The City of Victoria plans to ask the province to allow people using electric-powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters to travel in city bike lanes.
On Thursday, councillors voted unanimously to direct staff to engage with the province on the issue in response to letters from advocacy groups urging the city to take action.
The city has received letters from Greater Victoria Acting Together, a coalition working on climate action, affordable housing and mental health, and the Action Committee of People with Disabilities. Capital Bike also supports the change.
Eric Doherty, co-lead of Greater Victoria Acting Together’s climate justice team, hopes expanding use of the bike lanes to a wider population will encourage some people to drive less and build public support for more sustainable transportation.
It’s also a way to ensure the city is building lanes that are truly for all ages and abilities, Doherty said.
“This is one of the litmus tests for all ages and abilities routes. Is it safe enough for an 80-year-old grandmother on a mobility scooter?”
Peter Foran isn’t waiting for permission to use the bike lanes. He had been using the lanes only occasionally until about a year and a half ago, when he fell out of his power wheelchair and broke his hip while travelling on an uneven sidewalk.
After the fall, Foran said, he became a “devoted” user of the bike lanes.
“Some of the sidewalks are in pretty rough shape,” unlike “these nice, smooth bike lanes,” he said.
Foran thinks there are many wheelchair users who would start using the bike lanes if given permission.
Coun. Ben Isitt, who brought forward the motion with Coun. Jeremy Loveday, said the initial focus is on improving accessibility for people with disabilities and mobility challenges, and the discussion could eventually expand to include other types of electric vehicles that are not mobility aids.
The intent is not to force anyone to use the bike lanes, but to expand options for those using motorized scooters and wheelchairs, he said.
Philip Bellefontaine, director of engineering and public works, told councillors the province has been taking small steps towards these changes in recent years.
“So, from a timing perspective, I think there’s some real benefits in terms of bringing this forward to their attention,” Bellefontaine said.
City staff will provide an update to councillors in early 2022 on next steps.