New pedestrian walkways are prioritized in Central Saanich but one resident feels the lack of a complete trail on Mount Newton Cross Road is putting people at risk right now.
Karen Harris says traffic along the rural route has been increasing for years and with ongoing development in the District, it’s bound to keep going up. Walkers along Mount Newton Cross Road are at risk, she continued, because a trail was left incomplete 17 years ago — with no sign from the municipality that the last portion, connecting to West Saanich Road, will be done any time soon.
Harris said she was recently forced to dive out of the way of a passing vehicle. This despite the fact that when she walks along the road she carries red flags designed to warn drivers that she’s there.
“We have an ignorance of the fact that there is no shoulder shoulder. We have literally nowhere to go,” Harris said.
Neighbour Karen Johnson added industrial traffic, too, has increased leaving little room for other vehicles, let alone pedestrians.
“Until a year ago, I used to (walk) the entire valley once a day … I don’t so that any more, it’s worth my life,” said Harris.
The neighbours say the road is used regularly by cyclists, horseback riders and school age children.
“My boys …. catch the school bus on West Saanich. It makes me nervous. It’s early in the morning and there no side of the road,” Johnson said.
Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor said he’s aware of the safety concerns along Mount Newton Cross Road. That being said, he noted the municipality has a priority list of pedestrian improvement projects — the top on the list being a trail along Stelly’s Cross Road. That proposed trail would link Stelly’s Secondary School with West Saanich Road and provide better safety for people walking between the District and the Tsartlip First Nation.
In July, a scooter user was struck by a passing vehicle, prompting more calls for safety improvements in the area.
Windsor said the District has a challenge in maintaining their split urban and rural community. While the more densely populated areas generally have sidewalks, the more rural areas may not. And since building new pedestrian routes can be costly, Windsor said Central Saanich has to prioritize based on available money or other pressing needs.
“Our highest priority is the Stelly’s trail,” he said, “and we are still fleshing that out. We haven’t received any grants to help out … but it’s an area with a higher, more urban population.”
In addition to the secondary school, Stelly’s Cross Road is also seeing new residential and commercial development from the Tsartlip First Nation, that will add to traffic and pedestrian safety concerns.
Harris added the traffic has changed the neighbourhood, with fewer people visiting each other by simply crossing the road or visiting each other on the side of what used to be a country road, she said.
Johnson said they understand that progress happens, but some sort of chip trail, a continuation of what the District started all those years ago, would keep people safe.
“We want it to still be a country road.”
Pedestrian safety on rural roads is an issue for the District, Windsor agreed.
“Other areas, like West Saanich Road near Sassy’s Restaurant are also on the list,” he said, adding the District has made improvements over the years, including the trails and bike lanes.
“We also do have to appreciate our rural areas. There is an interesting play between being partly urban and partly rural.”
Harris isn’t holding out hope for any quick fixes along Mount Newton Cross Road. She said she reached out to the News Review after reading about the Stelly’s trail project. Both she and Johnson agree something needs to be done there, too, but hope that the District can make pedestrian safety issues, like theirs, more of a priority as the community grows.
“It’s been a move-able target over many, many years,” Harris said.