Dean Murdock’s position as a councillor makes him prone to fielding questions from Saanich residents about a variety of hot-button issues. The one question that comes up more than all others? “When is my street getting a sidewalk?”
And unless that particular sidewalk is slated to be built that fiscal year, Murdock and his fellow councillors who get similar queries can’t say when it will happen.
“The way (sidewalk) prioritization is done at the moment seems to be ad hoc and conducted on an annual basis. None of that is open to the public to view,” Murdock said. “I think we need to have that exposed a little more to show our residents how those decisions are made.”
The engineering department uses its pedestrian priority improvement plan (PPIP) to evaluate unsafe pedestrian routes in the municipality. But that’s only part of the equation, Murdock said.
The councillor spent the better part of his summer walking sidewalk-less streets in Saanich alongside residents who want improved pedestrian infrastructure.
“There’s a lot of places I found where a sidewalk would dramatically improve the walking environment. We’ve got some very busy streets where there’s little more than a gravel road edge for people to walk on – that includes kids on the way to school and seniors on their way to the bus or the store,” Murdock said.
Murdock points to areas in Royal Oak, around Commonwealth Place and Royal Oak middle school, where kids and families are forced to walk on busy streets like Normandy Road because of an absence of sidewalks.
On Monday, Murdock intends to submit a report asking for support from council to direct staff to develop a more complete sidewalk strategy.
He foresees a sidewalk strategy having three components: “I want to see the inventory of the identified pedestrian improvement areas; I want to see how that assessment is going to be made, using PPIP or another tool; then I want to see some options from staff to help council manage these projects in a prioritized, manageable timeline,” he said.
Saanich engineering says staff use more than just the PPIP to prioritize building and upgrading sidewalks.
“The (PPIP) is never a replacement for the nuances that our staff see in their work every day. We inject good old common sense into (determining priority roads) to make sure everything fits,” Colin Doyle, Saanich’s director of engineering, told the News earlier this summer.
Murdock hopes that decision-making becomes a more public process.
“I don’t have a lot of insight into what informs that process, other than evaluation. We need to explore that and put it in context of all the work that needs to be done,” he said. “And if we continue on this basis, we should be able to tell residents how long until we get to Wilkinson, or how long until we get to Lynnwood.”
For the past 10 years, Saanich has invested a portion of the funds collected through a specific property tax levy – which increases annually – in replacing underground infrastructure, namely aging water and sewer pipes.
Murdock suggests above-ground infrastructure, like sidewalks, could be prioritized and funded in a similar manner.
“That walking environment, that surface infrastructure is equally as important as the pipes that convey water to and from our houses,” he said.
“A number of our neighbourhoods were designed without the pedestrian in mind. … If there isn’t a proper or safe place for people to walk, it doesn’t help build stronger communities. It makes people more reliant on the automobiles.
“Having a safe place to walk enhances community and enhances that community relationship and neighbourhood building.”