Some members of the visually impaired community say they are afraid to use the crosswalks at bike lanes when trying to get to a bus stop. Nicole Crescenzi/VICTORIA NEWS

Blind community says bike lanes put their lives at risk

Visually impaired Victorians say their safety is in the hands of oncoming cyclists

Members of Victoria’s visually-impaired community have safety concerns about the Pandora bike lanes.

The biggest problem surrounds the bus stops along Pandora Avenue, which are stationed on medians on the roadway side of the bike lanes. While raised crosswalks are in place, people with visual impairment find it difficult to know when it’s safe to cross the lanes to the bus stop, without assistance.

“I was standing on the bus stop island, waiting and waiting and thought ‘OK, it must be alright to go,’ and I stepped out and a bike passed right in front of me,” recalled Linda Bartram. “I don’t hear the bikes until they’re literally in front of me.”

Bartram, who is visually impaired, chairs the City of Victoria’s Accessibility Working Group, a collection of volunteers who help guide City policy as a way to make services, infrastructure and facilities more accessible.

RELATED: Fort Street bike lanes officially open in Victoria

Her experience on Pandora was part of a demonstration to Brad Dellebuur, the City’s manager of transporation and infrastructure design. Bartram and a partially sighted friend experimented with crossing in both directions, using both a guide dog and a white cane to test how people would react. With her dog, Bartram said, she waited long enough that she could hear the bus passing.

“If I had actually wanted to catch it, I would have missed it,” she said.

When she used her cane, she eventually heard a cyclist joke that they were “at a standoff,” because he had stopped but didn’t know to tell her to go.

The demonstration happened after the lanes were being constructed, because the working group wasn’t formed until after planning decisions for the lanes had been made.

“We were only asked to comment on the bike lane accessibility to the bus stops, and as a blind person I couldn’t ascertain that it would be in the middle of the road,” she said. “We’ve been told it’s too late to do much about it in terms of changing things; but obviously this group feels something does need to be done.”

Dellebuur realized there was a problem after seeing the demonstration.

“We came to the conclusion that we need to put some additional markings, which we’ve incorporated in Fort Street at mid-block crosswalks,” he said. “It’s just some additional information for cyclists that there is a legal requirement to stop.”

The additional “crossing ahead” signs are intended to warn cyclists that pedestrians may be ahead, and while they were built into the Fort Street design, they have yet to be placed on Pandora Avenue.

Bartram said the additional signage would help, but that an ideal solution would be some kind of auditory signal that could be heard by the visually impaired.

WATCH: City approves Wharf, Humboldt Street bike lanes

The difficulty spurred the Canadian Federation of the Blind to come forward with a complaint against the City with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. Oriano Belusic, vice-president of the federation, said the City’s actions have put blind peoples’ lives in danger.

“It’s like playing Russian roulette,” he said. “Without eye contact, you really don’t know if you’re gonna get whacked by a bike.”

Belusic said a visually impaired friend has had his cane run over several times, and added that he has personally encountered many near-misses. “If you have a close-call experience with a guide dog, it could easily ruin their confidence to work, if they survive.”

In its claim, the Federation is asking the City to rip out the floating bus stop islands and allow buses to pick up riders from the safety of the sidewalk, noting that more signage is not enough.

“In order for it to be safe, both parties need to be active in that safety,” Belusic said. “If I put my safety solely in the cyclist’s hands, that’s not good enough, it puts my life and my dog’s life at risk.”

RELATED: Lessons learned: City reflects on bike lane construction

Dellebuur couldn’t comment specifically on the case, but said the City is open minded.

“We’re always open to further design changes and refinements,” he said. “We’re happy to sit down and talk to everyone. We all want the same thing: safe, functional, enjoyable use of public space.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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