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West End seniors demand cyclists slow down at English Bay

West End seniors are demanding the park board find a way to get cyclists to slow down on the busy…

By Chris Lane , in Life , on October 17, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , ,

West End seniors are demanding the park board find a way to get cyclists to slow down on the busy English Bay seawall, even if it means setting up physical barriers that force them to stop speeding through.

They have 166 signatures on a petition demanding that the city intervene after an 80-year-old woman was hit by a bike this summer.

“We want some rules in place,” said Grace Hann, a volunteer with the West End Seniors’ Network.

“It’s not that people are anti-cycling”

Pedestrians frequently cross this English Bay bike path.

The group has collected signatures and sent a petition asking the Vancouver park board to make a block-length section near Denman and Davie safer for pedestrians.

At its busiest, more than 700 pedestrians and cyclists use this route in an hour, according to data from city officials.

Locals report that conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists have increased since the opening of the Cactus Club restaurant this spring, on the beach side of the seawall. Many patrons cross over to the restaurant without realizing they are on a bike path.

People with the seniors’ network started the petition after Hann visited the injured woman, another volunteer with the group, in hospital. The woman was hospitalized for three weeks with a broken pelvis. Hann said she is worried her friend might never fully recover.

Hann, writing in the seniors’ network newsletter, said she was appalled at the speed of some cyclists riding on that stretch of seawall. She said she was yelled at for asking one of them to slow down. She thinks the city should step in to help out vulnerable seniors.

“It’s not that people are anti-cycling,” explained Eric Kowalski, executive director at the network. He said the sidewalk alongside the beach is just not designed to be safe, and some local seniors are afraid to walk there.

Third Beach already has barriers and signs to slow cyclists.

Possible solutions

The seniors’ network sent its petition and a letter to the park board on Sept. 13. One suggestion was to place barriers along the bike route, similar to those in place in other locations like Third Beach in Stanley Park. Another was that the park board put in more prominent signs demanding that cyclists slow down. The seniors believe a dedicated beach patrol during the summer months could help as well.

There are already signs asking cyclists to slow down, but the seniors say they are insufficient as many cyclists ignore them and speed through.

Park board commissioner Constance Barnes said the board is taking the issue very seriously, and her staff are currently working on it. They are looking at it as part of efforts to improve pedestrian safety on park land. The board just adopted a plan that calls for more separation between bikes and foot traffic in Stanley Park, which doesn’t include the English Bay stretch.

“It’s definitely on our radar,” she said.

Response from cyclists

The complaint from the West End seniors was news to people at the city’s main cycling-advocacy group.

“We try to work very hard with pedestrian groups,” said Lisa Slakov from the HUB. She said both camps are working towards the same basic goals of safety and accessibility.

Seniors say existing signs are often ignored.

She agrees that signage could be improved, but she is concerned that barriers “would definitely be an imposition,” especially for people who use bikes as their primary means of transportation.

The complaints about pedestrian safety are occurring just as the city is working to encourage more cyclist and pedestrian traffic in the West End, with initiatives such as the Comox-Helmcken greenway being designed to make roads safer.

But seniors say the new greenway doesn’t really help solve the seawall problem, which needs action now.

“I hope that by next spring they would have some remedial action,” said Kowalski, who drafted the letter to the park board. “If a senior gets knocked down by a bike, it can be a catastrophe.”