What is the biggest fear of someone who is classified as a “vulnerable” sidewalk user? It is falling on the sidewalk. And for those vulnerable people using sidewalks, be they seniors or people with any type of mobility impairment or vision disability a fall can lead to death within months.
Despite clear international evidence that keeping sidewalks clear of impediments is a universal standard, the Vancouver City Council voted unanimously to allow for electrical charging cords to be placed on vinyl conduits over city sidewalks. Every present member of council cited the importance of their Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP) and with no acknowledgement of the irony of placing the rights of vehicles over sidewalk users, voted to allow cords with covers to be placed on the sidewalk.
As James Carter who owns a car dealership that sells electric vehicles said on a CKNW radio show with Lynda Steele
“They make people shovel snow off the sidewalk by 10 a.m. but they are going to allow people to place power cords across the sidewalk? It just does not sound like a good idea to me”.
Mr. Carter also pointed out that there are lots of free charging facilities set up by B.C. Hydro and others across the city. There’s no electric charging drought.
This policy of placing electrical cord conduits on sidewalks does not impact most of us. But it does impact the most vulnerable of any sidewalk user.
Take a look at this work by Monash University and Victoria Walks in Australia~seniors over 75 years of age who fall on sidewalks are twice as likely to go to emergency rooms for treatment. People over 85 years of age have a hospitalization rate nine times more than pedestrians aged 35 to 64. And for seniors aged over 85 and more, a fall on a sidewalk means a hospitalization rate 14 times greater. Sadly seniors when they fall are more likely to go into care after a fall instead of returning home, and are more likely to die within months after a fall.
Research indicates that falls on sidewalks are “attributed to uneven surfaces and tripping’. A study done in 2006 found that most outdoor falls are preventable through “better design and maintenance of walking infrastructure”.
Great Britain’s Living Streets research found that over 30 percent of people over 65 did not walk in neighbourhoods because of cracked and uneven sidewalks. Sixty percent of seniors over 65 were worried about poor sidewalks; half said they would walk more if the sidewalks were maintained and were clear of hazards.
Walking is the major form of exercise for seniors; making it safe for children to walk to school also promotes healthy activity and makes it easier for children to focus in school. During the pandemic we’ve seen walking as way to get outside and also walk with other people. It has been a lifeline.
This Council values the voters who own and drive electric vehicles over the people that may not be as enfranchised, and use sidewalks to access local shops and services and transit.
The Council report is full of holes~there was no live demonstration of what those sidewalk covers would be like, no independently produced report by an accessibility expert to see whether disabled users could traverse the electrical cord covers. There had been a trial of cords being trenched under the sidewalk, but that small trial was not reported back on at Council. Why was that abandoned when it made the sidewalk clear for pedestrians?
There was no public process. There is also no pedestrian advocate at City Hall, and this report was not signed off by the Planning Department, who have heard over and over again in public meetings about the importance of clear sidewalks for seniors and the vulnerable.
But it’s clear that Council knows there is a problem as they are requiring each resident that plugs in across the sidewalk to carry two million dollars liability. What this also means is that residents will be protecting their own “personal” car parking space in order to charge. The charge they are allowed to use is a level one~it is mind numbingly slow, with an hour’s charge providing only 8 kilometers of distance. Going to a level two or three charger, available in many places in the city makes much more sense. Charging facilities are available at local community centres, parks and other public places.
Those lucky enough to have electric vehicles can get a five dollar annual permit with no muss or fuss. There will be no enforcement of who is charging where. You can expect a free-for-all mess of cords and conduits, and you can expect to hear how problematic the ramps on the sidewalks will be for cane users and for the sight impaired. After a vulnerable sidewalk user has a bad fall it will be no surprise when an official complaint goes forward to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
This policy is a really sad indication of current Council priorities.
Image: byTerri Brandmueller in Mount Pleasant