West Vancouver council's decision to allow illuminated commercial billboards to be attached to new bus shelters in Ambleside has created serious planning problems and exposed an important public policy issue (New Bus Shelters Squeeze Foot Traffic, Aug. 24, North Shore News).
The shelters are very attractive; however, the addition of a five-foot-wide billboard creates an unacceptable obstruction and hazard on the very narrow sidewalks in Ambleside, especially for seniors and those with disabilities.
The billboards are ugly and simply do not fit. A 10-foot-wide sidewalk is reduced to four feet or less.
Pedestrians are forced to walk toward the curb and vehicular traffic to pass around the shelter. A blind spot is also created for someone waiting within the shelter who may walk directly into an oncoming pedestrian, baby carriage or motorized wheelchair when boarding a bus.
According to the B.C. Accessible Community Bylaws Guide published in 2009, "all outdoor public pedestrian routes shall be designed to ensure the comfort and safety of persons regardless of age or ability," and "all active pedestrian routes required to accommodate persons using mobility aids, walkers, or persons accompanied by a guide dogs, shall be a minimum of 6.5 feet wide."
What's more: "All sidewalks in a public right of way are recommended to be a minimum of six feet wide. . . . In no case shall sidewalks be less than five feet wide where two-way traffic is expected."
The argument will be made that this was allowed because the new bus shelters are provided "free." They are not free.
Precious, limited public sidewalk space is seriously, negatively compromised. Council and staff should have a greater sensitivity and respect for the sidewalk experience and must rethink the approval process involved.
As well, the appropriateness of using public space for commercial advertising on a longterm contract must be seriously questioned. Bus travelers, including children, must now wait captive to large, in-your-face illuminated signs advertising alcohol, lingerie, and casinos.
This is an insult.
The experience of going to shops, restaurants, offices and cultural facilities in the Ambleside town centre is something which should be in the forefront of planning ideals for essential community revitalization. We should have great sidewalks, without obvious flaws in planning and design. The AmblesideNOW initiative is off to a very poor start.
Something must be done immediately to rectify this debacle.
At the very least, the signs should be removed to mitigate hazards which may lead to injury, reducing the liability exposure of the municipality and the sign company.
Thomas Macleod Zimmerman