'Unfortunate' poles in sidewalks frustrate Highlands and Beverly residents

The placement of power poles in the middle of residential sidewalks makes walking difficult, even hazardous, say residents of Edmonton’s Beverly and Highlands neighbourhoods.

“A pole for overhead lines, dead centre in a sidewalk … somebody with a walker can’t even get up or my daughter can’t even ride a bike,” Jeffery Hansen-Carlson recently tweeted. 

Crystal Boyde, a resident of Beverly for 42 years and who is blind, says the poles make it incredibly difficult to navigate the neighbourhood. 

“I just find it’s really frustrating because the poles are not either off to the curb or up beside the grass. They’re all over the place, so when you first start to learn with the cane, the cane could be on your right side and you plow into it,” she said. 

“It makes it tough to manoeuvre because you’re not positive. Like … how close are you to the road or how close are you to somebody’s sidewalk or to the building?” 

Bruised faces and concussions 

Boyde, who lives near 31st Street and 108th Avenue, said she has been hurt walking into the poles.

“Being the faster walker, when you hit those polls dead on, they give you aches, concussions, split your forehead or whatever it may be,” Boyde said. 

She was also nearly hit by a car after bouncing off a pole and onto the road, she said. 

Boyde said she has complained to the city, even speaking to councillors, to little effect. 

“I’ve always been told … there’s not much we can do about it because it’s already set up,” she said. 

City spokesperson Sarah Jackson said the poles belong to Epcor and were “placed on past practices.” 

Poles make walking on the sidewalk hazardous for people with disabilities, residents say. (Peter Evans/CBC)

“The City of Edmonton is working with Epcor based on current standards to address these locations as projects arise,” Jackson wrote in an email. “The new design standards value accessibility for all who use these pathways.”

A spokesperson with Epcor said the company is aware of “existing conflicts between older poles and sidewalks in the city.” 

Spokesperson Kelly Struski said in an email the company works closely with the city to “eliminate these conflicts anytime a new sidewalk is being constructed.”

“In rare cases, conflicts with other underground utilities or above ground features, such as roadways and curbs, may prevent Epcor from relocating existing pole lines to alternate alignments,” Struski wrote. 

‘Barrier free path of travel’ 

Sam Mason, accessibility assessment coordinator with Voice of Albertans with Disabilities, said according to Alberta Building Code, a “barrier free path of travel” needs to be in present on sidewalks. 

“A sidewalk should be a barrier free path of travel because anyone who’s using a mobility device needs to use the sidewalk,” Mason said. 

“That’s why the sidewalk is there — for someone to travel along, so by the actual building code in Alberta, the very minimum amount of space for a path of travel for a pedestrian or anyone, is 0.92 meters or about three feet.” 

But, Mason said, the rule only applies to new spaces that were built after the code was modified, which was in 2017. 

Mason said with new projects coming in Beverly and Highlands, there are opportunities to make the sidewalks more accessible. 

“I do think our city knows these issues exist and are working toward rectifying them, but until funding or projects are getting put into those places, I don’t know if there is anything that will be done until they get to that area,” she said.  

‘Example of many problems’ 

Sarah Hoyles, executive director of Paths for People, a non-profit advocating for walkable and bike-friendly pathways, agrees the poles deter people from using the sidewalk. 

“They’re unfortunate,” Hoyles said. “It’s an example of many problems pedestrians and active transportation users face.

“It only focuses on folks that are 100 per cent able-bodied, so if anybody is using a walker or any kind of other mobility device, they can’t use that section of sidewalk,” she said.

Hansen-Carlson said the city should consider money spent to move the poles as an investment in the neighbourhoods.

“We have to be prepared to spend the money if we want good functioning healthy neighbourhoods that are pedestrian-friendly,” he said. 

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