Langley City may be the first Lower Mainland municipality to post ground-level warning signs aimed at people walking and texting. This is one of four signs installed at level railway crossings.

Signs of the distracted times

City of Langley’s ground-level railway safety warnings for people who text and walk believed to be first in Metro Vancouver

The four signs at two railway crossings in Langley City are for everyone, but especially for people who like to walk and text with their head down.

“See tracks? THINK TRAIN” the bright yellow-and-black thermoplastic messages read.

They have been positioned flat on the sidewalk where so-called “distracted pedestrians” are likely to be looking as they tap out messages on their smart phones.

One set of signs is located at the 200 Street tracks crossing, the other at Fraser Highway.

“If people are predisposed to looking at their phones … hopefully it will attract their attention,” said Rick Bomhof, the City Director of Engineering, Parks and Environment.

Bomhof said plans are to add four more of the $400 signs in the next budget year.

The City is believed to be the fourth Canadian municipality (after Brandon, Man., Yorkton, Sask., and Squamish) and the first Metro Vancouver municipality to adopt the approach pioneered by the American rail-safety advocacy group Operation Lifesaver at crossings in Illinois.

Bomhof said the idea was relayed to him by City Councillor Rudy Storteboom, who said he heard about them from a CN Rail police officer at a community luncheon.

“I thought it had merit,” Storteboom said.

CN Rail Inspector Dan Ritchie was pleasantly surprised to hear the signs had been installed.

“That’s fantastic,” Ritchie said.

“I’m really pleased.”

Ritchie said there haven’t been any incidents of pedestrians getting hit by trains in Langley recently, “but that doesn’t mean there won’t be.”

Ritchie estimates there are roughly eight incidents a year of pedestrians being hit by trains in B.C.

Figures provided by CN Rail show there were 53 “trespasser accidents” involving pedestrians in Canada last year that resulted in 31 fatalities and 18 serious injuries.

On-the-ground warning signs have also been deployed at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where texting and walking is so common that 16 “heads up” decals have been plastered on the ground at intersections across the campus to keep students from walking into oncoming traffic.

The U of A campaign was inspired by similar initiatives at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

This year, the B.C. government released a report that said serious injuries involving pedestrians has increased from fewer than 15 per cent of total crash fatalities in 2005, to a decade-long high of 23 per cent in 2012.

The report suggested it was time for governments to allow for the “human error” factor in road safety.

Some Canadian cities like Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, have been discussing distracted walking bans, something a recent poll suggests most Canadians would support.

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