“Never Boring”: A Day in the Life of an Ottawa Ranger

If you thought being crossing guard mostly meant standing still and stretching out your arms every now and then, you haven’t seen Eleanor Murnaghan in action.

Dressed in a safety vest and armed with his stop sign and electronic whistle, Murnaghan works in a busy section of Maitland Avenue in Ottawa during the morning and afternoon rush hours.

“It’s never boring here,” Murnaghan said. “There’s always something going on. Whether it’s pedestrians or cars, you always have to watch.”

And in motion. The intersection she is patrolling has two traffic lights for the two staggered cross streets – Erindale Drive and Glenmount Avenue – meaning she has to travel 40 yards between opposite corners of the intersection.

“It’s not a regular square intersection, it’s a rectangular intersection,” she said. “You have to do this if you want to catch as many people as possible.”

Acting as a human shield, Murnaghan trots through intersections to alert drivers of pedestrians crossing the road. (Giacomo Panico / CBC)

Murnagahn intercepts Brennan Lee and her two children twice a day.

“Oh my God, this is the worst intersection in town. It’s pretty dangerous,” Lee said. “Every day Eleanor crosses the street to make sure everything is okay and she helps us with a big, giant smile.”

For Murnaghan, the connection works both ways.

“The most important thing for me is to see the smiley faces every day, to say hello and to be right here with the people who use the intersection,” she said.

During her three years as a crossing guard, Murnaghan has developed a bond with the children and parents who cross her intersection twice a day. (Giacomo Panico / CBC)

Aggressive drivers get worse

What’s not so fun is the dangerous behavior of many drivers, from speeding to inappropriate right turns on the reds, which Murnaghan says has only gotten worse since the reopening of the streets. schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’re a lot more aggressive. They’re a lot more impatient,” she says.

“They are so focused on getting where they are going that they don’t seem to understand that pedestrians have to get somewhere too, and they have to get there safely and not have a car trying to rush them. across the road, especially with small children who can’t walk that fast. “

To make matters worse, she says, it’s the motorists who go out of their way to disparage her in front of children.

“I had a number of drivers who called me bad guys, calling me names and insulting me… insults.

‘They turned their finger back on me.’ Murnaghan says it’s not uncommon for drivers to hurl insults at him in front of children. (Giacomo Panico / CBC)

For help, she says she turns to a private Facebook group of fellow crossing guards across town.

“It’s kind of nice to be able to log in and see that we’re not the only ones with aggressive driving issues. So that’s good.”

If she could talk to aggressive drivers, Murnaghan says she would deliver this message: “We are here to protect children so they can cross the road safely. We are not trying to ruin your day and you. make it late for work. ”

With four lanes of heavy traffic and two staggered side streets, Murnaghan has its hands full to get from corner to corner. But she says she enjoys physical activity. (Giacomo Panico / CBC)

Shortage of guards

School crossing guards can be found at 260 intersections across Ottawa, according to Kelly Banks, program director for the Ottawa Security Council, whom the City of Ottawa hires to manage the program.

But just like the city’s shortage of school bus drivers, Banks says more crossing guards are needed to properly meet current demand, as well as to staff the eight additional intersections the city hopes to add to the council’s list. .

“This year we seem to be struggling to catch up in terms of staffing and we still have intersections that don’t have a regular crossing guard,” Banks said.

“We were able to maintain about 100% coverage, but it puts a strain on our backups and planning resources. “

She adds that the areas most in need of new crossing guards are Barrhaven, Wellington West, Westboro, Centretown and the Glebe.

A shortage of crossing guards means that Ottawa Security Council staff must constantly bring in replacement staff and adjust schedules to properly monitor 260 intersections in Ottawa. (Giacomo Panico / CBC)

Banks says she hopes more applicants will apply this fall, attracted by the split shift – 40 minutes in the morning and 40 minutes in the afternoon – a salary of $ 17 per shift and an opportunity to return our safer streets.

“Anyone who wants to give back to the community, who enjoys working with children, being outdoors, being active… the role of crossing guard would be perfect for them,” she said.

Despite the bad drivers and the weather, Murnaghan says she enjoys her job and feels a great sense of gratitude from parents and children. (Giacomo Panico / CBC)

For her part, Murnaghan says she was first drawn to work by the desire to make the roads safer for children, and that she stayed there mainly because of the smiles she gets every day.

“The good far outweighs the bad.… I think I can speak for almost any warden in town, the best part of the job is the kids and the families because it is worth it.”

Murnaghan says she first became interested in becoming a crossing guard after accompanying her own children to school and noticing safety issues. (Giacomo Panico / CBC)


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