Wheelchair challenge tests safety of crosswalks

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Seven crosswalks evaluated on Sept. 19

Some residents believe it’s unsafe to cross certain crosswalks in Olds — especially for those in wheelchairs or those pushing strollers — because there isn’t enough time and traffic is too busy.

So they’re testing that theory with the Wheelchair Challenge next Wednesday, Sept. 19.

On that day, starting at 10 a.m., teams consisting of people in wheelchairs or strollers and those pushing them will cross various crosswalks in town to see how long it takes to do so, and how safe they are as traffic stops — or zooms by.

The event is being organized by the Age Friendly Initiative Committee (AFIC), a subcommittee of the Community Lifestyles Committee.

AFIC chair Erica Sweetman says concern about those crosswalks was raised by several people who responded to a survey about how “age friendly” Olds is.

“As a result of some comments that were made in the survey, we found a need for easier transition across the streets,” Sweetman says.

“People don’t feel safe crossing. They’re feeling vulnerable in a wheelchair or walker,” says Rita Thompson, who co-chairs the Community Lifestyles Committee with Bernice Lynn.

Sweetman says in other communities, she’s seen different types of overhead lights used at pedestrian-activated crossings which seem to make crossings safer. She says many feature “more bright and strobe-type lighting.”

Thompson says the time allowed for people to cross those intersections also seems to be longer than in Olds.

Plans call for seven crosswalks to be tested — mostly along Highway 27.

“We’re going to test the ease of transit by pushing a wheelchair across in the designated time allowed,” Sweetman says.

Organizers have invited several citizens — including some elected officials — to participate in the challenge. Some will be in wheelchairs. Volunteers will push them across the crosswalks.

In addition, some town officials are expected to be on hand to observe the challenge.

“We’ve had really good co-operation with the town,” Sweetman says. “The town wants that information too, so they can make improvements where they need to.”

Afterward, the teams will relay their experiences and those findings will eventually be shared with the community.

Sweetman and Thompson say the issue is of special concern in Olds because it has a  larger percentage of seniors than some other towns, as well as several organizations that look after people with special needs who may need assistance using crosswalks.

“The point is that the traffic on Highway 27 is dire, depending on the length of your vehicle. It could be a (big) logging truck, and if you haven’t crossed the crosswalk, and traffic in that inside lane is stopped, what’s to stop the outside lane from moving? Because he doesn’t see you. All those issues,” Sweetman says.

“Is it actually the concrete or is it actually the timing or is it actually that the lights don’t flash? There are so many variables to each crossing.”

Thompson says it’s all part of a need to design communities to accommodate all residents of all ages and abilities.

“The phrase is ‘design for the old and you include the young; design for the young and you exclude the old,'” she says. “If you only design for the able-bodied youth, then you exclude a large percentage of the population.”

Sweetman says there’s no backup plan if it’s raining — or even snowing that day.

“I guess if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen,” she says.

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Doug Collie

Doug Collie joined the Olds Albertan in 2014 as editor. He covers municipal politics, news, community events, arts and entertainment and sports happening in and around Bowden and Olds.