What started as a passion project to demonstrate inclusivity by a group of volunteer artists, has turned into a complicated debate that could cost Langley taxpayers $50,000.
A rainbow crosswalk, proposed by artist Elaine Brewer-White for the intersection of Mavis Avenue and Glover Road in Fort Langley, was discussed at length during Monday afternoon’s council meeting, as members debated whether the hefty price tag — which accounts for half of the municipality’s yearly traffic calming fund — is the best use of that money.
Brewer-White made a delegation to council in July following the June 12 massacre of 49 people inside a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., saying that she had the volunteers, and the paint, to do the installation.
She was simply asking the Township for permission.
At that time, council directed staff to create a report on the idea. It was provided to council in their Sept. 12 agenda.
But as outlined in the report, Brewer-White’s idea — which originally garnered positive feedback from council — has escalated into a complex matter. The Transportation Association of Canada’s guidelines, for one, require exact measurements for the crosswalk and spray-on or torched-on markings to be used with thermoplastic material. According to the report, this has the “benefits of durability, reflectivity and a higher friction coefficient for increased traction,” but also means that Brewer-White’s donated paint from Benjamin Moore most likely won’t meet the standards.
Staff recommends that all four pedestrian crossings at this intersection are marked in a similar manner to “minimize confusion for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists,” and there would be ongoing maintenance costs of around $50,000 every three to five years to maintain the rainbow feature.
Should they chose to install the crosswalk at a different intersection, such as Glover Road near Mary Avenue, the cost would be $12,000.
A regular crosswalk, by contrast, typically costs $5,000.
Brewer-White was stunned by the direction the conversation about her proposal took at Monday’s meeting.
The artist told the Times “it’s unbelievable” that her little project has morphed into a fight — something she never intended to happen.
Since word got out about the expense, she says she has received positive feedback from members in the community, and is now hosting a small fundraiser of her own to help bring the crosswalk to fruition.
From now until Sunday at midnight, she is auctioning off one of her art sculptures through her Facebook Page “Elaine Brewer-White Artist.”
Valued at $2,500, the piece, titled “Harry was a dog lover at heart,” was completed in 1996, and has been taken out of Brewer-White’s personal archive for the cause.
The starting bid is $200.
She has also started a GoFundMe page, where donations will be collected.
Discussions during Monday’s council meeting showed that the majority of council agree that the cause itself is noteworthy, but members differed in their opinions on whether a painted crosswalk is the best way to demonstrate inclusion.
“What started out to be … an issue of goodwill or a good idea, has really unravelled in a rather distinctly different manner,” Coun. Charlie Fox said.
“I don’t want to complicate this … I think if we’re going to do something like this we have to prioritize it. Fifty thousand dollars is half of our traffic calming implementation fund for a year, and we’ve got 82 … possible projects on that list, including a number of schools (or projects) in the vicinity of schools. So, holy smokes, you look at the dollars and you look at the simplicity with what the initial idea was, and where we’re at now, this has kind of got a little bit out of hand.”
Coun. Blair Whitmarsh agreed.
“It doesn’t make sense to me to make it a traffic calming device when we consider all of the other traffic calming issues we have in this community and money that we need to spend. And we don’t have enough budget for the ones that we have, and many of them are around schools and other areas. And so I think we need to decide as a community, do we need a demonstration of inclusivity? Is there some reason why we need to have that? And if we do, is painting a road the best way for us to do that? And I think those decisions haven’t been made at all, and it wasn’t on our radar until someone thought and presented to us the idea that we should have a demonstration of inclusivity or an object of inclusivity.”
Mayor Jack Froese also stated his opposition, due to the cost.
“When I think of spending this kind of money, even if it’s $10,000, we’re saying no to community groups who are asking for crosswalks in front of their schools and we’re saying that we’re going to wait for development to do it, and there’s a whole plan in place. But we’re saying we don’t have the money to do it. Yet, we’re quite eager to jump on and do a crosswalk that is more expensive than a normal crosswalk in an area that already has a crosswalk,” Froese said.
“So I have a hard time spending taxpayers’ dollars for this … When it comes to inclusiveness, if the Township of Langley is not inclusive when we are dealing with our employees, with our residents, people that do business with us, I would like to know about it … because we should be inclusive, and I believe that we are inclusive.
“This is definitely public art. I think that if a group came forward to us and said we are raising some money, we would like to put this public art in, that’s something I could really get involved with. I can’t get involved with this at all because they’re still looking for Township dollars.”
Councillor Kim Richter, on the other hand, was greatly in favour.
“Well, actually, I don’t agree with your position on that, Mr. Mayor,” she said.
“I agree the price tag seems a little exorbitant, and I don’t see why we can’t go back and look at other options that aren’t quite as exorbitant as that. But Fort Langley is a major cornerstone in tourism in this community and it draws so many people there throughout the week (and) on the weekends to the festivals. And I think if we’re going to have a demonstration of inclusivity in this community, Fort Langley is the place to do it. I still go back to the first comment that I made that maybe we’re trying to over complicate this, but by the same token, I still think it should go forward because it’s been asked for by the community, it’s in a good location in the community and I think it will be valued by the community.”
Township council has now forwarded the staff report to the Fort Langley Business Improvement Association and Heritage Advisory Committee for input, and has asked that staff look into the possibility of changing the crosswalk to a public art installation, rather than a traffic calming measure.
Costs of crosswalks vary widely across B.C.
When compared to other municipalities in B.C., The Township of Langley’s estimated $50,000 cost to install four rainbow crosswalks in Fort Langley is higher than what other communities have paid.
The trend began in Vancouver in 2013, when the first rainbow sidewalk in Canada was painted in the West End on Davie and Bute Streets.
Meant to demonstrate inclusivity and diversity, the idea has taken off across the country, with many cities installing their own versions, including several neighbouring municipalities in Greater Vancouver.
In Langley City, a proposal for a rainbow crosswalk at the new Timms Centre was put on hold in July, after the $28,000 cost was deemed too high for this year’s budget.
In Maple Ridge, a rainbow crosswalk was unveiled on 224 Street, at the gateway to Memorial Peace Park, at the end of July, for which $6,000 was budgeted.
Last year New Westminster also installed its own version, at a cost of $7,500.
On Vancouver Island, both Nanaimo and Victoria sport rainbow crosswalks, which was estimated to cost between $12,000 and $15,000 in Nanaimo, and $14,000 for three different crosswalks in Victoria.
Many smaller communities, as well, boast the colourful crossings, including the Haida Gwaii village of Masset, Smithers, Terrace and Castlegar, which installed one for $2,000 in 2014.
And in Vancouver, the inaugural rainbow crosswalk project, which features four different crossings and a plaza, cost approximately $25,000.
Township staff estimate that if the crosswalk is moved from the proposed location of Glover Road and Mavis Avenue, to Glover Road near Mary Avenue, the cost would be reduced to $12,000.
Photo displays rainbow crosswalk in New Westminster. Sourced from New West Pride Facebook page.