We’re getting tripped up by sidewalk pilot project

October 30, 2014
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GE DIGITAL CAMERAThe only thing worse than an uneven sidewalk is a poorly decorated one. I’ve always said that.

That’s why I was pleased as punch to read earlier this month that city staff are going to take their sweet time fixing Guelph’s legion of uneven sidewalks with a bold and visionary new plan.

It’s true – they’ve struck a crack squad of our best colour analysts to “investigate new ways of marking” the public tripping hazards caused by frost heaves, roots and other decay, according to a story in this newspaper last week.

That’s right. While the rest of us might have been fooled into thinking the city ought to be actually fixing our sidewalks, the experts at city hall are focusing on what really matters: finding an alternative to the “unsightly” orange spray paint currently used to highlight tripping threats.

It seems someone on city staff decided last year the orange markers simply wouldn’t do anymore, not since we’ve got so many of them popping up like daisies around our fair town. If we’re going start drawing attention to our backlog of crumbling sidewalks needing repair, we might as well make them stylish.

Now seniors, wheelchair users and everyone else with mobility issues can finally celebrate. Guelph’s city staff hascreated a team of advisors who will analyze different colours schemes, patterns and signs that they will study over the next year in a special pilot project.

Starting next Monday, they’ll begin test spots in prominent locations around town, from Wyndham and Macdonell streets downtown to heavily trafficked sidewalks around the University of Guelph.

The options they’ll be investigating include slip-resistant, peek and stick tape, pavement striping tape, painted yellow stripes, stenciled-on trip hazard symbols and my favourite, “Watch Your Step” logos.

I had to re-read the news story just to make sure it wasn’t a spoof. It wasn’t. It turns out it’s all coming out of a Municipal Act amendment from 2010 requiring all municipalities to inspect their sidewalks annually and identify hazards to pedestrians.

But there was more.

“Staff investigated multiple materials and it was determined that there is not a material on the market that is specifically designed to be used to mark concrete sidewalk discontinuities,” read the report by Guelph’s Operations, Transit and Emergency Services committee.

Uh-huh. Whatever magical material city staff is hoping to use to highlight our sidewalk flaws – or “discontinuities,” as no one outside of city hall calls them – it hasn’t even been invented yet.

But all this may be a moot point. Because what city staff really wants are sidewalk signs that are also, well, invisible.

It’s true. The goal of all this, according to the report prepared by city staff, is to warn pedestrians of sidewalk hazards “with minimum visual impact.” Of course – because there’s nothing worse than being warned of a tripping hazard with a sign you can actually see.

Hopefully, someone is clever enough at city hall to design signs with such minimal visual impact that they’re invisible to the naked eye. Then we could carry on tripping and falling all over the place without any eyesores to distract us on our way down.

Or better yet, let’s just redirect all this energy studying and analyzing sidewalk markers into, I dunno, maybe a little bit of extra sidewalk repair. Then we won’t have to worry as much about sidewalk hazards, or their unsightly markers. But I guess that’s just crazy talk.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer whose column appears every third Saturday. Past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca. Follow him on Twitter at @MercerRecord

-Guelph Mercury, Sept. 14, 2014

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