Sidewalks are for signs that are for drivers, dontchaknow

The constant stream of obstacles and grief sidewalk users have to put up with drives me nuts sometimes. Sometimes being driven nuts drives me to tweet. Other times it drives me to write letters like the one I just sent, below, to Dan Séguin, Manager of Media and Public Affairs at Hydro Ottawa.

Mr. Séguin has already replied that he's received my email and is forwarding it internally for a response. I'll update this post when it comes.

(full disclosure: I've fixed all the grammar errors that were in the email, but which I only noticed now that I'm putting it on the web. Because I'm sloppy like that, le sigh)

Hello Mr. Séguin,

While travelling to work this morning I encountered two orange warning signs on the north side of Gladstone, just west of Bayswater avenue. Please see the attached photo. Note that the work in question was being done on the south-side sidewalk of Gladstone.

As is plainly obvious, these signs are intended to warn drivers that Hydro Ottawa employees are working in the road area ahead. I have no problem with Hydro Ottawa taking every possible measure to ensure the safety of their employees.

However, it is also plainly obvious that the placement of these signs puts sidewalk users at risk. I suspect your road crew, as able bodied people, may not be considering the needs of sidewalk users with mobility issues, particularly those in wheelchairs.

Since work was being done on the southbound sidewalk, switching sidewalks was not an option.

Wheelchair users are then left with the choice of risking getting stuck in the wet grass, or risk getting hit by a car by using the road surface itself.

I hope you'll agree that some wheelchair users would not want to risk getting stuck, and would then use the road surface. It would be unfortunate if Hydro Ottawa, by the act of creating an obstacle, contributed to the death of a road user. There may also be a legal liability created as a result; I am not expert enough to know for sure.

Setting aside the topic of legal liability, I notice that Hydro Ottawa has a Health, Safety and Wellness policy, the beginning of which I have copied here:

Hydro Ottawa is firmly committed to:

  • preventing occupational illness and injury of all employees in the workplace;
  • protecting the health and safety of contractors, subcontractors, customers, members of the public and visitors
  • taking every reasonable precaution to eliminate work-related illnesses and injuries. Our goal is a zero injury workplace.

This is a worthwhile policy, but I would suggest that in practice Hydro Ottawa, in the instance I have documented, is failing to implement it.

I resolved the road-space conflict this morning by simply moving the warning signs to the grass. See second attached photo.

I would like to know Hydro Ottawa's thoughts on this matter, and would welcome any information on how you will be communicating with your employees on how to balance the safety issues of everyone who uses our roads and sidewalks on a daily basis.

Thank you for your time and careful consideration of this matter.

Kevin O'Donnell

RESPONSE from Mr. Séguin on Dec-18.

Dear Mr. O’Donnell,

Thank you for taking the time to bring forward your concerns about the placement of traffic signs on the north-bound sidewalk along Gladstone Avenue on December 10, 2015.

Please note that we have raised this as a training issue within our Operations group. The Supervisor responsible for the work site agreed that the signs should have been placed in a better location and noted that a flag person was placed at those signs shortly after you were there. The flag person provided assistance to anyone in need and was also responsible for traffic control along the narrow road of Gladstone Avenue.

Greater emphasis will be placed on communicating to crews that traffic signs should not block sidewalks unless absolutely necessary (for safety reasons) and only with a flag person present to assist pedestrians.

I can assure you that Hydro Ottawa is committed to accessibility and will continue to demonstrate that commitment by preventing, identifying and removing barriers that impede accessibility for all people, particularly those with disabilities.

We are committed to treating all people in a way that allows them to maintain their dignity and independence and this includes obstructions and barriers at our work sites.

Thank you again for bringing this matter to our attention.