Times Colonist

Tri­bunal pon­ders bike-lane bias against blind

- ROX­ANNE EGAN-EL­LIOTT Bicycles · Outdoor Hobbies · Hobbies · Victoria City · British Columbia

A hu­man rights tri­bunal hear­ing started Mon­day to de­ter­mine whether the City of Vic­to­ria and B.C. Transit have dis­crim­i­nated against blind pedes­tri­ans by mov­ing some bus stops away from the curb to ac­com­mo­date bike lanes.

The hu­man rights com­plaint claims the city and transit agency are dis­crim­i­nat­ing against peo­ple with im­paired vi­sion be­cause five bus stops on Pan­dora be­tween Cook and Store streets were moved from the curb to an is­land that is sep­a­rated from the side­walk by a two-way pro­tected bike lane. Pedes­tri­ans have to cross the bike lanes to reach the “float­ing” transit stops.

While the city is re­spon­si­ble for the street’s de­sign, the com­plaint ar­gues B.C. Transit is fail­ing to pro­vide safe pub­lic bus ser­vice to peo­ple who are blind, be­cause it doesn’t pro­vide as­sis­tance to safely cross the bike lanes.

Ori­ano Belu­sic, who is named as a com­plainant on be­half of the Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of the Blind, likened cross­ing the bike lanes to “play­ing Russian roulette.”

He said he’s had a close call with a cy­clist and knows of many more, in­clud­ing in­ci­dents in which blind pedes­tri­ans’ canes have been “man­gled” by bikes.

“Blind peo­ple have no way of safely cross­ing the bike lane. They don’t know when the bikes are com­ing. They can’t tell when bikes are com­ing,” he said.

The city main­tains that the Pan­dora Av­enue bike lanes, which were in­stalled in 2017, “meet or ex­ceed all ap­pli­ca­ble de­sign stan­dards and are con­sis­tent with best prac­tices for these types of in­stal­la­tions around the world,” said spokesman Bill Eisen­hauer.

“Road de­sign in­volves bal­anc­ing many com­pet­ing in­ter­ests to min­i­mize risks to all users. The city is com­mit­ted to safety and con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment of all our in­fra­struc­ture. We are al­ways will­ing to look at the safety of our streets and to take steps to make changes where nec­es­sary and ap­pro­pri­ate.”

A B.C. Transit spokesper­son said by email the agency is aware of the com­plaint and is co-op­er­at­ing with the pro­ceed­ings, but can­not com­ment on the ac­tive hu­man rights com­plaint process.

Both B.C. Transit and the City of Vic­to­ria ap­plied to have the com­plaint dis­missed.

The tri­bunal in May de­nied an ap­pli­ca­tion by B.C. Transit to dis­miss the com­plaint on the grounds that it had no chance of suc­ceed­ing.

At is­sue, tri­bunal mem­ber Norman Trerise wrote in the de­ci­sion, is “whether the Class has ex­pe­ri­enced an ad­verse im­pact from Transit’s ser­vice of the Float­ing Stops.”

He noted that there is a marked cross­walk for pedes­tri­ans to cross the bike lanes, and the ma­jor­ity of cy­clists slow down sig­nif­i­cantly for peo­ple wait­ing to cross. How­ever, he wrote, videos show “a sub­stan­tial mi­nor­ity” of cy­clists do not slow down enough be­fore the cross­walk in or­der to stop for some­one to cross.

“It seems un­likely that [a blind per­son] could re­li­ably de­ter­mine when it is safe to step into the cross­walk as a cy­clist ap­proaches — as­sum­ing that they would even know that a cy­clist was ap­proach­ing,” Trerise wrote.

He said the sit­u­a­tion ef­fec­tively pre­vents ac­cess to the bus stops for peo­ple who are vis­ually im­paired.

“As a re­sult, they are de­nied bus ser­vice along the rel­e­vant length of Pan­dora Street.”

In July, the city at­tempted to have the com­plaint dis­missed based on Belu­sic’s re­fusal of what it called a rea­son­able set­tle­ment of­fer that de­tailed its in­ten­tion to make the cross­ing safer by adding flash­ing lights, a pedes­trian push button and a flex­i­ble post be­tween bike lanes at the cross­walk to slow down cy­clists.

Trerise found that the set­tle­ment did not meet the tri­bunal’s re­quire­ments be­cause it didn’t in­clude mon­e­tary com­pen­sa­tion. In deny­ing the ap­pli­ca­tion, he wrote the is­sues raised in the com­plaint “are, in my view, im­por­tant to so­ci­ety as a whole.”

The hear­ing is sched­uled to take place over three weeks from now to Aug. 28.

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