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Seven-year-old makes Highway 1 in Cache Creek a bit safer

Austyn Harkness successfully petitioned Ministry of Highways to get pedestrian sign installed
Seven-year-old Austyn Harkness gives the thumbs-up to a pedestrian sign that was installed on Highway 1 east of his Cache Creek home after he petitioned the Ministry of Transportation for one. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

When seven-year-old Cache Creek resident Austyn Harkness saw a need for a pedestrian warning sign near his home on Highway 1 east, he decided to take action.

“I sometimes walk to school on warm days,” says Austyn, who is in Grade 2 at Cache Creek Elementary and wears a high-vis jacket while out walking. Part of his walk takes him along a section of highway where the speed limit is 50 km/hr, and he says that “I’d be coming back up the hill and cars were going way over 50. So I thought of a pedestrian sign.”

With the help of his mom, Austyn looked up different types of highway pedestrian signs. Then, armed with his research, he went to the Cache Creek village office in January of this year and spoke with CAO Damian Couture about how to get a sign put in.

“He said a pedestrian sign would be a good idea because we didn’t have one in Cache Creek, and it would help to warn drivers about pedestrians going by. There aren’t a lot of people walking along the highway, but there are a few.”

Austyn initially had his sights set on pedestrian signs on other routes into the community, but eventually concentrated on getting one on Highway 1 east near the campground. Couture advised him to get in touch with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI), which has authority over highway signs, and gave him a contact name and number.

Austyn tried calling for a week, then got home from school one day and found he had a message from MOTI, so he called back. He was told that someone from MOTI would come and take a look at the site, between the Cache Creek campground and Austyn’s house closer to town.

“He knew where I meant, and said he would try his best to get [a sign] up, but that it might be three months. I said ‘Three years is good, man.’”

Austyn’s grandmother Tammy Harkness — with whom Austyn lives — says they were told that as there was already a lot of signage in the area, it would have to be placed carefully, in a spot where people would notice it.

“They decided just before the slow to 70 sign,” says Austyn.

“They got it in a good place,” adds Tammy.

A representative from MOTI says that they got a lot of suggestions from the public about signs.

“This was run through our traffic engineer, because it has to be approved. Austyn’s case was sound because he walks to school there. There are standards across the province, and that request met the threshold.

“We went and took a look at that stretch, and drove it a couple of times. It’s not often you get people walking along a highway, but he has to walk to school the long way [along Highway 1 to Highway 97] because of the damage around the fire hall area.

“Given the proximity to town it fit, and he walks there so it’s valid, but there are all kinds of signs there, so we had to space it out. We looked at other signs in the area to see where it would fit in, and staked a spot where it would fit, and the traffic engineer approved it.”

Tammy says they knew it would be a long process to get a sign. BC Hydro had to cut down tree branches at the site, and Austyn was there to watch and assist. Then, on May 2, Tammy got a call from MOTI.

“They said they had to do some digging for BC 1 Call [to check for underground services], but that the sign would be going in shortly after that. We didn’t tell Austyn, and it was very hard for Grandma to keep quiet.

“On May 27 I came home from grocery shopping in Kamloops and saw the sign, so when Austyn got home from school his mom said ‘Let’s go for a walk up the road’ and he saw the sign.”

Asked how surprised he was to see the sign, on a scale of one to 10, Austyn says “Ten. No, 1,000 out of 10.”

He adds that the sign has had the desired result. “Cars are hitting the brakes when they see it.”

“It was a great story, and he’s a great kid,” says the MOTI rep. “We don’t really get calls like that, but he went through all the channels. It was great meeting him and great that we were able to do that.

“He’s a wonderful kid and he’s very engaged. We don’t often see that.”

“We’re just really proud of him,” says Tammy. “He gets stuff in his head and follows up on it. He’s always doing things in the community — he’s definitely community-oriented — and people do kind things for him. He started going to Cross Roads Church last year and asked if he could hand out communion, and he serves the elders. In school and in soccer he gets awards for being a helper.”

As for Austyn — who didn’t have to wait three years for his sign — he says it was worth it.

“It was hard work, but I did it.”

Barbara Roden

About the Author: Barbara Roden

I joined Black Press in 2012 working the Circulation desk of the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal and edited the paper during the summers until February 2016.
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