Micaela Evans at Ash street and SW Marine Dr. in Vancouver. Arlen Redekop / PNG
The City of Vancouver is planning to install up to 600 more curb ramps over the next few years to help make the municipality more accessible.
The initiative comes after the city’s engineering department identified about 5,000 locations “where curb ramps are missing” from Vancouver’s infrastructure, according to a recent request for proposal. The city plans to award a one-year contract to install 150-200 curb ramps, and may extend that contract at its discretion, according to the proposal.
But wheelchair users such as Gabrielle Peters, a disabled writer who used to sit on the City of Vancouver’s Active Transportation Policy Council, believe much more can and should be done to open the city for all to use.
In a 2017 motion passed by council, Peters identified that 8,000 of the city’s 27,000 intersections had no curb ramps whatsoever. Peters also calculated that the city budget allowed for 40 curb ramps to be built per year, meaning that it would take 200 years for Vancouver to be fully outfitted with ramps.
Asked what she thought about the city’s plan to put in another 150 ramps per year for four years, Peters said it was “raising a shockingly low number to an embarrassingly low number.” She said she believed the city had prioritized other things over ensuring access for many of its residents and users.
“What do you think that says to a disabled person living in Vancouver?” Peters asked. “Thank you eternally for almost treating me like I matter to you as a leader running my city, the city I live in.”
Micaela Evans, a wheelchair user who lives in Port Moody, said she doesn’t frequent many parts of Vancouver, but said older areas of most towns tended to be worse on wheels than newer areas. Still, she said she felt accessibility remained an afterthought rather than an integral part of design.
Eric Mital, a senior head of engineering with the city’s Streets Design Branch, said all new sidewalks in the city are now built with curb ramps. The 600 that have been prioritized were requested by members of the public, he said.
Peters has been a wheelchair user for over a decade now, so she has experienced the space by foot and by wheel. She said that when she started to use her chair, the Vancouver she knew suddenly transformed.
“I felt like I’d moved to a different city,” she said.
Peters described the place as a constant source of barriers, and most of them human-made. Asked if there were specific locations she could point to that were particularly accessible, she said “everywhere.”
Peters gave as an example the seawall ,”a spot where I tend to say that would be one of the more accessible, and it’s (still) not.” Accessing it around Denman Street near Beach Avenue involves crossing at least two intersections and a bike path, each of which includes its own set of challenges. Peters said she at times has needed to wait several lights to cross due to drivers who have blocked curb ramps with their vehicles. Once in the park, a relatively steep ramp that is not evenly surfaced descends to the path. And once there, wheelchair users will notice it is sloped, making for a tricky travel route.
Even sites that have curb ramps are not as accessible as some may think, Peters said. Some of the curb ramps at Burrard St. and West Georgia St., for example, unsafely exit wheelchair users directly toward the centre of the intersection, rather than into crosswalks, Peters said. There is a similar setup across the street from City Hall at 12th Ave. and Cambie St., she said.
Asked if she could compare Vancouver’s accessibility to other cities, Peters’ motion noted that for several years Calgary and Edmonton had budgeted for 250-350 curb ramp installations per year in intersections that had none.
People taking an Uber or Lyft within the confines Vancouver’s central core will be paying nearly $1 in municipal and provincial fees.
Vancouver became the first municipality in the Lower Mainland to pass regulations around ride-hailing on Wednesday, with council approving up to 60 cents in fees — a 30 cent fee for every pickup and drop off in the “Metro Core” region — defined as the area east of Burrard Street, west of Clark Drive and north of 16th Avenue.
The fee is in place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, with revenue going toward managing congestion.
An additional 30 cent fee has been created by the province for all rides in B.C., regardless of time, with the money supporting accessibility.
In both cases, the fees will not apply for accessible vehicles. Most major cities in Canada have additional fees of 20 to 30 cents per trip.
In addition to the municipal and provincial fees, ride-hailing companies in B.C. will have to set the same minimum rate as taxi companies, which varies between $3.25 and $3.95 depending on the region.
The province’s regulations around ride-hailing do not allow municipalities to withhold business licences but allows them to put additional regulations on companies operating within their borders.
“It’s important for us to bring in some interim measures immediately to do our best to manage the launch of ride-hailing,” said Lon LeClaire, Vancouver’s director of transportation.
$100 yearly business licence fee
While councillors were on board with the 30 cent fee, there was significant debate over a proposal by city staff of a $100 yearly business licence for each driver.
Representatives for both Uber and Lyft worried that if other municipalities copied Vancouver with their own fees, drivers would choose to stick to the one or two municipalities with the most customers and fewest municipal boundaries.
“Are we putting in too many barriers, so most people choose to just drive in Vancouver because it’s the most profitable market?” asked Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung.
“I [don’t support] a Vancouver-only model that moves ahead without looking at an entire municipal approach. What that smacks of to me is the taxi approach, where we are creating false challenges to having vehicles go across municipal boundaries.”
City staff noted they were also lowering the yearly licence for taxis to $100 ,down significantly from $616, in order to create the more “level playing field” between taxis and ride-hailing companies that council had previously asked for.
In the end, an amendment was passed directing staff to review the $100 licence fee after six months, following consultations with other municipalities in the region.
City manager Sadhu Johnston said he expected Vancouver’s legislation to serve as a template for other municipalities, but Vancouver would continue to fine tune its bylaws when they see the impacts of ride-hailing company operations which are expected to begin by the end of the year.
“This will be very dynamic,” he said. “We’re going to be watching it closely. We’re trying to avoid some of the pitfalls we’ve seen in other cities.”
A Vancouver councillor wants the city to get back to basics and fix bumpy sidewalks, potholes in the streets and tackle overflowing trash bins and litter.
NPA councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung is putting forward a motion Tuesday urging the city to prioritize core services such as maintaining streets and sidewalks and other public spaces, which she said has deteriorated in recent years, eroding civic pride and creating safety hazards for seniors and people with disability.
“I hear this consistently from the members of the public that they feel the city is looking a lot more rundown and it doesn’t look taken care of like it used to,” she said. “People used to be so proud of living in Vancouver — we’re known as a very clean and green city — and I don’t think people feel that anymore.”
The problem isn’t limited to the Downtown Eastside or the neighbouring areas of Chinatown or Strathcona, but throughout the city, said Kirby-Yung, adding overflowing garbage bins on the street are a common complaint.
From her previous tenure as a park board commissioner, Kirby-Yung said she is concerned about the difficulty park board staff has in accessing street medians the park board is supposed to maintain for the city, particularly along stretches of Knight Street where three-foot weeds and litter could be spotted.
While some may argue the city has more important issues than clean streets on its plate, including an affordability crisis and the homeless camp at Oppenheimer Park, Kirby-Yung said maintaining and cleaning streets and sidewalks are part of a city’s core responsibility — one residents and businesses expect it to fix, especially as property taxes have increased in recent years.
“People feel there has been a neglect of those core municipal services, and I think it goes toward the fact there are other priorities.”
It does not appear the city has shrunk its budget on these services. According to the 2019 budget, money allotted for street maintenance has increased from about $23 million in 2015 to a proposed $30 million in 2019. Street cleaning expenditures also jumped from about $7.3 million to almost $11 million over the same period.
Kirby-Yung said service levels need to be maintained along with population growth. She also noted there are new demands, such as needle pickups and dealing with illegal dumping in specific areas, that also has an impact on resources.
The motion asks council to recognize that maintaining and cleaning Vancouver streets and public spaces is part of the city’s core service delivery, and to upgrade and repair infrastructure as needed to restore civic pride and safety in neighbourhoods.
The motion also asks staff to identify, as part of the 2020 budget process, what expenditures, if any, are needed to clean up the city’s streets and sidewalks, including a proposed reallocation of funds from other budget items that would not add to any increase in property taxes and fees.
Gary Humchitt at Oppenheimer park in Vancouver, BC Wednesday, September 25, 2019. Nearly a hundred tents dot the landscape at the park which has pitted various levels of local government and agencies against each other as to how best handle the homeless encampment. Jason Payne / PNG
Calls will be made to Vancouver city council on Tuesday to create a new shelter, or rent a hotel, to house about 60 people who remain at the Oppenheimer Park tent city.
The first of two motions to council will be presented by COPE councillor and longtime anti-poverty advocate Jean Swanson.
The Oppenheimer Park camp in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside began in Oct. 2018 with a few tents and grew to 200 tents in early Aug. 2019.
On Aug. 19, Vancouver park board manager Malcolm Bromley ordered all tents/structures be removed within two days. At the same time, B.C. Housing made available to campers 123 B.C. Housing units, 11 City of Vancouver units and stated there were 60 shelter spaces available (some tent city residents have told Postmedia News that they would rather be in a tent than at a shelter.) A Supreme Court of B.C. injunction is required to remove campers by force, and as there was no injunction the remaining campers and their tents stayed in the park.
Last Thursday, during a presentation to Vancouver parks board by City of Vancouver deputy city manager Paul Mochrie, he stated that 130 campers accepted the housing offers, over half of whom were First Nations, and 34 per cent women.
Mochrie said that there were currently 120 tents on the site — between Powell Street to the north and East Cordova in the south, with Dunlevy Avenue on the west and Jackson Avenue to the east — with about 55 people still staying in the park who were in contact with city outreach workers. He said 40 were male, 14 female and one trans and noted “a small number of people have declined to identify themselves or are not interested in Outreach’s assistance.”
In her motion, Swanson calls for city staff and agencies to meet with residents “about an accessible alternative site that ensures health and safety, access to services and supports, and is acceptable and appropriate for people currently living in Oppenheimer Park. Swanson states the site needs a community kitchen, electricity, storage, toilets with running water and there be a warming tent in Oppenheimer Park.
She also calls for an emergency homelessness task force to be formed to look at buying or leasing one of more hotels for Oppenheimer Park residents.
It starts by stating “Vancouver is experiencing unprecedented housing and mental health and addiction issues,” and that “there are a significant number of persons living on the city’s streets, or out of their cars, due to the shortage of appropriately affordable housing who simply require access to shower and washroom facilities to support them on their path to permanent housing or employment.”
At last week’s park board meeting, commissioners heard that the number of people sleeping on the streets in Vancouver had risen almost 300 per cent since 2011 — to 614 in 2019.
In the motion, Wiebe and Dominato ask that Mayor Kennedy Stewart — who in early September unsuccessfully asked that parks board hand over the Oppenheimer Park file to the city — send a letter to parks board asking that the “current impasse” at the park be “resolved swiftly” for all concerned. They also want council to develop a decampment plan with the goal of “restoring the park for broad public use.”
The pair are also calling for council to direct staff to apply for provincial government funding “for the establishment of a low-barrier shelter in the city that can suitably address the specific needs of those currently encamped in Oppenheimer Park.”
The majority of councillors and mayor need to vote in favour of a motion to be passed, and often the motion is amended during the council meeting.
Vancouver’s council is comprised of an independent mayor, five from the Non-Partisan Association, three from the Green party and one from COPE.
The Vancouver park board has the power to apply for an injunction to end the tent city, but are not prepared to do that at this point. In 2014 the park board did use an injunction to end another homeless camp in Oppenheimer Park.
J.P. Lorence (left), who is homeless, and Peter Vinccelli, who rents out the camper (at right) to homeless people in Vancouver. Arlen Redekop / PNG
J.P. Lorence never liked living indoors. For many years, he has flitted between homelessness and short-term housing. Most recently, he lived in an RV near Commercial Drive, borrowing water from a nearby park, saving money and spending his nights working on his writing.
“The hardest part was finding electricity, honestly,” he said.
Three months ago, Lorence’s vehicle was towed. Now, he and others at risk of homelessness are asking the city to let them remain in one of the few alternatives to living on the streets: their cars.
The Vancouver 2019 homeless count tallied a record 2,223 people who identified as homeless, including 1,609 with no fixed address.
Those numbers are likely an underestimation, and it is hard to know how many live in cars. But Lorence estimates well over 100 live in the area near Vernon Drive in Strathcona.
Not all are homeless. Some, like Peter Vincelli, hold full-time jobs, but live in RVs to save money in North America’s most expensive housing market.
“I think it should be illegal to charge people that amount of money to live in Vancouver,” said Vincelli. “I’m just waiting for the market to dip.”
Lorence calls Vincelli “the godfather” of the area. He is known to help fix up damaged campers, help people file insurance, or warn them about garbage accumulation, which tends to attract complaints and city workers.
He says for many of his neighbours on disability or pension payments, RVs are the only alternative to single-room occupancy units known for unsanitary and unsafe conditions.
In some cities, particularly in the United States, it is illegal to live in a vehicle. The City of Vancouver said in a statement that it is aware of the varied experiences of people living in cars and does not consider it an offence, although owners still have to obey parking regulations.
“Not all people parking and living in RVs are at risk of experiencing homelessness, nor do they all require support, but the city is committed to those who are and do require assistance,” the statement said.
The statement said vehicle owners are given at least two warnings before being towed. But Lorence says his towing caught him by surprise. He has since been forced to live in a shelter, which limits the hours he can work at night.
Lorence said he is running out of options in the city, and may look to relocate to Ontario once winter passes.
“I wouldn’t be there, except now I don’t have a choice,” he said.
Lorence acknowledges living in an RV, for most, isn’t ideal. Some of the other vehicle owners created problems in the neighbourhood by stealing electricity or accumulating garbage.
But he believes it is a better alternative to tenting on the street — a subject that has gained visibility and concern, especially as remaining residents of a tent city in Oppenheimer Park continue to disobey a park board eviction notice.
“Many of these residents are capable and gainfully employed,” he wrote in an essay published online. “Many are couples, many are just regular people attempting to escape the challenges of tenant life in Vancouver.”
Emrys Horton’s first instinct when he saw flames engulf a boat in a Yaletown marina was to run to help. He wasn’t thinking of the ground beneath him. But in his sprint to the boat, Horton rolled his ankle on a large lump in the sidewalk.
Horton, manager of the nearby Provence Marinaside restaurant, had reacted to the billowing smoke from flames that had engulfed a 10-metre pleasure vessel on Oct. 12, 2017. The blaze took eight fire trucks and a fireboat to put out.
No one was hurt in the fire — but Horton suffered more than just a sprain. He twisted his ankle so much that he tore the tendon off his bone, taking a piece of bone with it, in what’s known as an avulsion fracture.
“My ankle will literally never be the same as it was,” said Horton, 43.
He reported the sidewalk hazard, but didn’t report his injury. It never occurred to him.
“I suspect I probably should have, but I didn’t at the time,” Horton said about the idea of taking his case to a personal-injury lawyer. “I probably won’t now.”
Everyone walks on them. But not many people pay much attention to the city’s sidewalks, even though they are among the most ubiquitous pieces of city infrastructure.
Horton is one of many people to have injured themselves by tripping or falling because of sidewalk disrepair in the City of Vancouver. Their experiences highlight a public lack of knowledge about recourse when it comes to injuries caused by sidewalks. It also highlights what some advocates say is infrastructure sorely neglected by the city and a maintenance system that may not be adequately serving the public’s needs.
The sidewalk network
The City of Vancouver has about 2,200 kilometres of sidewalks. Put end to end, they would stretch from the city to Anchorage, Alaska. Everyone uses sidewalks at some point, whether walking is their primary mode of transportation or not: Drivers walk on them to and from their cars, transit riders travel on them to their stops and stations, cyclists lock up their bikes and walk to their destination on them.
City reports show that the city’s sidewalks are heavily used — and that getting even more people to use them is a priority. The City of Vancouver’s 2017 Walking and Cycling report card found that 25 per cent of all trips in Vancouver are completed by walking — meaning that it’s the dominant mode of transportation for a person’s trip. Meanwhile, the city’s Transportation 2040 Plan says that walking should be the “top transportation priority” for future growth.
The city’s 2019 budget includes $1.75 million for the construction of new sidewalks and $798,000 to rehabilitate roughly one kilometre of existing sidewalks. According to the budget, priority for sidewalk rehabilitation is given to areas that get a lot of pedestrian activity, such as commercial areas and transit routes. In addition, an uncertain amount of sidewalk is rebuilt each year as part of broader road-replacement work.
By comparison, the budget allocates $9 million for bikeways and greenways, and $8 million to repave major arterial streets.
Some feel that sidewalks are still an afterthought.
“I think it’s an overlooked form of infrastructure,” said Andy Yan, a director with the City Program at Simon Fraser University. “I mean, one hopes it’s seen as a form of central infrastructure.”
Yan defines sidewalks as formalized pathways that connect a city and facilitate movement across it by foot. But he says the pedestrian experience can quickly turn bad and even lead to injury and distress, when sidewalks fall into disrepair.
‘I have started walking a different route home’
A fall on an uneven sidewalk one dark and wet November night in 2018 left teacher Ellen Michelle with pain all over her body and so much anxiety that she permanently changed the route for her daily walk home from work.
Michelle, 26, was walking home along Cambie Street from the King Edward Canada Line station after a day of teaching when she fell.
“There was one part of the sidewalk that was raised, and it was right beside a tree,” Michelle said.
A tree root had pushed the sidewalk section up on the east side of Cambie Street between 26th and 27th avenues. The raised sidewalk caught Michelle unawares and sent her sprawling to the ground.
“I ended up flying forward a few feet, at least. Dropped everything I was holding, including a bag of student midterms that I was taking home to grade,” Michelle said.
Michelle ended up with a bloody, fat lip for three days and soreness in her entire body that lasted a week.
“It was very difficult to move the next day,” she said.
Injuries sustained from disrepaired or broken sidewalks can leave lasting marks. The most common injuries are broken ankles. The odds of injury increase during the rainy months of winter.
Michelle’s experience highlights how sidewalk accidents have more than physical consequences.
“One thing I’ll say is that since that fall, I have started walking a different route home to avoid that spot,” Michelle said.
Michelle wishes the city would “just fix the sidewalk when roots grow out of them,” so no one else has to sustain injuries, trivial or severe.
Tree roots pushing up from underneath are a common cause of damage to Vancouver’s sidewalks. Shifting ground also breaks sidewalks: As the ground moves, the sidewalk is not able to adjust.
In order to monitor the disrepair, Vancouver has a sidewalk maintenance policy that requires a team of city workers to visually examine every sidewalk in the city annually for such defects. According to the city, the inspection team of six or seven people examines the city’s sidewalks from about November or December to July or August and identifies any cracks or bumps that could present hazards. The policy states that any hazards that measure over one inch are scheduled to be repaired within seven days.
The city also relies on residents to report damaged sidewalks. But not many people know this.
Michelle, for example, didn’t report the sidewalk problem that caused her to fall. She says she was unaware she could.
It’s one reason why it’s difficult to determine the extent of the city’s liability for sidewalk injuries.
Cities can be held liable for injury if they have not met a minimum duty of care to ensure that sidewalks are safe for people to use.
This falls under the concept of “reasonableness,” according to personal-injury lawyer Mark Carter. That means that as long as the city has made an effort to maintain the sidewalk, it has fulfilled its duty of care.
Yan said that such reporting methods give the public the opportunity to hold their city accountable in maintaining the standard they have set when it comes to sidewalks.
VanConnect appears to have led to an increase in the number of complaints. When the app went online in the middle of 2015, the number of sidewalk complaints from people increased more than 40 per cent, from an average of 1,250 to 1,760 a year.
Yan also said that just checking a sidewalk complaint isn’t enough. Action, in many cases, must happen as well.
“You can imagine that if something happened and it’s a part of a sidewalk that’s been complained about several times, it does present the city with a certain liability,” he said.
Is it enough?
This raises the question of whether the current system is good enough for those who live and work in the city.
Carter said the answer to this depends on three things:
• Whether a city policy exists.
• Whether that policy can be considered “reasonable.”
• Whether the policy was followed.
Carter says Vancouver is not meeting a “reasonable” standard.
“Let’s say they had a program, and they would check the sidewalks once per year to see if they’re safe or not. Well, that’s not very reasonable. They would have to check it several times a year,” Carter said.
Yan isn’t quite so critical of the city’s sidewalk maintenance standards, saying they stand up well compared to other cities.
He said the one-inch minimum for defects warranting repair, for example, may seem like a poor standard, but he argued it’s reasonable given the amount the ground can shift or the fact that so many sidewalks run beside trees.
However, he says the city needs to better define its maintenance policy.
“If you do see a problem on your sidewalk, how do you report it in? What are the protocols for maintenance that the city has towards maintaining sidewalks, much less maintaining public infrastructure?” Yan said.
“I mean, we arguably have minimum standards towards maintaining our roads; one might expect that one has standards towards maintaining our sidewalks.”
Ultimately, it means that the city’s duty of care is arguably open to question — and that could invite legal action.
However, Carter said that while lawsuits against the city do happen, they are rare. A freedom of information request revealed that between Jan. 1, 2014, and Jan. 31, 2019, there had been 28 “civil lawsuits brought against the city as a result of injuries incurred on city sidewalks. A total of $117,000 was paid out by the city to settle these lawsuits, an average of less than $24,000 a year.
Carter said many people don’t file civil lawsuits, and those who do will settle because of the cost of seeing it go to trial.
However, he said many people injured in sidewalk falls do not even think about a lawsuit, and have no idea where to turn to or what recourse they have available to them.
‘I didn’t hear back’
Reporting sidewalk issues to the city isn’t a guarantee of their repair, say people who have tried to navigate the system.
Erik Hearn broke his collarbone when he tripped on a West End sidewalk during his regular 10-kilometre morning walk.
Hearn was aware he could report the damaged sidewalk to the city, and took action.
“I did take a picture and I did send it to the website,” Hearn said. “But I didn’t hear back.”
Hearn said the city “planted trees that are huge trees and with that comes huge roots. And the roots are now the ones that are causing the problem with the sidewalks, curling up and making the sidewalks uneven.”
Hearn said he is worried that his neighbours may have similar accidents and injure themselves as he did.
“The city has neglected totally to repair sidewalks here, which is probably an area of the city where they should pay specific attention to that because a big portion of the residents in this area are seniors,” he said.
Since his own fall in Yaletown, Horton has reported several other damaged sidewalks. He, too, questions the city’s response to reports of disrepair.
“Some of the things that I’ve personally reported multiple times have not been fixed within months or years,” Horton said.
While on the job at Provence Marinaside, Horton said he has repeatedly seen unsuspecting pedestrians trip and get hurt.
“I’ve had customers fall on their face,” Horton said. “A guy just went down face-first on the ground right outside because he tripped on the edge of one of the cobblestone bricks there that’s starting to lift. Broke his nose, lost consciousness.”
Even when reported sidewalks are fixed by the city, some say the repairs aren’t adequate.
Horton said the fall that severely injured his ankle was caused by a piece of sidewalk that had been previously repaired by the city with asphalt, a common fix. He said city crews covered the damaged area with asphalt, which then chipped away over time.
Accessibility advocates like Gabrielle Peters say that such repairs aren’t good enough — and that’s compounding problems for those with mobility issues.
Peters, who has served on the city’s Active Transportation Policy Council, says her advocacy began when she began taking photos of sidewalks and posting them online.
“The city will instruct people to contact 311. Every block, I could be calling 311,” said Peters.
She refers to some of the repairs she’s seen as “almost a work of art.”
“Literally, they poured asphalt on top of pouring asphalt on top of pouring asphalt. And you honestly have this little sort of pyramid, built in the middle of the sidewalk.”
For those with mobility issues, such uneven sidewalks pose an obstacle in reaching public transit or personal vehicles.
‘Pedestrians are disenfranchised’
For Sandy James, improving the state of sidewalks in the city is about more than repairing cracks and bumps. It’s about making journeys better for the most vulnerable road users, like people with mobility challenges and those who use wheelchairs or push strollers.
James worked at city hall for nearly three decades, including 22 years as a city planner. As a greenway planner, she designed streets to give walking and biking priority over car traffic.
She left the city in 2011, and is now the managing director of Walk Metro Vancouver, a group that advocates improved walkability. She’s critical of the city’s sidewalk policy.
“The challenge here is that pedestrians are disenfranchised,” she said. “It’s just not been on the radar.”
To improve the city’s walkability, James said streets need to be “clean, curious and comfortable,” meaning wider sidewalks, curb ramps for those using wheelchairs, streets clear of gum and other garbage and installation of plants or other street decorations to enhance the overall experience.
James also highlighted the problem of trees. In a city that loves its leafy boulevards, there’s a struggle between maintaining both trees and sidewalks. James said ash trees on Commercial Drive, for example, destroyed the sidewalk. New sidewalks were installed, but that didn’t address the underlying problem.
“Trees sometimes have a shelf life,” James said, adding that’s something she thinks many in Vancouver don’t understand.
Taryn Scollard, the city’s director of streets, said the city’s engineering department works with the park board to select trees that are less disruptive to sidewalks, and have developed root barriers to try to guide root growth downward instead of popping up and leading to sidewalk hazards.
The city has also installed rubber sidewalks made of recycled tires in a couple of locations to see if they are more durable than pavement.
“We’re always looking for new ideas to meet everybody’s needs,” Scollard said.
‘A high priority for the city’
Scollard said while the city could always use more money to address concerns, she believes Vancouver’s sidewalks are in much better condition than those in other Canadian cities. She added that the city makes the most of their budget by combining sidewalk maintenance projects with other construction work whenever possible.
“All areas of pedestrian movement are a high priority for the city,” Scollard said.
She said the city has made a number of changes to sidewalk standards in recent years, including making them wider, putting sidewalks farther away from roads when possible, and installing “pedestrian bulges” at the corners of sidewalks to reduce the amount of time pedestrians spend on the road while crossing the street.
Nathan Durec, Roxanne Egan-Elliott and Mandy Moraes are among this year’s recipients of the Langara College Read-Mercer Journalism Fellowship. This feature was produced through the fellowship.
Pointing up at the underside of the Granville Street bridge, Cheryl Nalms, the deputy manager of engineering for Vancouver is explaining the next phase of the city’s plan to improve the structural integrity and seismic resiliency of the 65-year-old-span.
The city’s engineering department organized the Friday morning walking tour following reports that small chunks of steel were falling from the bridge onto pavement and businesses below.
The tour was to reassure the public the bridge is structurally sound. “The safety and the security of the public is at the forefront,” said Nalms.
The city investigated the reports of falling debris, Nelms said, by sending a crew out to inspect the bridge last week.
In a release, the city said crews “have not detected any debris falling from the girders of the bridge.”
Every five years, a maintenance program is done on the bridge and every six months, local crews conduct an inspection process, Nalms said.
Sign of aging
Built in 1954, the 537-metre long deck truss bridge is showing signs of aging. A $35 million upgrade has been underway for the past year.
Among the improvements: Concrete and steel repairs are being done on the north and south approach ramps; bearings and expansion joints are being replaced; and later this month, work will begin on the marine span of the bridge.
Over the next few years, there will also be changes to the above-deck portion of the bridge.
Council has voted to create a bike lane and better accessibility for pedestrians that could include a greenway. Previous plans have shown the possibility of two lanes running through the middle of the bridge covered in greenery.
Nalms said there is no set date for work to begin on that aspect of the bridge.
“So right now we’ve gone through the first phase of a consultation process. We’ve had over 6,000 responses from the public.”
A final project and budget will be presented to council after the city consults with the public, engineers and designers.
A homeless encampment in Surrey will need to be dismantled for safety reasons, according to the city, but the campers that call the wooded area home say they plan to stay.
Residents of what’s known as the “Sanctuary” tent city on King George Boulevard between Bridgeview Drive and 132 Street say bylaw officers told them last week that the site would need to be dismantled by this Tuesday.
“Eventually it might happen, but not this morning” a bylaw officer told members of Alliance Against Displacement when asked if they were there to begin removing the tent site.
The City of Surrey’s Acting Manager of Public Safety Operations, Kim Marosevich, told CTV News by phone Tuesday that the city is monitoring the situation closely and is concerned about structures on site as well as the use of open flame and propane.
“We’re concerned about safety on the property,” Marosevich said.
Residents living on the site told CTV News on Tuesday they do use fire for cooking, but say it’s used safely and they have fire extinguishers and shovels.
“When I do make a fire it’s so small and minute, it’s just enough to cook on,” said Jennifer Rouse, who moved into the camp after previously living alone in a tent in Newton. “This is my home so I take very good care of it. If anything were to happen to it, it would devastate me.”
According to the Alliance Against Displacement, the camp has been up and running for several years and about 50 people are currently living there.
Many of the campers, including Wanda Stopa, who moved to the site about five months ago, say they ended up there after being displaced from a stretch of 135A street in Whalley that served as a homeless encampment for years before being cleared out by the city.
“The amount of stress you go through every day is unreal,” Stopa said Tuesday. “A person shouldn’t have to live like that. They shouldn’t be treated the way we’re treated by bylaw. It’s just not right.”
The city says it’s working with the Surrey Outreach Team to try and support residents and find safe housing for the residents before the camp is dismantled.
But Dave Diewert with Alliance Against Displacement says housing options for the homeless in Surrey are limited and modular housing brought to the area simply cannot support the number of homeless people in the city.
“This is a displacement to nowhere,” Diewert said. “This is an absolutely crucial site for survival, for organization, for support, for human community in the midst of what is a terrible housing crisis in Surrey.”
The City of Surrey could not give a timeline of when it would move in to dismantle the site, calling the situation “fluid”, and noting they are working with multiple agencies to make sure the campers have somewhere else to go.
Residents are not only vowing to stay at the camp, they are also asking the city for amenities including water, garbage pickup and washroom facilities as they wait for what they consider adequate housing solutions.
“People are still in shelters. People are still in the bush. We need real solutions. We need real housing,” Diewert said.
The City of Vancouver is preparing for a smoky summer, making plans to create “respite areas” at several communities centres, libraries and non-market-housing units.
The public spaces could act as clean air havens for people who have health concerns and lack access to an air-conditioned space during air quality advisories. The rooms would be equipped with portable HEPA filters and some would also serve as cooling centres, according to a statement from the City of Vancouver.
Experts are warning that it’s likely to be another hot, smoke-filled summer in B.C. this year. B.C. Wildfire Service information shows the province has seen increased drought and higher-than-average temperatures in 2019, with the trend expected to continue.
“Obviously, we expect increased wildfire and smoke risk, and that includes in the southwest … And increased temperatures are likely to drive higher ozone formation, and so we expect there may be more potential for that this summer as well,” Metro Vancouver air-quality engineer Francis Ries told Postmedia on Tuesday.
Ozone, a pollutant that when mixed with fine particulate matter creates smog, often irritates the eyes, nose and throat, and over time can cause permanent lung damage.
Ries said more studies, including ones that focus on B.C., are making a strong link between climate change and the exacerbation of wildfire seasons.
“As we continue to see further warming, we expect that the patterns we are seeing now are likely to continue or perhaps even get more extreme,” he said.
The summers of 2017 and 2018 were the worst on record for smoky skies across B.C.
In Metro Vancouver, there were 22 days last July and August under air-quality advisories, three more than in the summer of 2017.
The last two summers have far exceeded the number of advisories issued in any other year since 1996, the first year for which data is available. Several years, including 2016, had zero air-quality advisories.
University of B.C. public health professor Dr. Michael Brauer said many public buildings are already equipped with air conditioning and filters that provide effective relief on smoky days. Simply closing windows can significantly improve air quality, while even a small filter can remove particulate matter. Higher-quality filters may require more energy, but buildings could swap them in on days when the air quality is poor.
Brauer said the long-term health impacts of one or two weeks of smoky skies each summer are likely very small, but if that time stretches into one or two months — as it is threatening to do in some parts of the B.C. Interior — it would be “concerning.”
“We know that day-in-day-out exposure (to pollution) can be life-shortening,” he said, alluding to studies in other countries where pollution is a significant problem. “It can causes diseases to get worse, and accelerates the progression of disease.”
The debate on a motion proposing easier access for opioid alternatives in the city’s Downtown Eastside is expected to begin again Wednesday, when Vancouver city council meets to discuss policy and strategic priorities.
Submitted by Coun. Rebecca Bligh in late May, the motion titled “Cannabis as an Alternative to Opiates and More Dangerous Drugs on the Downtown Eastside” proposes amending an almost four-year-old exclusion zone keeping medical marijuana from being sold to one of the city’s most vulnerable communities.
“What I’m asking is well-considered exceptions to that rule, and that city staff come back and make recommendations to council,” Bligh told CTV News Vancouver in an interview Tuesday.
Vancouver’s city council approved a restrictive licensing regulation for “medical-cannabis” dispensaries in the Downtown Eastside in 2015, prohibiting marijuana sales on any properties that do not have a property line on either Hastings or Main streets.
In her motion, Bligh suggests the idea behind this exclusion zone was to limit the amount of cannabis being sold to a significantly vulnerable subset of the population. This decision was made before the opioid crisis set in however, and since April 2016, the councillor says more than 3,600 people have died in B.C. due to overdose, including 1,000 people in Vancouver alone.
“I don’t propose this is the right time to simply dismiss the exclusionary zoning, even though studies show in North America exclusionary zoning … it’s just not the best way to go about city planning,” said Bligh.
The councillor cites a study by University of British Columbia cannabis science specialist Dr. M-J Milloy, which showed hard drug users respond better to marijuana than opioid substitution treatment plans.
“We’re hearing form frontline workers and they’re dealing day to day with what’s happening in the Downtown Eastside, and I’ve heard from countless people that this is absolutely something we need to be taking proactive action on,” she said.
As it stands, there are four locations in the DTES with approved Development Permits from the city. Bligh contends, however, that in order to move forward with the mandatory provincial licensing application phase, they would need to shut down with no guarantee they’d be able to re-open.
The councillor says the city should acknowledge the research done and funded by UBC and Simon Fraser University to ensure policies aren’t restricting a “progressive program” that could help people in the Downtown Eastside.
Referring to Milloy’s research, Bligh says shutting down those shops in the Downtown Eastside would limit people’s ability to access affordable legal marijuana, which could result in them turning back to opioids.
She adds that before the legalization process took hold, a medicinal cannabis shop was able to sell at prices between three and six dollars per gram, which she says is affordable for people on disability or social assistance programs.
“As the recreational use of cannabis and the licensing that goes with that comes into effect, so does management of the supply chain, and management of the margins,” said Bligh. “Now we’re looking at these shops opening up and their market value for cannabis is now $12-15 per gram, which is totally unaffordable for people on limited income.”
This could effectively rob DTES residents and drug users of access to retail cannabis for the foreseeable future, the councillor claims.
The motion argues that both the Vancouver Overdose Prevention Society and High Hopes Social Enterprise, a DTES support and sustainability organization, support low-cost, legal cannabis options backed by Dr. Evan Wood, the executive director of the BC Centre on Substance Use, as well as Dr. Mark Tyndall, Executive Medical Director for BC Centre for Disease Control, and Dr. M-J Milloy.
Bligh said she believes the city and Vancouver Coastal Health have an opportunity to good for a large group of people working together, however admitted it could be difficult for the health organization to endorse a motion that affects a smaller, yet high-need group of the population.
“Evidence is leaning towards this as a viable recommendaiton and option towards harm reduction, but this would be far too soon for Coastal Health to eb able to bless that, and we deeply respect the work they do,” the councillor said.
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