly after the start of the new school year.