Even as members of the Oceanside Cycling Coalition met with officials from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure about the narrow walkways on the French Creek bridge Tuesday, they were treated to a real-life situation that illustrated their point.
As coalition spokesperson Jim Swanson talked with transportation engineer Janelle Erwin about the problem, a pedestrian and an elderly man driving a medi-scooter met in the middle of the walkway overhead, forcing the younger pedestrian to scramble up onto the railing to get past.
“We didn’t set this up,” Swanson joked.
The coalition has been pushing for changes to the walkways ever since they received the results of a survey this spring about the challenges facing cyclists in the Oceanside area. The survey showed the narrow walkway was the number one concern of cyclists in the region. Swanson said many cyclists are intimidated by the .91-metre-wide wooden walkway and simply ride across the bridge in traffic.
That fear, he added, has often proven justified, with 10 out of the survey’s 62 respondents reporting sustaining some form of injury on the walkway.
That width, he noted, is well short of the Transportation Association of Canada standard of two metres.
Other problems identified by the group included poorly signed barriers and handrails that are worn and can catch people’s skin when they ride past.
Rather than the current wooden construction, which can get very slippery when wet, Swanson and his group suggested an aluminum structure be used instead. Such a structure would be lighter, allowing it to be wider.
The group’s position was bolstered by Regional District of Nanaimo parks and trails co-ordinator Joan Michel, who stressed the need for action on the bridge that went beyond merely erecting new signs.
“There’s an engineering solution,” she said. “This bridge will last for several more decades before it needs to be replaced, so we need an intermediate solution.”
Erwin said she and her team will discuss the issue with a ministry bridge engineer to see what can be done.
“We need to talk with our bridge engineers and see if the design will accommodate those loads,” she said. “If it can, we need to look at the funding — what is the cost and how can that money be obtained.
She added however that she would like to the new signs put in place even as the engineering report is being prepared.
That didn’t sit well with Michel.
“Before we have new signage I would like to see the engineering report on retrofitting the bridge,” she said. “There’s a congestion issue here, clearly, so let’s get a number. Anything can be done with dollars, so let’s get a number on the table and get this resolved. That gives us the ability to see what we can do.”
Erwin thanked the group for their input and said she would keep in touch with both the coalition and the municipal governments involved.