Mikaela Martin is relatively new to town, having only lived in Lake Cowichan for about a year.
She’s already fallen down an unmarked set of stairs while riding her mobility scooter — an accident that sent her to hospital — and the sidewalks are less than ideal.
“Most of the sidewalks are poorly built or very wrecked,” Martin said of the Town’s general accessibility. There are utility poles in the middle of some sidewalks, overgrown foliage in some spots, and in other areas vehicles or trailers parked on the sidewalk force Martin onto the road.
Now, on top of all that, she’s having to worry about getting hit by cars, too.
The visually impaired woman has nearly been stuck by three different vehicles in the last year, all while trying to cross the street in a marked crosswalk. And it’s not just one particular crosswalk, there are several.
The crossing near the post office, the one by the bank, and one near the roundabout are all dangerous, Martin noted. And another by the grocery store is tricky because of the plants in the median, added her mom, Ann Jensen.
“I don’t like the odds,” said Jensen. “It hasn’t been a great experience for her to just go about daily life.”
She’s worried her daughter is going to get seriously injured.
Martin, who can only see out of her right eye and has no functional use of her left arm, is concerned, too. Thus far she’s struggled to feel safe.
“I’m paranoid,” she admitted. “Here, I’ve had so many more close calls across the road than any other of the towns I’ve been in.”
Martin always uses marked crosswalks, always has her service dog, Strudel, with her, and quite often has her bike or red mobility scooter, too. Still, drivers don’t seem to take note when she’s crossing the street.
“I have taken her to the RCMP detachment complaining about her nearly being hit. They didn’t offer any solution other than her being more careful,” said Jensen. “This is a young woman with mobility issues and who is visually impaired trying to live a safe, independent life. As her mom, I believed Lake Cowichan would be a perfect small community for her to live safely in.”
Jensen took to the local Facebook community group pages in an effort to raise some awareness.
“I just want to start a conversation and make people aware,” Jensen said. “It sounds like this is not an isolated thing.”
The responses varied, though she felt there were two perspectives in general in response to her post.
“One, there was a lot of people saying, ‘yeah, this is an issue, I’ve had the same experience, we need to do something’,” she said. “Other people were trying to say that she is 100 per cent responsible for her safety and not to make her safety other people’s problem.”
While Martin does agree she needs to be careful, she said most of her close calls have been while she’s been in the middle of the crosswalk and with the safety warning lights flashing.
“Last time I almost got hit, I saw this person, and they didn’t notice me at all,” she explained. “The vehicle drove by [about a foot] from my front tire. If Strudel had been in front of me her face would have been smucked.”
The service dog is not trained to lead Martin.
“If it was a visual impairment dog, the dog would have stopped her, but she’s not trained for any of that stuff,” Jensen said. “She’s a seizure response dog,” provided to Martin at no cost by the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides.
In general, the community needs to look a little bit more at how people move through it, Jensen said.
“In the bigger picture, I think this town seriously needs to look at its road structures because in the summertime, during all the music festivals, it’s dangerous for her to go out,” she said. “As the community grows, things are just going to get worse.”
The bottom line:
“Everyone please look at where you are going and be aware of pedestrians,” Jensen said. “Let’s look out for one another and if you see Mikaela, maybe say ‘Hi’.”
Lake Cowichan Mayor Rod Peters acknowledged that some of the town’s sidewalks are in need of maintenance after the winter season.
He said now that winter has come to an end, the town’s maintenance crews are beginning work on the sidewalks, with the worst areas being dealt with first.
As for drivers who fail to stop at crosswalks, Peters said the town has tried information campaigns and advertising for years in ongoing efforts to have residents drive more safely and responsibly.
He said one of the biggest issues is that the traffic calming measures placed on several roads through Lake Cowichan by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure are not working as planned.
“It’s called traffic calming, but I call it traffic frustration,” Peters said.
“There was a meeting between the town, ministry, ICBC and the RCMP to discuss this, but there wasn’t any enthusiasm to change much.”