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Burnaby pedestrian safety not improving: road safety advocates

Delegates call for safer roads for all users, especially people with disabilities, seniors and children

At 11am on Nov. 16, a 70-year-old woman was crossing Hastings Street at the 4300 block when she was struck by a driver in a car and killed. Every day reports come in from all over the Lower Mainland of pedestrians either killed in collisions or seriously injured. While the City of Burnaby has pledged to reduce fatalities and accidents to zero by 2050, community groups say that it is not doing enough to deliver on its targets. 

Vision Zero volunteer Michelle Scarr, right, with a fellow volunteer. Photo: Michelle Scarr

Two weeks ago, Vision Zero volunteer, Michelle Scarr, walked around Burnaby pasting stickers displaying the annual number of crashes at three intersections: Hastings and Willingdon, Hastings and Rosser and Hastings and Madison, which were 41, 22, and 20 crashes respectively. Speaking at the TransLink Mayors’ Council Meeting on Nov. 23, Scarr said that tragically, the day after she put up those stickers, the 70-year-old pedestrian was killed at one of the three intersections. 

“I talked to a couple of locals, a security guard and an elderly lady, both were really supportive, as well as random people on the street, saying wow that’s a lot of crashes,” she told the Beacon. Vision Zero Burnaby is a grassroots group of volunteers attempting to hold the government accountable for its promises and to raise awareness about the importance of safer roads. The stickers were part of their awareness campaign. 

“They’ve been quite attention grabbing. We’re going to keep putting them up until the deaths and injuries stop,” Scarr said. 

Yellow sticker with number of crashes at a Burnaby intersection. Photo: Michelle Scarr

Part of Vision Zero’s campaign is to call on the government to enact policies and infrastructure changes that reduce car speed and the possibility of collisions and to raise awareness “that people will make mistakes and the consequences of mistakes shouldn’t be deadly.” Labels are also important to their campaigns; “We try not to say accidents because these things happen so often that they’re not really accidents; they’re by design,” Scarr added. 

On Nov. 22, two members of another grassroots group spoke at the city’s Transportation Committee meeting. Their presentation was titled, “Safety of Crossing Intersections at Burnaby’s Community Centres.” Ray McDonald and Fraser Hiltz from the Burnaby Walkers’ Caucus are both seniors with visual disabilities. McDonald, 76, told the story of how he lost part of his vision after a stroke in 2011. After several years of recovery, he was able to regain much of his autonomy and independence, only to be struck by a car while crossing the road. The collision left him with a broken hip and concussion, requiring even more time for recovery. He added that Burnaby’s community centres played an important role in his recovery. “I want all Burnaby citizens regardless of their personal challenges to have access to these great resources,” he told the committee. 

Sticker placed at the intersection at Cambie and 19th Avenue. Photo: Michelle Scarr

Hiltz, who has had macular degeneration since his late 30s, spoke next. He and McDonald set out to explore the accessibility of Burnaby community centres.

“Let’s try to get into the facilities that Burnaby has to offer, which are marvelous. As if we were totally blind we tried to access and navigate five facilities/community centres. And we found this extremely challenging,” said Hiltz. “We wonder if there could be a measure that this committee can put forward to have a measure on how this accessibility can be challenging for all people with disabilities.” 

He also mentioned the potential for collisions between cyclists and pedestrians with low vision in cycling lanes. He gave the examples of people who are deaf, surviving stroke, people on the autism spectrum, totally blind, low vision, mobility issues, wheelchair and scooter users. 

“We challenge this committee to put forward to council to do an accessibility audit with persons with lived experiences as part of the audit, so that you can really see how all the disabled groups that I mentioned can access within this audit the community facilities,” Hiltz said. They encouraged the committee to recommend that some or all Burnaby community centres have a “truth test” with people with lived experience that they are planning for. “If you’re doing things for the blind, maybe ask a blind person what do you think about this?” 

The City of Burnaby added Vision Zero to its official transportation plan in 2021, with the first stated goal being “a 100% reduction in traffic fatalities and serious injuries,” by 2050. Scarr is skeptical that the city will achieve its goal. “It’s kind of like those climate targets that are set and then ignored. ‘Oh, we didn’t make it’ and push it down the road.”

“It’s not clear if Burnaby will even hit the 2030 goal of a 20% reduction,” she added.  

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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