Short-term, low cost solutions sought for Willis

Safety improvements may soon be on the way for Willis Road following a recent accident involving a pedestrian along that corridor.

At its Dec. 9 budget planning meeting, council allocated $100,000 towards coming up with some short-term and mid-term solutions to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists along Willis.

The road, with its narrow shoulders and deep ditches, has long been a hazard for pedestrians and drivers, that have been known to swerve into the other lane to avoid people walking along the shoulder.

Willis Road has been a topic of discussion for several years and at least two city councils but city staff have estimated that long-term solutions will cost in the multi millions of dollars.

Ron Neufeld, the city’s general manager of operations, told council last week, however, that staff could look into some cheaper fixes.

“There may be limited sections of that road where we could add additional shoulder width to improve the space allocated for cyclists and pedestrians but there are certainly sections where it’s very tight,” Neufeld said. “The only way to provide that room is to fill the ditches and the only way to fill the ditches is to put in a storm drain system and that triggers significant cost.”

The other option, said Neufeld, is to develop a mid-term strategy to address the infrastructure issues, specifically drainage, that would enable the city to put in a continuous corridor for cyclists and pedestrians from one end of Willis to the other.

Coun. Ron Kerr said it’s something council needs to do.

“For the last number of years residents of the Willis Road area have been asking for safety improvements,” he said. “There’s been a recent accident up there when a man was hit on the side of the road and fell into a ditch, so it is a real safety concern.

“Last year we put aside money for improvements on the Petersen Road hill and it’s resulted in a real safety improvement in that area,” Kerr added. “I do believe, whereas the eventual future for Willis Road is probably going to result in a lot of money being spent on it, I think short-term, low cost improvements will result in some real safety improvements.”

Coun. Larry Samson agreed that council needs to move forward on Willis Road, particularly because of the residents at nearby Palmer House, which houses disabled and at-risk persons, who use Willis to walk down to the bus stop on Petersen Road.

“These people have no means of transport, we have to provide the infrastructure for them to be able to move around without having to go into a ditch,” Samson said. “We need to take the $100,000 and we look at it again and again until it’s completed.”

For Kerr, it’s been a long, ongoing saga. He has been campaigning since 2012 for safety improvements along both Petersen and Willis roads. He said back in October, 2012 that “citizens risk their lives daily” walking along the narrow shoulders and that the situation is so bad that it “would be comical if it weren’t so dangerous.”

Staff at Palmer Place have also lobbied council for Willis improvements.

Michelle Albrecht, a program coordinator at Palmer Place, told council in 2012 that residents of the supportive housing facility are put “in jeopardy the minute they step out their door and onto the roadway” and that “it is morally irresponsible to continue to ignore the problem.”

She said she has witnessed several incidents, including a young mother trying to push a stroller along the narrow shoulder bordered by a deep ditch on one side and fast, oncoming traffic on the other. On another occasion she saw two Palmer Place residents trying to get out of the way of a large recreational vehicle, only to see one of them slip into a ditch in an attempt to avoid the vehicle.

And the situation is no better now.

Earlier this month, Campbell River resident Nicholas Benner was knocked into a ditch as he was walking near Willis and Petersen after a car struck him in a hit and run incident.

The accident occurred on the evening of Dec. 1 in pouring rain and low visibility.

Mayor Andy Adams called it an “unfortunate incident” that underlined the need to take a look at safety on Willis.

Coun. Michele Babchuk confessed that even her husband was once a victim.

“My husband is one who ended up in a ditch,” she said.