BC Human Rights Tribunal upholds complaint that Victoria bike lanes discriminate against the blind
VICTORIA -- The BC Human Rights Tribunal says a complaint filed against the City of Victoria arguing that bike lanes that separate sidewalks from "floating bus stops" create unsafe conditions for blind pedestrians is justified.
The dispute began in 2018, after the Canadian Federation of the Blind (CFB) submitted a complaint centred around the perceived dangers of crossing the bike lanes to access floating bus stops along Pandora Street, between Cook Street and Store Street, and on Wharf Street.
The CFB said that blind people felt unsafe crossing the marked crosswalk along the bike lane to access the transit stops because they were unable to hear approaching bicycles, which sometimes would not stop for pedestrians.
The federation argued that this safety concern prevented blind people from accessing transit services in the area, and filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal against the municipality and BC Transit.
In a recent ruling, the BC Human Rights Tribunal said that the complaint was justified against the city, but not BC Transit.
The ruling said that the complaint was justified for the Pandora bikeway since its construction up until now, but was only justified for the Wharf Street bikeway from its creation up until the city installed a crosswalk signal that created an audible sound and flashing light, notifying drivers and cyclists that a pedestrian planned to cross.
The human rights tribunal says that the city must now install a similar crosswalk signal at the Pandora Street bikeway near the transit stop. However, the tribunal adds that further safety measures must be taken once they are available.
"I find that the pedestrian-activated audible flashing yellow is a reasonable accommodation of the issue raised by this complaint at this point in time," reads the ruling, released on Friday.
"However, the use of the audible flashing light is not a full answer either. It satisfies the (bona fide reasonable justification) requirements at this point in time, but does not mean the city should not implement technologies that would provide fully guaranteed protection for blind pedestrians if such solutions become available in the future and would not result in undue hardship to the city," the ruling adds.
During the tribunal proceedings, Mary Gabias, president of the Canadian Federation of the Blind, testified that she travelled to Victoria from Kelowna to assess the floating bus stops, at the request of a blind friend.
"She did so on May 3, 2018," reads the ruling. "She had difficulty at that time locating the stop crosswalk. She was frightened and anxious about crossing to the floating stop because she could not hear the cyclists."
"She was required to shout loudly to indicate she was about to cross the stop crosswalk and had no confidence she could be heard or heeded. As a result she felt humiliated and undignified," the ruling reads.
Victoria resident Graeme McCreath offered similar testimony to the tribunal.
In 2018, McCreath told CTV News that he was afraid of using the crosswalk that cuts through the Pandora Street bike lane because he feared a cyclist would ride into him.
As he was speaking with CTV News, two cyclists barreled through the bike lane while he and his guide dog stood at the side of the crosswalk, seemingly waiting to pass.
At the time, a source had told CTV News that the City of Victoria had applied to have the human rights complaint dismissed.
At first, the city said that it was unable to comment on if it requested a dismissal because it was "confidential until the matter proceeds to a hearing."
When CTV News learned from the human rights tribunal that information on a complaint was not confidential, the city offered a new statement.
The municipality instead said it was choosing not to comment, and was not prohibited from commenting on the complaint or if they asked for it to be dismissed.
"We believe the dialogue should be between the parties and not through the media. Therefore, to encourage productive discussions with the [CFB] to review the concerns they have raised and options for improved safety for users of all abilities, we are not able to provide further comment on this matter," said Bill Eisenhauer, Head of Engagement for the City of Victoria in a statement in December 2018.
In its ruling, the tribunal noted that the floating bus stop design was approved by the city in good faith and that the municipality conducted adequate public consultation before the bike lanes were constructed.
The city adds that the floating bus stop design is not unique to Victoria, and that many can be found in cities across Canada, including in Saanich, Vancouver and Ottawa.
“We understand the concerns raised by the Canadian Federation of the Blind,” said Eisenhauer in a statement Friday.
“The city is committed to ensuring the safety of our streets and we have continued to work with all stakeholders, including members of the city’s Accessibility Working Group, to make improvements to the floating bus stops.”