A legally blind White Rock senior is hoping the city will install more audible crosswalk signals in the Hillcrest area of Johnston Road, near the White Rock Community Centre.
And the city’s director of engineering and municipal operations, Rob Thompson, said he’s amenable to it – provided beeping or chirping signals don’t drive people who live nearby, including residents of the Miramar Village highrises, to distraction.
Marie-Claire Letnick, 84, suffers from macular degeneration, which has robbed her of much her sight, including the ability to read or write. But she’s proud that she’s still independent and energetic enough to get around by herself, with the aid of her white cane and her hearing, which remains keen.
The feisty Five Corners resident can get a lift or a bus ride up to the Hillcrest area, and usually feels confident enough to do shopping and other errands, and then walk downhill back to her condo building.
But she said traffic volumes have increased so much in the vicinity of the community centre, particularly around the intersection of Johnston Road and Russell Avenue, that she feels she is risking her life every time she tries to cross a street.
Standing alongside her at the intersection, with cars, trucks and buses flying by, it’s easy to understand her point, and how significant audible signals at that location would be to her safety.
“I can see the fence, I can see trees, I can see movement,” she said of her patchy quality of vision. “But I can’t see your face.”
With blank areas in her horizon, judgment calls become that much more difficult, Letnick said.
“I used to drive, but I’m not driving any more. I stopped driving even before my licence expired. There was no use taking my life or anyone else’s life.”
The Winnipeg-born Letnick’s children all live in her home province, she said. She and her husband lived in Maple Ridge for many years before he died some 10 years ago.
That’s when she moved to her condo at Five Corners, she said, adding that she has enjoyed living in White Rock and being able to retain her independence.
But since she was classified as legally blind two years ago, the senior has really come to appreciate the audible signals that have already been installed on Johnston, she said.
“There’s one at Thrift that works very well, and the one at 16 Avenue also works very well. But there should be (audible signals) at the crosswalks at Roper and Russell.”
Letnick said a staff member at the community centre – who has full use of her eyesight – has told her it takes a long time to cross Johnston Road at Russell, because of the amount of traffic.
“A lot of buses come here, the 351 and the little buses come here,” Letnick said.
“I don’t see why seniors have to take their lives in their hands.”
She claims she has not received too much sympathy from the city engineering department on the issue, citing the response she got when she approached workers installing ornamental pavers about two years ago at Five Corners.
“They told me ‘we just spent $23,000 to make this area beautiful – don’t expect anything else around here to change’.”
But Thompson – who has been on staff for the last year and a half – said Letnick was clearly talking to the wrong people.
“I’m very sympathetic and supportive of seniors who want to retain some level of independence,” he said.
Thompson recommended that Letnick have someone write a letter on her behalf asking for audible signals at specific locations.
“I don’t think the costs are that great for a signal operated by push-button electrical impulse,” he said.
“I’ve had discussions with traffic consultants, and what they’ve said is that, in high-density areas, the problem is finding a signal that doesn’t drive people crazy, particularly at night time.”
Thompson said there would probably be scope for a compromise – installing an audible signal that only worked during a specific window in the daytime, for instance.
“I’d like to be able to help her – if I can get a letter, it would spark me to talk to people about what it would take,” he said.