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West Vancouver ditches plan for sidewalk at elementary school

Work to replace a gravel shoulder near Irwin Park Elementary was halted after nearby residents expressed concerns
The safety of Irwin Park students would be inevitably improved by having a sidewalk along Kings Avenue, says Jatinder Sidhu, transit and safety representative for West Vancouver District parent advisory council. | Paul McGrath / North Shore News

If it ain’t broke, don’t pave it.

That was the sentiment expressed at West Vancouver municipal hall last week (Sept. 11), when council voted unanimously to scrap a project to build a sidewalk on the north side of Irwin Park Elementary.

The decision followed an uproar from residents in the area, who argued that the existing gravel shoulder on the street provided sufficient safety for students and other road users.

One member of a local parent advisory council lamented the decision, saying that council should trust the work done by the municipal staff members who recommended the upgrade over anecdotal complaints from the public.

Previously, staff had approved construction of the infrastructure, following a priority assessment based on traffic congestion, active transportation and school safety goals outlined by the district.

Kings Avenue between 24th Street and 25th Street had received the highest priority rating, according to a 2017 pedestrian network study. A 2022 school safety assessment recommended the same stretch of road as a funding candidate due to a lack of onsite pickup and drop-off options at the school, and the related congestion on Haywood Avenue, which also services a transit layover stop and residential units across the street.

“When we met with the principal for the school, one of the concerns they had was how congested Haywood is,” said Sean O’Sullivan, senior manager of roads and transportation for the district.

“As we walked around the school, we looked at Kings Avenue, and the principal was saying Kings Avenue is very underutilized,” O’Sullivan said. “Because it’s a gravel shoulder, it was not very attractive for parents to pick up and drop off their kids.”

Wide sidewalks around schools are also recommended by B.C.’s active transportation design guide and the Canadian Transportation Agency, he added.

Funding for the sidewalk was approved as part of West Van’s capital program, with $52,000 coming from TransLink’s walking infrastructure to transit initiative.

“Funding from TransLink is specific to this project. So if this project doesn’t go ahead, we lose the funding,” O’Sullivan said.

The total cost of the project is around $300,000, he continued, noting rising construction costs in recent years.

Improving road safety near schools necessary to ensure children’s safety, DPAC member says

Council then heard feedback from several members of the community.

Improving road safety near schools is necessary to ensure children’s safety, said Jatinder Sidhu, traffic and safety representative for West Vancouver District parent advisory council.

“Detailed work has been underway for almost a year now, every single school has been visited,” he said.

At Irwin Park, “three sides of that block have pavement sidewalks, one side does not. That side is used by cars pretty much every day, at pickup and drop-off, its safety would be inevitably improved by having a sidewalk,” Sidhu said.

“Fundamentally, I think you should all ask yourselves, what kind of community do you want to be – one that supports families? One that guarantees children’s safety?” he asked.

But nearby residents who spoke to council said that they didn't believe the road was unsafe in its current form.

The argument that the north section is underused is false, said Sanaz Harland, a resident who lives on the 2400 block of Kings Avenue. “That side is used every single day at pickup and drop-off at max capacity.”

Another resident of the block, Jan Raworth, said kids never walk down that street.

“They come to the school, either from the three sides that have sidewalks, or when they get to the corner of the field, they go in the gates, and they don’t walk down that block,” she said.

Coun. Nora Gambioli, who sits on West Van’s school traffic and safety committee, noted the district has been tackling an extensive list of safety items at local schools.

“I would hate to see that this amount of money – that’s already been agreed to in our budget and supported by all seven of us – be put elsewhere,” she said.

“The school's parents and administrators have been screaming for us to make safety improvements, including sidewalks, ever since I’ve been on council,” Gambioli said, asking staff for clarification that the funds could be used for other school-related projects.

“There’s a number of projects that we can find that we can re-allocate the money to,” O’Sullivan said.

Ultimately, council voted down the project unanimously, with Gambioli stating, “I’m not going to bother voting against it.”

Speaking to the North Shore News, Sidhu said the result is disappointing.

As for dangerous events on the street, “any one of us can say: ‘It never happened. In my experience, my kids were fine.’ That is an anecdote, that is not a basis for policy,” he said.