“I avoid it.” That was the recurrent answer when people in the Shelbourne Valley were asked about their walking habits along the busy main street.
Narrow, broken, steep and flooded sidewalks, dangerous crossings, a lack of buffer from the roadway, and inconvenient or impossible manoeuvring for people with walkers and wheelchairs are just some of the reasons Shelbourne needs to be redone.
These are the findings from a citizen-led advisory group that released a report on the problems hindering walkability in their neighbourhood.
“We found a word very much associated with Shelbourne Street is ‘avoid.’ ‘Oh Shelbourne? I avoid it. I would never ride my bike there. It’s a horrible place to walk,’” said Jean Newton, who along with her husband Tom and a few others helped release the Shelbourne Valley Walkability Report. “But at the same time they told us they want more of a community feeling. And a lot of them make reference to places like Cook Street and Oak Bay Village, where people like to go on foot.”
Saanich is currently looking at creating a 25-year plan for the valley, which stretches from Feltham to North Dairy roads and includes parallel-running streets like Cedar Hill and Richmond roads.
Part of that vision includes making the neighbourhood attractive and complete enough that residents will get out of their cars and walk wherever they need to go.
“We want people to understand that this (report) is not going to just be put on a shelf,” said Coun. Judy Brownoff, chair of the bicycle and pedestrian mobility advisory committee, which was recently presented the report. “When the community goes out and puts all this energy into something like this, there has to be some follow through on behalf of council, and it can’t just be tied into the 25-year plan.”
With more than 400 kilometres of sidewalks in Saanich, repairs are done based on complaints. That’s problematic, Brownoff says.
Saanich’s manager of transportation says the condition of existing sidewalks is a giant missing piece of the overall puzzle as engineers look at the walkways in the municipality.
“We had this Pedestrian Priority Improvement Plan prepared in 2006, and we built a lot of sidewalks in the meantime. But conditions have changed, opinions have changed about what’s important and what’s less important,” Jim Hemstock said. “This (walkability report) is just a terrific tool as we look at updating that plan. It’s a very detailed assessment of the area that’ll help us in that process.”
Recommendations put forward by the citizens group are being examined, weighed and prioritized by Saanich staff. Among the recommendations are new crosswalks, wider, straighter and smoother sidewalks, and better pedestrian access to businesses and strip malls.
“Walkability is hugely important. For health. For that connection to your neighbourhood, your community,” Brownoff said. “If the walking environment is good, people will walk more.”
That’s what the Newtons hope to see come out of their report.
“We want to start seeing changes. We know it can’t be overnight, but we don’t think the 25-year plan is good either,” Jean said. “I want to see increments. I want to see changes in Year 1, Year 2, Year 5. I’d like to see a whole lot done progressively, rather than waiting for a miracle to happen in 25 years.”
Other members of the group are Ray Travers, Soren Henrich, Mei Ang, Andrea Gleichauf and Pamela Williams.
To check out the full walkability report, visit www.camosuncommunityassociation.com.