By Roy Corbett
With winter well on its way, snow, ice, and shorter daylight hours increasing the risk for not just for drivers, but also pedestrians.
Access Smithers is a committee with the goal of making our community more accessible to people with mobility issues. As part of the Smithers Age Friendly Assessment & Action Plan, the issue they are focusing on now are the timers for the crosswalk-lights on Highway 16.
“People try to hurry-up, and the [slipping] risk is even greater,” said Linda Bayes.
Bayes is a member of Access Smithers. She has firsthand experience with this problem as she requires the use a walker to move about, making crossing the highway a risky endeavour for her.
“I’m not the only person,” said Bayes. “There are a lot of people who have problems crossing the street. People in wheelchairs, with babies in strollers, crossing with a dog, whatever. It’s a problem.”
“The specific concern that’s been brought to me relates to the amount of time that the pedestrian signal allows for people to get across the highway,” said Taylor Bachrach, mayor of Smithers. “For people who get around by walking, crossing the highway is one of the more challenging parts of town. Specifically, I’ve heard from seniors and people with mobility challenges that the amount of time they are given to get across isn’t adequate and they don’t feel safe.”
“This is not a new issue. It is something that residents have been bringing to us for a number of years,” said Bachrach. “I think the issue is getting more attention now because accessibility is more top-of-mind for our community. We recently completed an age-friendly community assessment and we are about to embark of an active transportation plan that looks at walking and biking in Smithers. So barriers to getting around town on foot or on bike are going to be receiving more attention.”
“Isobel Mackenzie [the Seniors Advocate of British Columbia] has taken an initiative to ask communities to look at sidewalks and crosswalks,” said Glenys Snow Dymond, another member of Access Smithers. “That’s what strongly supported Access Smithers to bring this to the forefront.”
Mackenzie has been encouraging B.C. communities to “think about the barriers in our urban landscapes” when she released a report on transportation challenges faced by senior citizens back in May of 2018.
“The walk lights aren’t long enough, people need time to cross properly. For many seniors, they can’t make that dash,” Mackenzie said to reporters back in May of 2018.
“We’ve gathered the data, we’ve gotten input from a variety of people in the community. We’ve taken action to consult with the ministry of highways staff and we’ve worked with the Town as well so the Town is also on side because it is a concern,” said Carmen Nikall, chairwoman of Access Smithers. “Provincially, the Seniors advocate has addressed it as a concern. So it’s not just reaching our committee at the moment but the provincial level as well. So we’re assuming that this is a possible problem in other communities and not just in Smithers.”
However, the hurdle to cross is that the maintenance and management of the highway’s traffic and crosswalk lights fall not under local jurisdiction, but rather that of the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. For this reason Mayor Bachrach has sent the Ministry of Transportation a letter requesting they collaborate to change the timing on the pedestrian lights in order to better suit local needs.
“It seems that crosswalk signal timing is based on the average walking speed of an adult, and I think the challenge that we are facing is that we have a substantial number of residents who don’t walk at the average walking speed,” said Bachrach. “Like many communities our demographics are getting older and we want, as a community, to be as accessible as possible for people of all ages and abilities.”
“My letter to the ministry simply conveyed those concerns and then invited their representatives to a meeting with the Town and Access Smithers to discuss it in more detail,” said Bachrach. “The ministry has been very responsive to our concerns in the past, so I am optimistic that we can make improvements that would lead to a safer situation for residents.”