The provincial government said this week upgrades are expected to be completed this summer to a roadway in French Creek where 80-year-old pedestrian Gwen Chisholm was killed after a hit-and-run tragedy in January.
Chisholm was involved in a movement calling for safer streets in the Morningstar area just months before her death.
She was the third person to a sign a petition ultimately garnering 169 signatures in November of 2015.
The petition read: “There is a most urgent need to improve safety for walkers and bikers in our community with the installation of a proper sidewalk, speed bumps on the road or very visible road markings indicating a slow speed and to watch for pedestrians and bikers.”
This week, the province said “pedestrians and cyclists in the community of French Creek will find improved safety conditions with planned upgrades to Roberton Boulevard between Barclay Crescent and Lowrys Road.”
Chisholm was killed on Roberton Boulevard near Lakes Boulevard, a short distance from her home. Through forensics, police identified the vehicle that struck Chisholm and said the driver wasn’t aware of the incident and he was co-operative with police. No charges were filed against the driver.
The petition Chisholm signed before her death was sent to Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell, Regional District of Nanaimo Director Joe Stanhope and Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) operations manager Johnathan Tillie.
Also sent was a letter, obtained by The NEWS, explaining “the reason for this petition is your lack of concern in providing adequate measures to control the speed of vehicle traffic on the ’S’ curve of Roberton Boulevard… we will most definitely have a serious injury or worse, a fatality.”
Barb Svarich, a resident in the area and president of the Saint Andrews Lane Strata, told The NEWS at the time that message fell on deaf ears.
Svarich said Roberton Boulevard is a winding road with blind spots and no sidewalk, noting there have been a handful of incidents in the past few years related to road safety and speeding vehicles.
However, Oceanside RCMP Cpl. Jesse Foreman said in January of this year that speeding has not been identified by police as an issue on Roberton Boulevard.
“A beloved woman has died because of this,” resident Karen Michalek told The NEWS at the time of the tragedy. “Gwen was so loved in this community… She was such a wonderful neighbour and friend. So warm and friendly. First and foremost, she was a lady. She never had a bad word to say about anyone.”
Chisholm’s death reignited the grief-struck community in the fight for pedestrian safety.
“We are going to fight for changes that will protect all people, all cyclists and even motorists,” strata president Svarich said after Chisholm’s death, adding that she was going to send letters to politicians demanding action.
“I’d like to see a commitment that a sidewalk will be installed. We don’t want to forget. We want to do something and we want to do it for Gwen.”
MLA Stilwell made the announcement about the upgrades this week.
“Safety always has to come first and I am confident these new improvements will ensure residents in and around the Roberton Boulevard area have better protection from traffic,” said Stilwell. “I’m grateful my constituents had confidence in me to deliver on their requests for change and with help from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure staff, the Regional District of Nanaimo, and local RCMP, I’m pleased to say next year, pedestrians and cyclists will be able to further enjoy their neighbourhood with these changes.”
The province said in a news release this week that following consultations with the local government and law enforcement, the transportation ministry “has committed to providing an improved pedestrian facility along Roberton Boulevard through a mixture of off-road trails and the addition of pavement markings to delineate shoulders that will separate pedestrians and cyclists from vehicle traffic. The improvements will also include reconfiguring the Lakes Boulevard intersection, improving pedestrian signs along the corridor, and adding new crosswalks at Morningstar Drive, Lakes Boulevard, and near the existing golf cart crossing. The project budget will be determined once detailed design is completed and these upgrades are expected to be implemented in summer 2017.”