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Saanich disability advocate calls for more inclusive sidewalk, roadway designs

Utility poles on sidewalks one area of improvement needed to help those with mobility challenges
Those with mobility challenges continue to encounter utility poles on sidewalks in Saanich, like this one on an often-busy Cedar Hill Road near Mount Douglas Cross Road near two large trees. Mobility advocates say the district needs to do more work to address such safety issues in its road and sidewalk planning. (Photo courtesy of Dean Murdock)

Road safety advocates want more inclusive road and sidewalk design – changes that are expected to unfold over time – such as more thoughtful placement of utility poles in Saanich.

The impact of placing poles in the middle of sidewalks, for example, can make for dangerous situations for those in a wheelchair or people pushing a stroller, said Saanich-based disability advocate Chris Marks.

Marks became what he called an “accidental advocate” for disability and road safety inclusion when he sustained a spinal cord injury in a motor vehicle collision in 2005. Now using an electric wheelchair, he has to plan his routes around Greater Victoria to ensure his safety.

With over a decade of experience advocating for inclusion and mobility at municipal and provincial levels across B.C., Marks said it shows business savvy for city planners to begin approaching design from a more inclusive perspective.

Not only do people age, but life-changing incidents can also happen on the street anytime, he said, so even ensuring all crosswalks have hearing impairment features is part of a holistic and thoughtful planning approach.

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When utility poles are situated on sidewalks, often there is not enough room for two people to pass safely, said Dean Murdock, a member of Better Mobility Saanich.

“A person using a wheelchair or pushing a stroller would have to go on to the road to pass at these pinch-points,” he said.

Murdock sent a photo of an example, on Cedar Hill Road near Mount Douglas Cross Road, where a pole is in the middle of the pedestrian corridor. In combination with two large trees standing at the front edge of a residential property, it makes it extremely difficult to navigate for people with mobility issues.

It’s just one of many such situations in Saanich, he said.

The legacy of utility poles located on sidewalks is a challenge for most municipalities, said Megan Catalano, communications manager for the District of Saanich.

“As such a large municipality, we have more work to do, but we recognize this important design and accessibility issue and continue to make progress each year,” she said.

For sidewalks that must be located near utility poles due to other constraints, the district ensures at least 1.2 metres of space is provided to ensure full accessibility by all users, she added.

Saanich’s active transportation plan includes new sidewalk accessibility design aspects, such as ensuring a minimum sidewalk width of 1.8 metres to allow two wheelchairs to pass, designing curb ramps with less than eight per cent grade, and placing tactile domes at all new curb ramps to aid people with visual impairments.

In a statement to Black Press Media, BC Hydro said it recognizes the location of its utility poles on sidewalks or pathways can impact public mobility.

“In some cases, the sidewalks are built well after the poles have been installed and placed into service. However, these concerns are actively considered when we plan for construction activities,” said issues advisor Kevin Aquino.

When feasible, BC Hydro works with municipalities to either alter sidewalk designs or move overhead infrastructure underground.

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