Crosswalk lights initiative shifted back to committee level

A safety initiative meant to expedite the addition of eye-level lights at all of Winnipeg’s lighted pedestrian crosswalks will be delayed to determine how best to pay for it.

City council’s public works committee looks set to take a second look at how best to fund the lower-mounted safety lights, which a motion seeks to have installed “as soon as possible.” The referral back to public works still awaits a council vote.

On Wednesday, Coun. Matt Allard repeatedly told EPC members it’s essential to get the work done as quickly as possible to prevent future collisions. Allard stressed it’s also critical to achieve that without any reduction to the resources devoted to other road safety initiatives.

“The city has known since 2013 that these low-mounted lights are a cost effective way, an easy way to better pedestrian safety… I’m convinced there’s capacity within the signals department… to do the work that needs to be done,” said Allard, who raised the motion that calls for the new safety initiative.

The executive policy committee ultimately asked council to send the matter back to public works instead of giving it final approval, which Allard eventually agreed to.

Multiple EPC members argued the motion failed to pinpoint an appropriate funding source.

“I feel like what’s being proposed here… it’s clear as mud in terms of what we are asking the public service,” said Mayor Brian Bowman.

Bowman and others stressed they didn’t oppose the idea itself, which Allard raised after safety concerns at lighted crosswalks were raised in a recent Free Press series.

The series noted traffic safety activist Christian Sweryda has lobbied the city for more than a decade to add more of the eye-level lights, deeming these easier to spot than overhead lights for drivers whose vehicles are close to an intersection.

Sweryda links the lighting issue to six crashes at crosswalks with overhead lighting over a 19-month span from February 2018 to September 2019, which resulted in four deaths.

The city has already installed 25 low mounted lights at crosswalks, while 158 locations still await funding.

Council approved $145,000 in the 2022 budget to convert 15 more. Allard’s motion proposes to raise that amount to $1.6 million to complete all installations instead.

The original motion had called for the public service to fund the work through council’s so-called “rainy day fund,” the local and regional streets renewal budget, savings from an Archibald Street construction project and/ or “another source identified by the executive policy committee.”

The head of council’s finance committee said that sparked concern for the following reasons: the Archibald project involved a funding agreement with the provincial and federal governments, so its savings aren’t necessarily available for city use; the street renewal budget was already tapped to cover operating costs in the 2022 budget; the rainy day fund has dwindled to cover COVID-19 pandemic losses; and the call for “another source” of cash is too vague.

“I would like to see those lights installed but, at this time, a legitimate funding source has not been identified,” Coun. Scott Gillingham said Friday.

Coun. Brian Mayes agreed: “There is no new money identified to do this… We all agreed this is a worthwhile initiative… it’s just something’s got to give to fund it.”

Allard could not be reached for an interview Friday. In an email, executive assistant Ryan Palmquist said additional funding options will be explored. Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga