Category Archives: advocacy

Why Walkable Communities Must Include Green Space

As the population in the CRD increases, every mayor in a municipality with a commercial centre talks about housing densification to help create a community where residents can live, work and shop without commuting. Green space, essential for health and quality of life, frequently gets squeezed out of the planning.
Look at downtown Victoria. One high-rise after another has gone up, replacing increased suburban sprawl with vertical sprawl. What was once known as the city of gardens is turning into a city of canyons where, on some streets, sunlight seldom reaches the ground. Unless you consider green space to be a shrub in a pot on the sidewalk in front of a condominium complex, you will need to walk to the playground by the Court House, or to Beacon Hill Park, if you want to find a spot to sit down on a bench  without having to buy a cup of coffee for the privilege. While shopping, coffee shops, restaurants, banks and the Royal and  McPherson Theatres are close by, nature is not. Where’s the green space?
A growing amount of research indicates that people who have regular contact with nature are happier, mentally and physically healthier, and more likely to value environmental sustainability. Densification of housing needs to be planned in an environment that includes access to nature. A truly walkable urban community includes a number of small parks with benches, trees, and a children’s playground. Urban green space provides a necessary place where people  find solace in the city.  While residential “Walk Scores” posted by realtors focus on access to commercial and service amenities, walkable neighbourhoods must include space where birds and insects can thrive and people of all ages can experience nature within five to ten minutes walking distance from their homes.

Redfern Park is an example of a neighbourhood park in a Victoria neighbourhood. It includes picnic tables, a children’s playground, a little free library, a small dog park and many beautiful, mature trees. Bigger than a pocket park, Redfern Park is located between Boucher and Leighton streets on Redfern.
Interestingly, older residential neighbourhoods, including parts of Fairfield, James Bay, the Hillside/Finlayson area, parts of Oak Bay, Saanich and Esquimalt include neighbourhood parks that encompass a good size piece of property where, by today’s standards, numerous single family homes (or a sizeable apartment/condo complex) could be constructed. It’s the developers of more recently constructed housing complexes, and the municipal Councils who approve their developments, who have deemed park space too expensive, an extravagance that their communities can’t afford. The exception is affluent suburbs, where, even though residents own single family homes on sizeable pieces of  property, additional space has been set aside for parks. An example is the lovely Emily Carr Park in the Broadmead area of Saanich.
Agamemnon and Elena Kasapi Park is located at the corner of Leighton and Bank Street in Victoria. This pocket park, set in a Garry Oak Meadow, has several benches and bark pathways through the park. The wayfinding sign at the corner of Bank Street and Leighton indicates the direction to Royal Jubilee Hospital, Oak Bay Village and other neighbourhood amenities.
And what is the true cost of deleting nature from our urban core? Desirable neighbourhoods, the places where people wish they could live, cities designated as beautiful, are never bereft of nature. No one should need to be affluent in order to have green space in their environment. A good example of a popular urban park in Saanich is Rutledge Park, located in the Cloverdale area where numerous people live in apartments and condos surrounding the park. Another example is the very well used Kings Park near the Royal Jubilee Hospital, where former hydro land will hopefully be saved in entirety to preserve the only neighbourhood park in that part of the city.
Downtown Victoria could use a park on the Capital Iron side of town and another on the site of a car dealership closer to the centre of town when the land is available. It’s not too late for Victoria, and other urban municipalities, to set land aside and build new parks as a priority in their plans for urban densification. Our urban communities need to be built with beauty and nature top of mind. For today and for the future, people have a right to access nature.

Walk On, Victoria recognizes the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

September 30, 2021 marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day to honour the lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families, and communities. Walk On, Victoria joins others across the country in taking the opportunity to learn and reflect on how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action can be acted on in their own lives.

When you go for your next walk, we encourage you to think about the Indigenous peoples whose traditional territories you are on.  You can use interactive maps like Native Land  and First Peoples’ Map of B.C. to find this information.  After situating yourself, do your research to learn about those Indigenous peoples (there is a wealth of information on the internet), their culture, language, traditions, and political structures.

You may want to do a territorial acknowledgement the next time you go for a walk, whether it is out loud to your walking buddies or as a silent reflection. As you walk, consider how Indigenous peoples might have used this area prior to colonization.

Signs of lək̓ʷəŋən. Carving theme: Four Directions of the Eagle. Lower Causeway of the Inner Harbour.

One walk we suggest is around the Inner Harbour area of Victoria, which is the traditional territory of the lək̓ʷəŋən People, known today as the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations. Around this area, you will find the Signs of lək̓ʷəŋən, which consists of seven unique site markers that designate culturally significant sites to the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. Created in 2008, these markers are bronze castings of original cedar carvings that were conceptualized and carved by Coast Salish artist and master carver, Butch Dick with his son Clarence Dick Jr. The location and description of these markers can be found here:

https://www.songheesnation.ca/community/l-k-ng-n-traditional-territory

https://www.victoria.ca/assets/Departments/Parks~Rec~Culture/Culture/Public~Art/arts-lekwungen-brochure.pdf

The First Peoples’ Map of B.C. also has a section for arts and heritage, including points of interests and Indigenous art with their locations shown on a map. This may be a useful tool to plan your own walk, in honour of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Rock Bay Mural by Darlene Gait and Butch Dick

Mental Health Supports

Former Residential School students can call 1-866-925-4419 for emotional crisis referral services and information on other health supports from the Government of Canada.

Indigenous peoples across Canada can also go to The Hope for Wellness Help Line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for counselling and crisis intervention.

Call the toll-free Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or connect to the online chat.

Walktober Wanderings #5

In spite of a forecast for a wet and grey Walktober Friday, Saturday turned out to be sunny – just perfect for wandering through some of the parks and along several of the scenic trails in Saanich.  By starting and finishing at Copley Park, it is easy to plot a long, oval route that goes through, past or along Panama Hill Park and Panama Flats, Hyacinth Park, the Colquitz River Trail, the back of the Canadian Forestry Research Centre, the Galloping Goose Trail, Swan Creek Park and Brydon Park.
Saanich has added some new marked pedestrian crossings, wider concrete sidewalks and blacktopped trail entry points in this area, all of which make walking here a safer and more enjoyable experience.
This particular Saturday saw lots of people out walking and cycling.   Families were using many of the small park playgrounds.  Friends sat on benches to chat.  And lots of well-behaved, leashed dogs were out walking their humans.
The wide gravel path through Panama Flats is perfect for physical distancing and still allows lots of room for cyclists to pass.
The Colquitz River Trail can be accessed from multiple points in Saanich.  Features include well-groomed paths, many footbridges, lush riverine vegetation and a signed salmon habitat restoration project.
Notes and photos by Britta Gundersen-Bryden

Walktober Wanderings #4: Fogtober

There is more than one name for this, the tenth month of the year.  Of course, “Walktober” suits this span of 31 days very well but it is also a month when “Fogtober” is also appropriate.  And when the fog rolls in, what better place to walk than the Ogden Point breakwater?

Actually, the breakwater is a perfect place to walk any time of the year – and in any weather.  And now that the Dallas Road multi-use path is (almost) finished, more people will be able to access this prime walking spot.  The new crosswalks, signage and accessible parking spaces send two clear messages: “all are welcome”  and “let’s share this wonderful renewed place.”
Notes and photos by Britta Gundersen-Bryden

Is maintaining the flow of traffic more important than assuring children’s safety?

A tale of two schools

There has been much discussion in Greater Victoria on lowering speed limits over the past few years, which Walk On, Victoria supports. If you have travelled across the the region, you may be confused about the different speed limits in different areas, and the inconsistency of speed limits, even on portions of the same road.  On some roads there are clear signs notifying drivers of the speed limits, but on others, there are no posted signs.  This problem is especially evident when looking at two neighbouring schools: Quadra School and Cloverdale School

Most people are aware that the speed limit in school zones is 30km/h between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. when school is in session. The speed limit is set at 30km/h because this is the speed at which, should a child be struck by a car, the risk of serious or fatal injury is reduced.  Should a driver neglect to slow down, fines for driving over the speed limit in a school zone are higher than those for driving over the speed limit on other roads: $196 for those driving up to 20km/h over the 30km/h speed and $283 for those driving 21km/h or more over the posted school zone speed.

Driving with caution in a school zone is serious business, so you might be surprised to learn that one of the two elementary schools, located just blocks apart on Quadra Street, does not have a posted 30km/h speed limit.

Cloverdale School, located at 3427 Quadra, does not have a 30km/h posted speed limit. Quadra School, located at 3031 Quadra does.

Location of Quadra and Cloverdale Schools (click to enlarge):

 

Quadra School

Quadra School, located in the municipality of Victoria, is fully fenced on both the Finlayson and the Quadra sides of the school. The speed limit on this portion of Quadra is 40km/h when school isn’t in session, and there are 30km/h school zone signs on both Quadra and Finlayson. There is also a traffic calming median with plants at the intersection of Quadra and Finlayson. No cars  are able to park on the school grounds in front of Quadra School, and there is no turn off from Quadra onto the school grounds. Traffic moves slowly in this area during school hours.

The message is clear: Drive slowly and keep children safe.

Proceed a couple of blocks along Quadra, where at Tolmie, motorists cross the municipal border between Victoria and Saanich. On the Saanich portion of Quadra, the speed limit increases to 50km/h. 

Cloverdale School

At 3427 Quadra, where Cloverdale School is located, there is a roadside sign with a picture of children but no speed limit posting of 30km/h. Motorists can drive 50km/h on this portion of Quadra even when school is in session. Furthermore, Cloverdale School is not fully fenced on the Quadra side of the school grounds, and there is a driveway in front of the school allowing motorists to pull off Quadra onto the school grounds. Cloverdale School is located directly next door to the Cloverdale Thrifty Foods Store, and motorists sometimes mistake the school driveway for the Thrifty’s driveway.

If you are a pedestrian who walks in this neighbourhood, you know that the intersection at Cloverdale and Quadra feels dangerous. Drivers are focused on looking for breaks in traffic to make left or right turns or to turn into one of the two gas stations or the stores located at this intersection.

The message is clear: Hang onto your kids. This is not a safe street to walk on.

Walk On, Victoria advocates for consistency in posting 30km/h school zone signs throughout the CRD. 

Walktober Wanderings #3

Walktober is an excellent time to explore Victoria – from southwest to northeast – and back again. Following is a personal account of an urban walk – full of autumn colours.

My jaunt took me across Victoria – twice.  I live in James Bay and had an appointment to keep on Hillside, at the Victoria-Saanich border.  The trek took about ninety minutes each way; going “out” I noticed one handful of tourists in front of the legislative buildings, taking photos, and another small group waiting to board the solitary double-decker bus in front of The Empress. The level of activity reminded me of an early fall morning back in the 1990s, before the Coho docked on its first run of the day and long before legions disembarked from the final cruise ships of the season and overwhelmed downtown.

There was a large circle of like-minded folks engaged in some sort of contemplative gathering in Pioneer Cemetery and many people sipping coffee at numerous Cook Street cafes.

Many of the Haultain curb-side gardens were still in flower; some householders had even put excess produce out for neighbours to take home.

Along Shelbourne, single-family houses, well-past their primes and never candidates for heritage designation, continue to give way to multiplexes and townhouses. Nonetheless, there were pockets of colour along this busy corridor.

On the way “back”, I took residential streets in Oaklands, skirted Jubilee and passed through Fernwood.  I saw freshly-painted fences, new backyard benches and families enjoying playgrounds and the outdoor plaza on Gladstone.

When I finally returned to James Bay I paused to reflect; other than the lack of downtown tourists, the “new normal” isn’t so different from the “old normal” and our city is going to be okay.

Notes and photos by Britta Gundersen-Bryden

Walktober Wanderings #2

October 6

Today was one of those glorious early autumn days:  warm – not hot; breezy –  not windy; fresh – not humid.  I began my trek at the Oak Bay Rec Centre and had a glorious stroll.  Oak Bay, with its heritage homes, manicured lawns, tailored gardens and thick arboreal canopy, was the perfect place to walk. Add in Willows Beach and the marina plus the green of the golf course and the attraction for this walker is obvious.

But there are two hidden gems in Oak Bay that make walking here more than special.  The first is the network of back alleys.  The alleys of Oak Bay are not overwhelmed by trash cans, discarded mattresses or derelict vehicles; they are lined with painted bird houses, twirling whirly-gigs and vegetable gardens (I saw a spaghetti squash just ripe for picking).  Some alleys end in a “T”, giving walkers the choice of turning right or left.  Others are home to artists’ studios, workshops, old-fashioned carriage houses with haylofts up-top or proper garages housing classic cars. Each alley is a jewel on its own; together they form a beaded necklace, wound through Oak Bay.

And the biggest gemstone hanging from that necklace is Anderson Hill.  My favourite approach to Anderson Hill is up an obscured little path leading off Transit Road.  As I climbed up, the path narrowed and squeezed between old, lichen-covered rocks.  I walked through grasses that were pale yellow and dry; the fallen, leaves crackled under foot.  I walked past Garry oaks that have been stunted and twisted from frequent winds. In a few minutes I reached the top and there – before me – was a West Coast panorama of sea and mountains. I took a deep breath and marveled at the wonderful walking adventures we can have here on Southern Vancouver Island.

Notes and photos by Britta Gundersen-Bryden

View from Anderson Hill, looking south.

View from Anderson Hill, looking east.

 

Walktober Wanderings

October – what a wonderful month to wander around Great Victoria!

Oct. 2:  no wind 18C and high-level haze.  The best possible walk place to was the Ogden Point breakwater.

Added bonus #1:  seeing two sea lions heading toward Clover Point and one heron floating on a kelp bed.

Added Bonus #2:  the Dallas Road multi-use path is almost finished – and pedestrians are already enjoying it.

 

It’s time to make Shelbourne Street safer for pedestrians and cyclists

We’ve partnered with the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition to call for improvements to Shelbourne Street in Saanich during the Covid-19 pandemic. You can read our full press release below.

Walk On, Victoria (Greater Victoria’s pedestrian advocacy organization) and the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition (GVCC) are calling on the District of Saanich to use suitable barriers (bollards, traffic cones, etc.) to temporarily create wider sidewalk space and protected bike lanes along Shelbourne Street. The idea is that this pattern will then become permanent when construction on the Shelbourne Street Improvements Project is completed by 2023.

Planning for Shelbourne had been ongoing for over 10 years, during which time public interest and support for Active Transportation has steadily increased. The Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in significant changes in peoples’ work, school and recreation behaviours, has furthered public interest in finding ways to be active, get outdoors and use walking and cycling as a means of transportation.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have faced a lifestyle change,” says Amanda Macdonald, Chair of Walk On, Victoria, “there is now the opportunity to re-evaluate our streets and public spaces to implement measures for health and safety and to facilitate active transportation.”

The rationale for making these changes on Shelbourne street now is:

  • Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in people working from home and most on-campus courses at the University of Victoria and Camosun College have been suspended until at least January 2021. These work and education changes mean that traffic volume on Shelbourne is reduced because fewer people are driving to get to work and school.
  • A lot of people say they like the decrease in auto traffic that has occurred due to Covid-19. Public awareness about the urgent need to protect the environment has increased, and more people are choosing to walk and bike for exercise and as a means of transportation.
  • If our proposal is implemented now, the bike lanes and widened sidewalks that are temporarily created will give people an opportunity to increase travel on foot and by bike while it is summer, days are long, the weather is good, and people of all ages want to get outdoors. Families who want to introduce their children to cycling for transportation will have a safe, protected bike lane to use. Automobile drivers will get used to the new street configuration while fewer cars are on the road. The timing is perfect.
  • Additional sidewalk space and the separation of pedestrians from automobile traffic will make walking safer for everyone. Approximately 22% of residents in the Shelbourne Valley are older adults, some of whom no longer drive and rely on walking as their main mode of transportation. This is especially the case for older people living in shared residences on Cedar Hill X-Road, Church Street and at Berwick House and the Kensington. Older people are at greatest risk if they contract Covid-19, and wider sidewalks will allow for more social distancing. This is a measure Saanich can take to protect its most vulnerable citizens.

“Saanich has declared a climate emergency”, says Macdonald, “this proposal will keep with Saanich’s goals to reduce greenhouse gases and be a jump start toward already established environmental targets.”

Shelbourne has many pedestrians and cyclists who have endured unsafe, noisy, polluted transportation conditions for decades. A positive change that can come from the pandemic should be a healthier travel environment on this heavily travelled street.

Winter weather & multimodal transportation

By Britta Gunderson-Bryden

Avid walkers are sure to welcome the weather forecast, predicting a sunny and warm weekend ahead.  Winter has been long and cold–at least by Victoria standards.  Although many pedestrians did brave the Arctic winds and icy sidewalks, there aren’t many who would say that walking was pleasant, or even especially safe, during the worst weeks of February.  

However, the long stretch of snowy days did bring home an important fact;  most pedestrians rely on other modes of transportation from time to time, just as those who rely primarily on other forms of transportation are usually pedestrians at various points in their day. From personal perspective, our hometown heroes during those snowy, blowy winter days were our BC Transit drivers. By walking a few blocks, rather than my customary few kilometres, I was able to catch a bus and be taken safely  to places I needed to go.  At bus stops, drivers tried to position bus doors so passengers didn’t have to step off into snowbanks.  When the roads became slushy, they slowed down so pedestrians and waiting passengers didn’t get splashed.  They were patient with people who don’t usually take the bus, explaining how to get from A to B and how a day pass may be the best option for the passenger’s travels.  I took more than forty buses over a two week period;  all but one “out of service” driver, waiting to begin their routes, let people on the buses so they could sit, out of the cold.

I realize that I am fortunate to live in a part of Greater Victoria that is well-served by BC Transit and that not everyone may have had my positive experience.  Either way, those of us who use foot-power as our primary means of transportation have a stake in advocating for better and more accessible public transit.

Britta is on the Walk On steering committee. She walks both for transportation and for recreation with local Volkssport walking clubs. When not walking, she can be found working on a novel or travelling to far-flung locales.