By: Laura Keil
I love seeing kids playing on the street. I grew up in a time when it was still Sesame Street, not Sesame Park. The other day I saw some kids playing on the road with their bikes – one of the kids was pulling another behind his bike on a sled on the pavement – not the safest thing, but they were busy testing the limits of their bravery and the plastic sled design.
It’s difficult to reconcile kids drawing with chaulk on the road with logging trucks, sled trailers, and delivery vans. It doesn’t make a very good match.
So I was happy to see some kids comfortable using the street that they share with those vehicles. In this town, we are pretty good at sharing the road – I see a lot of courteous behaviour from cars. By no means do I want to suggest that we shouldn’t continue to share the road for everyone’s use. But I see the need for a more accessible walkway.
The Ministry of Community, Sport, and Cultural Development’s Community Recreation Program just announced more than $300,000 in funding towards the Big Foot Trail, a paved loop walking trail, which has a total budget of about half a million. Funding from the Columbia Basin Trust community initiatives program has not yet been announced. Judging by comments at the meeting, it had its share of criticism. I just hope we haven’t lost an opportunity for our town to become more accessible and pedestrian friendly.
I’d like to think that people are critical of the Big Foot Trail because we are so good at sharing the roads – that cars don’t take precedence on the cleared part of the road, but rather seniors on their scooters, kids walking their dog, families getting fresh air – that the shoulder of the roads are always first to be cleared of ice and spread with gravel.
But as good as we are, that isn’t the case. No matter how cars slow and make a wide detour, there is the risk of getting splashed, of slipping on the shoulder of the road if someone comes up quickly behind us – and I don’t think I’m the only one with the nervous tick of checking behind me to make sure a car isn’t creeping up. The Big Foot Trail was originally designed as a way to flow tourists through town – but the current plan isn’t just about a sidewalk or tourists – it’s about safety and fostering an inclusive community that celebrates mobility. It celebrates spontaneous interactions in the outdoors, both in summer and winter. It could become a cross country ski trail or permanent display of children’s art. An example of art on public infrastructure is the Dunster Bridge. This is the positive cousin to graffiti – the positive ownership of public space.
It’s about feeling I belong on the street – that there is a designated space for me to walk. It teaches children our values about the world. If cars always get the right of way, what does that tell them about what they should do? They get the message that driving gets the priority over walking. That probably doesn’t make them feel empowered when they walk to school each day – rather that they are invading someone else’s space – someone much larger, faster, more powerful, and less friendly as the driver steers through a nearby puddle.
Transportation is a democratic issue, not just an infrastructural one.
What are we saying to people when we only have a designated space for cars? When the only road maintenance is in the middle of the road and nothing is gravelled for pedestrians along the main routes?
Has a car ever gone around you while you’re walking or biking? Most often you get a cloud of dust in the face because of them swerving into the center of the road. I’ve seen kids wipe out on their bikes in front of my house because of the excess gravel that’s never cleaned off the shoulder of the road.
Let’s not forget the reluctance of tourists to flow through town and over to Main Street. Half the tourists stop at the RCMP station, the other half at the train tracks. Are they more likely to continue walking because of a sign that says “shopping/museum” or because of a lovely paved path with interpretive signs and the feeling that they belong on that route?
Of course it’s not every street that will have this path – but it’s a ring road that will connect all parts of town within a few blocks.
Some may say that it’s too much money to build a separate route. After all, how many pedestrians really use the streets anyway? You could argue the same thing about ramps on buildings or sloped sidewalks for mobile chairs. Going that extra mile for those who can’t or choose not to drive is a statement to our attitude about inclusivity and the safety of children and the elderly.
I hope we haven’t lost this opportunity to fund a maintained walking trail. It would be a great addition in a town where we should pay attention to the mountain views – not the cars.