CITY CENTRE — The City of Surrey is installing an $8,500 rainbow crosswalk in City Centre, but not everyone is happy about the project.
Mayor Linda Hepner said the crosswalk, to be installed at Old Yale Road and University Drive, was her idea.
“On my way to my TransLink meetings I see this crosswalk in New Westminster and I thought, you know what? I actually like the way it looks and the message it delivered around inclusivity. It was frankly my idea,” she told the Now-Leader. “It delivers a message I think we as a city we should de delivering, and that is of inclusivity. When you look at 102 languages spoken here in our city, that rainbow sidewalk has gone way beyond just being an original LGBTQ sidewalk and it represents now a message of inclusiveness and I think in a city that as diverse as ours, that that is a critical message.”
It’s hoped the crosswalk will be completed in time for the Surrey Pride Festival, set for June 30 at Holland Park.
“It also ties very nicely into our Fusion Festival messaging, as well,” the mayor added, “with people from all places on the planet.”
City officials say a regular “zebra” crosswalk costs $2,000 and has a three- to five-year lifespan, while the rainbow crosswalk will cost $8,500 and should last for five years.
But Surrey Council has received several emails from people urging them to halt the project. Many of the emails are nearly identical, and refer to a 2016 Langley Times article which states a Fort Langley rainbow crosswalk came with a price tag of $50,000.
That figure came from an original cost estimate for a four-way stop intersection. In the end, the location was changed to paint a single crosswalk, not four, and Langley’s project cost $12,000.
The first email came from Tanya Gaw, who identified herself as a Fleetwood resident.
In an interview with the Now-Leader, Gaw said she didn’t believe the city’s $8,500 estimate was accurate, and suggested there may be donors contributing to the project. The city denies that assertion and says the whole cost is coming out of the city budget.
“We voted them into office. They’re spending our money,” said Gaw. “There’s opposition here and I think people didn’t have a way to voice that without being called racist or bigots. If we have a view, can we please just rationally pause for a moment and take a look at the evidence, at what this movement is actually pushing on society.”
Gaw said she’s “all for people being allowed to live their life as they please. Just don’t make me pay for it. And don’t impose your views on me or children.”
Hepner insisted Surrey’s project won’t come anywhere near $50,000, and said she suspects an ulterior motive behind the opponents.
“I think it’s a message of hate camouflaged by an issue of cost,” said Hepner, “and the issue of cost is nonexistent. Five years, $8,500, come on.”
Opponents have also asked why the project never came before council for approval.
“Messages of inclusion are often times delivered throughout the year, and I do that as mayor,” Hepner replied. “I light up the plaza, I have the authority to do that as well,” she said, noting she did so for Humboldt bus crash victims.
Rainbow crosswalks in other B.C. communities have been vandalized recently, with tire tracks being burned over them. Earlier this month, Courtenay’s rainbow crosswalk was left with tire marks just one day after its installation.
Other cities to see similar damage include Fort Langley and Campbell River.
If anyone has that idea for Surrey’s, Hepner had this message: “I have no patience. I hope that doesn’t happen here.”