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Kelowna's not listening to blind Kelowna woman's concerns about bus stop

Reprinted from infonews.ca


Mary Ellen Gabias is blind but she’s trying to help people see that a Kelowna bus stop designed to share space with a bike lane is a clear hazard.


She exits the bus at Sutherland Avenue at Ethel Street and the danger becomes clear. She steps off the bus onto a sidewalk but it’s not a sidewalk, it’s an island. To reach the sidewalk she has to make her way across a bike lane before she reaches the actual sidewalk.


She can’t hear bicycles going by and worries she or other blind people could be injured or injure a bicyclist just trying to cross the bike lane.


“I have lived in Kelowna for 34 years… and have taken busses throughout my time in Kelowna and these bike lanes are a new wrinkle that has made something that was simple a little more complex and a little less safe,” she says. “If you don’t know this is a different set up… before you know it you’re in the middle of a bike lane. If you know there’s a bike lane here and you walk across the crosswalk, you don’t know if there are any bikes coming.”

A crosswalk goes across the bike lane, but during our interview, not one cyclist stopped there. She insists she is not against bike lanes.


“We’ve done a good thing in eliminating dangers between bicycles and automobiles but we created dangers between bicycles and pedestrians,” she says.


Gabias has been an advocate for people with disabilities, specifically as president of the Canadian Federation for the Blind, for many years. She says she was active when this design was implemented in Victoria in 2018. The Federation took the province to the Human Rights Tribunal which called the design “daunting” for the blind and ordered some mitigating infrastructure be used.


“The City of Kelowna was fully aware of the Victoria case before they installed the Ethel and Sutherland bike lane,” she told iNFONews.ca. “Only after the lanes had been built were citizens with disabilities asked to participate in ‘consultation.’"


Gabias was indeed consulted and was brought in to ‘listen’ to the new design. City engineers thought they mitigated the problem by using modifications on the pavement that would be audible when bikes pass over it. A city staffer rode a bicycle on the bike lane to determine whether it could be heard. I asked the engineer when the cyclist would be passing; he had ridden in front of me four times. “I never heard him,” she says.


All they need to do is remove the curbing so the bus can reach the sidewalk in the bike lane. She says that would mean minimum disruption of bike lanes only when buses are picking up or dropping off.


“I'm not the only blind person in Kelowna. Blind people range in their confidence in moving around from very timid to absolutely fearless. If there’s something I don’t trust, I tend to avoid it. I don’t want to have more and more places where I feel unsafe and need to feel like I should avoid them.”


Now she’s concerned the bus stop design will persist and since November, she’s not gotten much communication from the city. To illustrate how important the city views the issue, numerous attempts by iNFOnews.ca over more than two weeks to get a response from the City of Kelowna have also been ignored.


“How does a member of a tiny group like the blind get noticed when powerful interests would rather this issue be ignored?” she says. “They don’t make it easy to be a citizen.”


ALT IMAGE TEXT: Photo of Gabias at a crosswalk.

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