The City of Victoria will be installing split-rail fencing along sections of the pathway near Dallas Road as part of a one-year pilot project to keep dogs frolicking in the off-leash area away from pedestrians.
In 2015, council directed city staff to explore options that would reduce conflicts from occurring between dogs and pedestrians on the popular waterfront pathway. Last Thursday staff came back to council, recommending split-rail fencing be installed on the north side of the park along Dallas Road, with openings by the parking areas.
This, said Thomas Soulliere, director of parks, recreation and facilities, would encourage dog owners to move towards the street and away from the pathway, where dogs are required to be on a leash. The split-rail fencing can be taken down and put somewhere else throughout the project.
Soulliere also presented two other options — adding off-leash enclosures within the green space (possibly south of Beacon Hill Park or the area between Cook Street and Clover Point) or fencing along the north side of the pedestrian pathway.
The matter was debated at length, with some councillors looking at the long-term picture of the green space, such as designated enclosed areas for off-leash, what the impact would be should a sewage treatment facility end up in the area and how to accommodate cyclists on the narrow walkway.
In an effort to move the matter forward, Mayor Lisa Helps noted council has been having the same discussions for two to three years and needs to do something. Eventually council voted 5-4 in favour of fencing along the walkway, rejecting the staff recommendation.
“We’ve done nothing with this except hear complaints for a long time and now staff are responding we do something,” said Helps. “It might not be the perfect something, but I think it’s something we can try.”
According to city staff, formal complaints about conflicts between dogs and pedestrians along Dallas Road have dropped in recent years. In 2014, there were more than 60 complaints. That number dropped to about 40 last year and 20 in the first six months of 2016.
Coun. Pam Madoff used to regularly receive complaints about unpleasant dog encounters in the off-leash area, but noted they have tapered off because people have simply chosen to go elsewhere.
“They have given up over the years…I’ve heard people who have suffered serious injuries when they were knocked over by dogs and others who are fearful,” said Madoff, adding she’s had a large dog jump on her when passing through the off-leash area on the walkway. “The owners response was ‘he’s so friendly.’ It’s not about dog behaviour, it’s about human behaviour.”
The cost of the pilot project is pegged at $60,000. Soulliere noted it’s also an opportunity for the city to gather more data on how the park is being used in order to form a long-term strategy.
The city is currently looking for input on what taxpayers’ dollars should be spent on over the next decade as part of a new parks master plan. The plan will help guide decisions and investments across the city’s park system for the next 25 years, as well as options for renovation, expansion or replacement of the 45-year-old Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre.
As for the future of the green space along Dallas Road, Coun. Geoff Young said there needs to be a public discussion about recreational cyclists and an enclosed off-leash dog park.
“I think that is a major change that will need some input,” said Young. “It’s a highly valued resource for dog owners. What I believe is that it’s also an area where recreational cyclists will want to have an opportunity….It will be a discussion of some length, which I think should begin fairly soon.”