Colwood resident Matt Lester walks the roughly five-kilometre route, along Ocean Boulevard to the bridge at the other end of the Esquimalt Lagoon, and back to his house almost every day to help keep himself fit.
But last week his routine changed. Last week, his life could have ended.
Lester, 61, was about three-quarters of the way through his usual route and almost home. He was carefully positioned on the edge of the shoulder of the lagoon, or north side of Ocean Boulevard when he heard a gut-wrenching sound.
“I heard the screeching of tires and had no time to react,” he recalled in an interview with the Gazette this week. “I was thrown up on the hood and into the windshield.”
He was ultimately launched 10 or 15 feet forward and, as Lester described the incident, he acknowledged that he’s lucky not to have suffered more serious physical damage than a knee injury.
While Lester feels no animosity towards the driver who struck him, he does want the City of Colwood to at least consider some road improvements to make the area safer before there is another similar incident or worse, a fatality.
Despite his recent experience, Lester doesn’t want the speed limit lowered, traffic calming measures installed, or even access to the area restricted.
He feels there is too much of that already across the region and respects that the area is a well-travelled corridor for commuters.
“Let’s not get too carried away against the commuters.” He said he was even one of them until recent years and understands the daily grind.
He wants to see Esquimalt Lagoon, a “jewel of Colwood” as he put it, celebrated and made safer for residents and non-residents who enjoy the area. Ideally, he would like to see a separated two-lane walking/cycling path, similar to the Galloping Goose Trail, installed on the lagoon side of the road. But he admitted that the cost and the potential environmental impact of a separate trail would probably not make it feasible.
Sandra Russell, communications manager for the City of Colwood, said the City has already identified some of the safety concerns brought forward by Lester and has been working on ways to improve the area to make it as safe as possible for everyone.
“The City loves the idea of a dedicated walking path,” she said. Russell added the engineering department has been looking into the possibility of installing a separate dedicated walking path along either side of Ocean Boulevard, but “it’s a difficult conversation because it involves many partners.”
The lagoon side of the road is a protected, migratory bird sanctuary and the ocean side is protected by another group. The area is also shared traditional aboriginal lands, she said. “We’ve looked at both options.”
Lester has an alternative solution he believes is a simple one. Build a marked lane on the ocean side of the road as well, so walkers, joggers and cyclists can safely travel on both sides of the road, which will allow them to face traffic while safely travelling in both directions.
“There’s mothers with strollers,” he said. “We see a lot of attention given to cyclists … In this case it’s 10 to one (pedestrians to cyclists) down there.”
On the lagoon side of Ocean Boulevard, there is a dedicated paved cycling/walking lane with an adjacent gravel shoulder running the length of the lagoon. On the ocean side is the gravel parking area, which Lester said is often rough and filled with potholes despite the best efforts of City staff. To avoid the potholes, puddles and other obstacles such as parked cars, Lester said he walks both lengths of his trip in the paved lane on the north side of the road.
On his return leg this puts the traffic coming up behind him, which has always worried him despite the slow speed limit, but until last week, he felt he was still a safe distance from any passing vehicles.
“I walk on the very edge of the pavement,” he said. “I’ve always thought it was the lesser of two evils.”
Russell said the City would be carefully working with all parties involved to make sure the best solution could be found for all, adding there is also a matter of funding to address before any projects could move forward. “We will be working with our partners.”
When asked about the possibility of adding another lane for pedestrians and cyclist to the ocean side of the road, Russell said “It’s not really safe to put a walking/ cycling path there.” Because of the parking on that side of the street, she said, cars are constantly coming and going, making it unfeasible to install another lane. “We wouldn’t want to implement something that is less safe,” she said.
While Lester plans to return to his daily walks as soon as he is able, he said he will most likely be making the return trip on the south side of the road and taking his chances against twisting an ankle in the potholes. “ I just can’t see making myself vulnerable again,” he said. “That lesson has been well learned.”
But out of his ordeal came a positive note and Lester wanted to thank all of the first responders and others passing that came to his assistance. “A lot of people stopped to help, which is really appreciated.”