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Puffin crossing idea takes off

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Puffin crossing idea takes off thumbnailAfter years of campaigning by locals, Hilltownís main street is to be made safer with a pedestrian crossing

A PUFFIN crossing has been approved for a stretch of busy road in Hilltown.

It comes as welcome news for local campaigners who have lobbied over the last five years for the road safety measure.

Former Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard confirmed last week the crossing will be located close to the junction with the Rathfriland Road near the shop.

The puffin crossing, which is relatively new in Northern Ireland, will improve road safety for pedestrians, particularly vulnerable road users such as children, the elderly and people with disabilities.

Mr Hazzard added: "I am confident that a new puffin crossing in Hilltown is welcome news for the community and visitors alike.

“With some 8,000 vehicles passing through Hilltown daily, the introduction of a puffin crossing will help to balance the safety of pedestrians with the progression of vehicles through the town."

The decision to provide a crossing relates to the number of pedestrians crossing the road and the volume of vehicles. This is to ensure that a crossing is located where there is the greatest demand.

Gerry O'Hare, a member of the Hilltown Community Group Association and a Sinn Fein activist for the Hilltown area, says the crossing is long overdue.

He added: "We have been trying to get this crossing in place over the last five years and it has been a tough ride. We have gone through Sinn Fein and also SDLP politicians to get this far.

“We had a community meeting in the youth club over a year ago with former South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane and a representative from the Roads Service. It was on a very busy Friday afternoon for traffic and I remember it well as he could see just how busy that area was.

“He told us that it would be difficult to get a crossing here, but we wanted more than just marks on the road because that won't slow the traffic down."

Mr O'Hare said a petition was also started to ramp up local support for the campaign.

“We went round the doors with the petition along with the Clonduff Community Association. This area is a nightmare for both elderly children to cross and also children getting off the school bus.

“I have got three children and I leave them to the bus at 8am. There is an island in the middle of the road but the cars don't stop. It is therefore excellent that this has been approved for the town."

Mr O'Hare is now planning to campaign for a pedestrian crossing at the junction of St Patrick's Primary School, Ballymaghery.

The Hilltown man is hopeful it will not take five years for the local primary school.

He added: "Once we have one crossing approved it should hopefully not be as difficult to get another one in place.

“The one at the school might not be as busy for older people crossing but it is needed for the children. My plan is to start action when Stormont is up and running again. The school already know that we are fighting for it. And they are very much on board with this too.

“Caitriona Ruane got the 30mph speed limit there and the flashing lights. Measures like these do help. However, we now have to think of a pedestrian crossing at the school."

Meanwhile, Una Lawless (pictured), principal of St Patrick's Primary School, Ballymaghery has welcomed news of the puffin crossing.

“This crossing was very much a necessity and as well as this we are constantly trying to get road safety measures at our end of the town improved.

“The former principal, Mrs Cousins was also working on it and the flashing lights have since been installed, but we would like a crossing here too."

She continued: "It is a busy stretch of road and drivers do go fast despite it being a 30mph speed limit and I have been on to the relevant departments campaigning for the crossing.

“We do have a lollipop lady at the school during the mornings and afternoons, so that helps a bit. But the need is there for a crossing, however, I am not sure where it would be best situated."

Discussions are currently ongoing with NIE to arrange a power supply before the design for the puffin crossing on Main Street can be finalised.

Traffic engineers are also engaging with council to ensure the new poles for the traffic lights do not impede access for pedestrians using the footway.

The department said when these matters are resolved, the crossing will be installed. It is looking likely for later this year. Ї

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