Road shoulder for hooves not wheels

Kevin Priebe says district’s road improvements along 132nd Avenue shut out wheelchairs and cyclists. - Colleen Flanagan/The News
Kevin Priebe says district’s road improvements along 132nd Avenue shut out wheelchairs and cyclists.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/The News

Maple Ridge sit skier Kevin Priebe just won two medals in the BC Winter Games, and now he’s going to take on district hall.

In building new paths along 132nd Avenue, the District of Maple Ridge has forgotten to plan for people in wheelchairs, says Priebe.

For three years he has been on the district’s municipal advisory committee on accessibility. He has both life experience and has been gaining formal expertise in municipal planning for wheelchair access. He also lives  on 132nd Avenue, near the intersection with 224th Street.

Priebe was glad to see the narrow route being widened. When they went for walks, traffic was whizzing past too close to him and his chihuahua-cross named Happy. He has almost been hit.

But they were unhappy to see the district not pave the shoulder, instead using a course gravel surface. Even his burly arms, trained for poling uphill on a cross-country sit ski, had a hard time powering a wheelchair across the rough surface.

“If you get stuck on this stuff, you’ll fall out of your chair,” he said.

“It’s not fun.”

He said the falling hazard is the same for cyclists using narrow-rimmed road bikes. They will be forced to ride on the pavement and share a lane with vehicle traffic.

Worse, the district plans to put up a metre-high fence between the path and the roadway.

Rather than struggle on the gravel, Priebe will mostly be forced to wheel on the street when he takes out his dog, or goes for a ride on his hand bike.

The fence has him “baffled.” It will create narrow lanes on the road, and the path will be only one to-1.5 metres in width – he wonders how he would negotiate meeting a horse or cyclist on that path.

He has learned that the fence is intended to separate riders on horseback from traffic.

“Primarily this is for horses – which is great we have a big horse community here. But horses get shoed, right?”

Priebe said the access committee has been doing good work and he was able to meet with engineering staff to try and find a solution to his complaints about the new project.

He even offered for the bureaucrats to use his wheelchair on the path, but they declined.

Nor will they be taking his advice about what he sees as an unnecessary fence, or access concerns he has about the intersection of 224th Street and 132nd Avenue.

“To sum it up, because I am the only wheelchair user in the neighbourhood, nobody seems to give a damn that my needs are different. By refusing to make the corridor wheelchair friendly they are forcing me and my wheelchair on to the roadway.”

His plan is to take his complaint to a council meeting – before the fence is erected.

Fred Armstrong, the district’s communications manager, said rural roads are not built to the same standards as roads in the urban area.

“I don’t think the intent was to build that to an urban standard.”

He noted that narrowing the road is a traffic calming measure. Residents with the Alouette Valley Association want to turn a stretch of the route into a recreation roadway, and slow area commuters down.

Municipal Engineer David Pollock said the plan was made after staff members had done numerous consultations with area residents.

“We try to involve everybody,” said Pollock.

He noted the path is made from asphalt tailings – ground road surface – and with summer heat and some compacting should become a surface that is rideable for a bike. His early feedback is more non-vehicle traffic along the route, including people with strollers.

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