February 22, 2021

The Number One Fear On Sidewalks & Why Vancouver City Council Doesn’t Care

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



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  1. In Vancouver there is a charging desert in a large portion of the city north of Broadway from Main Street to Renfrew. An issue with the free charging stations is that there are charger squatters that treat them as their private charger. A graduated fee needs to be placed on these chargers. First 2 to 4 hours free then a high fee beyond that time period to discourage charger squatters.

    Fortunately we have been lucky in this region, with few protesters parking their diesel trucks in front of charging spots.

  2. I agree with the sentiment of this article, but must point out I am nor surprised Council has ignored the dangers of sidewalk trip and fall. In general, sidewalks around the city are is terrible disrepair and I know from personal experience that city staff only (maybe) respond to heaving concrete when they are sued by someone who has fallen—and then the repair is only to the exact spot where the fall occurred, even if there is more disrepair just a few meters away.

    This is just another example of city council and staff prioritizing aspirational goals over the practical repair and renewal that should be the essence of what they do.

  3. The cords are just the lastest FU by the city to pedestrians.

    Ever notice how every single driveway turns the sidewalk into a ramp so that cars can easily at speed drive across it? It creates an uneven walking surface, and on the older ones even a trip hazard based on how they shape the concrete. It’s a pretty sad statement by the city essentially telling pedestrians: “Well yeah, technically this is a sidewalk, but not the next five metres where you’re in car country.”.

  4. Here is from CoV Vision Zero Transportation Safety Plan:
    “In recent years we have taken steps to improve transportation safety. We have made progress but more work is needed as fatalities and serious injuries still occur, and even one fatality is too many. Great strides are being made around the world and more and more public and private agencies are recognizing that zero fatalities is the only acceptable goal for transportation safety.”

    Council’s own Vision Zero Plan says it all about this policy that completely undermines the safety of pedestrians.

    btw…have long carried $5 million in liability insurance for both vehicles and property…good luck CoV taxpayers when this policy goes terribly wrong, costing lives and further drives lack of affordability in CoV property taxes.

  5. I’ll worry about this when every neighbourhood at least has sidewalks- of any kind, in any shape – on both sides of the street.

    And when every intersection and lane entrance has curb cuts.

    Curbs are far more of an issue than these wires.

    1. Peter,
      with due respect, ICBC recently settled +$9 million catastrophic injury case.

      So when someone in our society that deserves a positive action of civil protection such as the disabled, seniors, or children, who then unfortunately trips over a CoV sanctioned sidewalk obstacle, falls into the street, and is hit by a passing semi, will you be OK with your property taxes going way up? ICBC will have every right to come knocking at COV Council for the excess over the required $2 mil. insurance, and after taking the offending property, if the combination is insufficient to cover such a massive settlement. And the new ICBC no-fault insurance system does NOT prevent lawsuits in the event of such catastrophic injury, especially if purposeful hazard / negligence can be demonstrated.

      While I agree with you that all kinds of transportation safety improvements are needed, let’s NOT diminish the risk which frankly (and these are NOT my words) accordingly to CoV’s own Vision Zero policy, even ONE more transportation related fatality is TOO MANY.

  6. Not all council didn’t care…
    I was not available for the final vote on this as I was called away on a Minsterial meeting on behalf of UBCM, though I wish I had been able to register my opposition to this particular recommendation.

    Despite my support for the Climate Emergencey Action Plan, this particular recommendation fell short in its consideration for active transportation and “vulnerable” sidewalk users. We know from other jurisdicitons where block heaters are common, cords are safely strung over sidewalks by a minimum 8′ clearance. More germane to our local context, where so many pleasantly maintained boulevards are irrigated by (unpermitted and illegal) but ubiquitous and easy-to-install service conduits; seems a simpler solution exists right under our noses (or sidewalks as the case may be). I was hoping to send this back with direction to staff for a consideration of this option – and curious to float a trail baloon here for a future member motion on same

  7. I’ve never been as disappointed with City Council as I am on this one. Having an elderly mother who 100% relies on her wheelchair to be independently mobile, the unanimous passing of this motion by Council really punches in the gut. It’s just another barrier added to the long list that exist obstructing free and clear use of sidewalks for frail seniors and those who have disabilities. It is not only about future insurance claims , it is also about the immediate and direct costs to the healthcare system when a fall occurs. There is also an unmeasured social cost: social isolation and lack of meaningful participation in society. When my mother encounters a sidewalk that is blocked by a sandwich board, or a garbage can, or a construction sign and she cannot navigate around it without putting herself in harm’s way, her only option, most times, is to turn around and go back home. These are deeply troubling instances that make my mother feel that she is not important to this City, that her participation doesn’t matter. It breaks her heart – and it breaks mine too. I don’t dare tell my mother about this new barrier that was passed unanimously by Council. I can’t bare to see the disappointment in her face because I know it will make her feel yet again, that she does not belong in this City 🙁

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