Ruling on B.C. bus stops reflects cities' 'terrible' track record on accessibility, plaintiff says

·4 min read

A human rights ruling that found Victoria's so-called "floating" bus stops discriminate against blind people could have implications for other B.C. cities that use similar designs.

Last week, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal upheld a complaint filed by Oriano Belusic, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of the Blind, about bus stops that require transit riders to cross a protected bike lane to catch their bus.

Belusic argued the stops, located along Pandora Avenue and Wharf Street, are dangerous for blind and vision-impaired bus riders, who often can't hear the sound of oncoming bicycles over the traffic noise.

He told CBC the design of these floating bus stops make it clear city staff weren't taking the needs of people with disabilities into account.

"The evidence shows that they are terrible at it," Belusic said. "There's a real pro-cycling and healthy living agenda at the moment, and we're all for it — blind folks believe in cycling as a healthy way of living — but it shouldn't be at the expense of somebody's safety and the ability to use public transit."

Bill Eisenhauer, Victoria's head of engagement, points out that the tribunal found the city acted in good faith when the bus stops were installed, and said staff have been working on solutions to make them more accessible.

"We had heard early on in our ongoing work with accessibility groups that they just were not meeting their needs, that there were challenges for blind people to get across," he said.

The human rights tribunal has yet to determine a remedy for the discrimination against blind transit riders in Victoria, but says the recent installation of a pedestrian-activated audible flashing yellow light at the Wharf Street stop was an acceptable solution.

But this isn't just a Victoria issue. According to Eisenhauer, the bus stops are based on international design standards, which could mean plenty of other cities will have to make similar changes.

"These floating bus stops and the design for them are in many cities in Canada and right across North America, including Victoria, Saanich … Vancouver, Ottawa and many others across the country," he said.

In fact, Vancouver has about 15 of these floating bus stops beside protected bike lanes, according to a city spokesperson.

'We thought we had the answers'

Director of transportation Paul Storer said his team is looking into the Victoria decision to determine how it applies to Vancouver.

He admits that when the first one was installed in 2012 next to the Dunsmuir Street bike lane, potential problems for people with disabilities weren't really a consideration.

"We hadn't really thought a lot at that point about the accessibility issues," Storer told CBC.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

He said that in the last five years, planners have realized many other recent innovations designed to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe — things like raised crosswalks and protected intersections — have only created new challenges for some people with disabilities.

"Maybe a decade ago, we thought we had the answers. We had a little tool kit and we applied it," Storer said.

"[But] designing something for someone who has mobility issues and someone who might have hearing loss and someone who has autism, it takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of consideration to work with those communities."

He acknowledges that Vancouver has a lot of work to do when it comes to making streets and sidewalks accessible, and city staff are continually learning from the experiences of members of its advisory committees for people with disabilities and seniors.

"If we can design for people with a wide range of disabilities, we are designing for everyone," Storer said.

'Cyclists have the vision to cope'

In Victoria, Eisenhauer said there are no immediate plans to install more floating bus stops, but the city plans to bring in pedestrian-activated flashing lights on Pandora Avenue similar to what's in place on Wharf Street.

He said educating cyclists about the importance of stopping for pedestrians will also be key.

But Belusic isn't satisfied with Victoria's solution, explaining that a flashing light doesn't guarantee cyclists will stop.

"A friend of mine has had his white cane mangled and destroyed, actually, on the Wharf Street bus stop, which is where they have the horrible flashing lights," he said.

Blind people and those with vision impairments can't drive cars or cycle, so access to public transit is essential, Belusic said. He'd like to see the bus stops moved back onto the sidewalk, and the bike lanes placed beside vehicle traffic.

"The only thing that would mean is that the cyclists are slightly inconvenienced while the bus is picking up and dropping off passengers — but cyclists have the vision to cope and deal with that," he said.