By Rowena Locklin
As you drive or walk down Hillside, you may have noticed that the crosswalk at Blackwood now has a pedestrian controlled flashing light. Perhaps you thought to yourself, “About time the City is finally doing something about that crosswalk!” Or perhaps you inwardly cursed yet another delay in getting through the neighbourhood. Either way, what you may not know is how much effort and consultation went into getting this improvement – efforts that started more than five years ago with the goal of improving the safety of the Graham St. crosswalk.
Over the course of some years, I used Graham St. crosswalk several times daily. In the middle of a weekday it was not too bad. However, crossing on a dark rainy night or during rush hour was another matter. My family of two adults and child, with two large dogs, would stand at the Hillside and Graham crosswalk while traffic whizzed by, ignoring us. After several scary experiences and many conversations with neighbours and strangers at the crosswalk, I decided to do something about it.
Surely getting a simple change such as a pedestrian activated crossing light at Graham St. would not be too difficult? At least that’s what I thought going in! Thus began a very long process of working with the neighbourhood land use committee (then named the Neighbourhood Action Group and now called NAC) and navigating the corridors of City Hall.
In 2012, we gathered together letters of support from Quadra PAC, MLA Rob Fleming and the Neighbourhood Action Committee, as well as scores of emails from neighbours, and news clippings of pedestrian accidents on Hillside. These were presented on June 14 2012 to the City of Victoria. We then waited for our request for a “warrant study” on the two crosswalks to work its way through the City processes.
During this time we decided to canvass the neighbourhood and collect names on a petition. Many neighbours stepped up to do their own blocks. As we all canvassed it became clear how many pedestrians had almost been hit at the crosswalk. Conversations with residents also identified the Blackwood crossing as even more dangerous than the one on Graham St. At the time Blackwood was a plain painted crosswalk spanning the four lanes of fast moving traffic with no “mid island of refuge.” We also found newspaper articles and letters to the editor dating back years. At the end of our neighbourhood canvass we had over 600 names on the petition.
Finally the City issued a decision. They determined that while our request for a pedestrian controlled crossing light might be reasonable, it would not be considered because the list of already-approved crosswalk improvements would take 20 years to complete at the current rate of funding! Instead the lighting was improved and a mid-crossing median was installed at Blackwood.
Disappointed but not defeated, we continued our efforts. To keep it brief – the Neighbourhood Action Committee continued to do community outreach and advocacy, including a traffic survey that generated over 100 responses, engagement at community events, and the writing of many more letters. Over time, we were able to identify and present the neighbourhood’s top traffic priorities to the City of Victoria Engineering Department. Working with staff members Fraser Work and Brad Dellebuur at Engineering, and with support from Councillor Ben Isitt, we finally received the commitment to upgrade the two crosswalks in 2016.
Blackwood at Hillside has been completed and the crosswalk at Graham is scheduled to get a pedestrian crossing light in the summer of this year. It has been a long journey. Our now high-school aged kids were in elementary school when this got started.