FIREWEED CLUB OFFERS OUTDOOR PLEASURES FOR SENIORS

By Andrea Sara

The Dunbar Residents’ Association is collaborating with partner members of the Westside Seniors Hub to offer a variety of summer outdoor activities focused on nature, art and well-being.

Free programs for seniors will be hosted at west-side parks and plazas throughout the summer and into the fall, weather permitting. There will be opportunities to enjoy gardening and herbal tea making, eco-arts and crafts, exercise and walking groups, history and photography, games, singing and dancing, and more.

Dunbar’s activities will be at Balaclava Park’s Butterflyway pollinator garden.  A new wheelchair-height planter box has been installed and summer veggie seedlings are sprouting. This is an inclusive community activity, very suitable for those of us who still enjoy gardening but can’t get down on our hands and knees anymore.

 We might also move a little slower, and take a bit longer to think of the right words in conversation than before the pandemic. We’ve endured a very long period of isolation and we’re all a bit out of practice with socializing, so the Fireweed Club is really about getting back outside and being neighbourly.  We are a patient group and truthfully, we just like to laugh and have fun digging in the dirt and admiring the flowers in bloom.

 Come by and check it out! Bring along friends, family and care partners. For more info, please email: fireweed.club@gmail.com or call 604.833.6355.

Blind Transit Rider Starts Website to Fight Bus-Stop Cuts

By Carol Volkart, DRA Newsletter Editor

More danger. Extra time. Less independence. That’s what Bus Balancing has meant for a blind Dunbar resident who has started a website and petition to publicize the impact of TransLink’s bus-stop-cutting program.

“I now have to ask strangers to guide me along streets and across intersections,” says Stephanie, a physically fit woman whose carefully established routines were turned upside-down by the loss of stops on the No. 7 and No. 2 routes.

TransLink says its Bus Balancing program is aimed at improving travel times and reliability while maintaining convenient access for passengers, but Stephanie says that for those coping with mobility or disability issues, it’s the opposite.

“I am very independent, but removing the bus stops is a huge problem and will be for so many other people,” she says. “I see it stopping people from going out and about, so it’s more isolation for seniors and people with disabilities.”

She says much of TransLink’s “propaganda” about Bus Balancing is misleading, and some is simply not true.

While TransLink says the program could cut two-and-a-half minutes off some one-way trips, providing an easier and more pleasant transit experience, that isn’t the reality for those struggling to get to more distant stops, she says. Its statement that it wouldn’t cut stops in busy convenient areas is the opposite of what she has experienced. Its assurance that bus stops won’t be so far apart as to make transit inaccessible is also not true. Many are four blocks apart, an impossible distance for those with mobility and disability issues, frail seniors, and people carrying young children and loads of groceries.

In fact, the new program “excludes seniors and people with disabilities from being able to access parts of transit so it’s a loss of mobility,” she says. “It also affects anyone who has had a stop removed where they live and for people with small children it makes it more difficult to get around.”

The reality, she says, is that Bus Balancing is “backward thinking and does not provide the service that is needed now or into the future.”  

Stephanie gave three examples of how bus-stop cuts have made her life more inconvenient, stressful and dangerous:

  • Fourth and Vine was a shopping hub for her, with its Safeway, Whole Foods and Shoppers Drug Mart on three corners easily accessible from east and westbound stops at Vine. The stops were removed when the No. 4 and 7 routes were “balanced” earlier this year. Now she gets off a stop early, at Balsam, and must depend on finding someone who will guide her the extra block to Whole Foods; she says it takes three months to fully learn a new block. “For the first time in 15 years of getting my groceries at Whole Foods, one of the employees there guided me to the bus stop because it was further for me to walk and it was a new stop and I had lots of food on my back, so lots of weight.”
  • Removal of the No. 2 stop at 10th and Macdonald has cost her time, independence and added a dangerous intersection to her route. “It is a transfer point so people would get off the bus at 10th then walk to Broadway and turn right to catch the 99, 9 and 14 when the 14 was going east on Broadway,” she notes. Now, she says, she must catch an earlier bus to make her transfer on time, get off at Broadway on the north side of Macdonald “and have to ask a stranger to guide me across the street so I can get the bus. That intersection is a very busy intersection with people running red lights and turning right on to Macdonald.”
  • Removal of the No. 7 stop at 26th and Dunbar has caused problems for her regular trip east along West 25th to Main, where she stocks up on two to three months’ worth of meat. She used to get off the northbound No. 7 bus at 26th, walk to 25th and turn right to catch the No. 25 on West 25th. Now she stays on the bus until 18th, then crosses Dunbar to catch the eastbound No. 25 at 17th. She chooses that route instead of crossing Dunbar at 25th because she’s concerned about aligning with the crosswalk when crossing such a wide street. “It adds up to 15 minutes to my trip and is an added stress.”

Stephanie says she started the website to draw attention to the problems Bus Balancing is creating for herself and others. She’s especially concerned because TransLink plans to expand the program throughout the region at the rate of four to eight routes a year, so all Metro residents will face similar issues.

Her website includes a petition link and offers readers a form they can fill out to tell TransLink what an “awesome” transit system looks like to them.

“Let’s not let TransLink’s short-sightedness dictate our lack of access to transit,” she writes. “Let’s design a transit system that is accessible for all people and one that is good for businesses and our community at large.”

Remembering George Pinch

by Meredith Kimball, Dunbar Community Patrol Chairperson

On January 7 of this year, George Pinch died at the age of 87. He was born November 12, 1935 and grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan.  He earned an engineering degree from the University of Saskatchewan, where he met his wife, Lorna, at a church function in Saskatoon. They married on May 4, 1957.  After living in Winnipeg and Victoria, they moved to their house on West 22nd Avenue in 1966, where they raised their family.  George worked for years at BC Hydro in the Power Smart program.  For over 50 years he was an active citizen and a well-known neighbour in Dunbar who always had a cheerful word for everyone he met including children and dogs. George was an avid gardener and grew a fine tomato. He served for many years on the Dunbar Residents’ Association Board of Directors and as co-president with Susan Chapman. 

George was a member of the committee that founded the Dunbar Community Patrol in 2005, served on DCP Coordinating Committee for 15 years, interviewed new patrollers, and was one of the most active and enthusiastic of them all.  For 12 years he patrolled the most hours and his records of 102 hours in one year and a total of 942.25 hours over his career still stand.  He and Lorna very generously volunteered their home for our Coordinating Committee meetings from 2004 until the start of the pandemic.

Patrolling with George was never dull.  In addition to watching for problems, he had a keen eye for useful items someone had thrown away in a lane, including bottles to be recycled for money which he donated to Children’s Hospital.  He was always friendly and I was often surprised when someone from the neighbourhood would approach us with, “Hi George, how are you doing?”

He will be missed by everyone in the DCP, the DRA, and many, many of his neighbours. If you would like to find out what made the DCP such a big part of George’s life for many years, please consider volunteering to do walk or bike patrols.  Although the pandemic has made it difficult to train new patrollers, we will resume taking in new members as soon as possible. If you are interested, please leave a phone message at 604-222-9824, send an email to dcp-info@dunbar-vancouver.org or visit our webpage at www.dunbar-vancouver.org.

Sadly, after this article was written, we received word that Lorna Pinch died on February 15, 2022. To the Dunbar Patrol, it feels like an era has passed with both of these wonderful community members gone.

Please speak up for our bus stops!

The first two weeks of January will be crucial in persuading TransLink to change its mind about removing many of the bus stops along Dunbar Street on January 17, 2022.  Our future transit service depends on large numbers of us speaking up for it. Please write or phone TransLink and ask them to:

1) RETAIN all bus stops within the business area at:

  • W 39th – H Mart Grocery
  • W 27th – Stongs
  • W 29th – VPL Dunbar
  • W 30th – London Drugs
  • W 26th – Chiropractor
  • W 19th – Dunbar Smiles, and
  • W 16th – Preventum Medical Clinic

2) REINSTATE bus stops at:

  • W 23rd, and
  • King Edward & Collingwood Street – Lord Kitchener Elementary

Contact Drew Ferrari at TransLink: Phone: 604-362-1824 or email: busstopbalancing@translink.ca.
More information and a survey are at: https://engagetranslink.ca/bus-stop-balancing?tool=survey_tool .

Will a Dunbar walkabout change TransLink’s plans to cut our bus stops?

The bus stop at 27th & Dunbar, the closest to Stong’s grocery store and the apartments above it, will be gone by January 17, 2022, along with many other bus stops on Dunbar. Residents concerned about the future of transit in our area should be contacting TransLink now. More information and a survey are at https://engagetranslink.ca/bus-stop-balancing?tool=survey_tool

Photo by John Denniston

By Carol Volkart, DRA Newsletter Editor

TransLink’s plans to cut 40 percent of the bus stops along Dunbar Street are unfair, poorly thought-out, harmful to business, and will make transit less accessible to seniors, people with disabilities, and parents with small children, community representatives warned transit officials during a recent tour of the street’s bus stops.

Dunbar Residents’ Association board members Andrea Sara and Angus McIntyre, who joined DRA president Bruce Gilmour in organizing the Dec. 16 meeting and walkabout on Dunbar Street, said later they were confident the get-together produced some “a-ha!” moments for the visitors.

Among them: Why remove two stops, one serving the library and the other the main grocery store, and replace them with a less-convenient one serving only a bank? Why retain a stop on a narrow residential street with no room for ramp deployment and remove a spacious one a block away that serves a walk-in clinic, an apartment building, and several businesses? And why is hilly Dunbar being left with only two southbound stops between 16th and 25th, a long uphill climb for a senior with a walker or a parent with a stroller?

Local anger about the proposal was apparent from the moment TransLink and City officials arrived at the meet-up spot outside St. Philip’s Anglican Church on West 27th off Dunbar St.

Just as the two sides began introducing themselves, St. Philip’s verger Pat Brandon stepped up to bluntly condemn the plans. Cutting stops near grocery stores and other amenities is “heinous,” she said, and will only add to the difficulty of elderly parishioners already struggling to get to church. She said stop removals may improve one metric, but will harm others, and asked whether speed is the only metric that matters. “How is taking away service improving service?”

The bus-stop removals are part of TransLink’s Bus Balancing Program, which it says will improve service and reliability as well as save money. Too many bus stops are too close together, it says, and removing or relocating them will cut minutes off round-trip travel times.

 The program, which is expected to be rolled out throughout the region, began with cuts to the No. 2 route in 2020, followed by the No. 17 and 25 routes in the spring of 2021. In the fall of 2021, signs went up along the No. 7 (Dunbar/Nanaimo) and No. 4 routes announcing many stops would be cut or moved as of Jan. 17, 2022.

For Dunbar residents, who had already been hard hit by the earlier cuts to the No. 25 route, it was too much. Three No. 7 stops on Dunbar St. that had been shared with removed No. 25 stops vanished in that earlier round, along with several No. 25 stops near the Dunbar intersection. These included a key No. 25 school bus stop on King Edward adjacent to Lord Kitchener Elementary.

The latest round of cuts, if completed as planned, means Dunbar St. will be left with 15 of its original 25 stops between 16th and 41st, a loss of 40 percent.

Led by the DRA’s Gilmour, who is blind and uses transit to get around with his guide dog Marley, board members have been fighting the plans with letters, e-mails, media interviews and phone calls, leading finally to the gathering outside St. Philip’s.

The meeting drew four high-level TransLink public affairs and bus-priority-program officials, as well as City of Vancouver transit planning engineer Jessica Lam. TransLink participants included Stephen Newhouse, lead planner, bus priority programs; Kyle Rosenke, senior advisor (acting director), government and public affairs; Drew Ferrari, senior advisor, public affairs, government and public affairs; and Sonia Takhar, senior communications and engagement lead, bus priority programs.

The visitors listened respectfully to the comments from Dunbar representatives and spent an hour longer on the walkabout than had been scheduled. Several even detoured downhill off Dunbar to a decommissioned No. 25 bus stop at King Edward and Collingwood to hear a senior’s concerns about the loss of the stop, which she had depended on to access businesses crucial for her daily needs. Throughout the tour, the officials emphasized they were there to listen and learn and that all the input they received would be taken back to their offices for consideration.

At the opening meeting, speakers emphasized how severely the cuts will affect a hilly community with a high and growing seniors’ population, an already-struggling business community, and an already-poor transit service. They also said the cuts appear to fly in the face of city policies to densify Dunbar, encourage transit use and create complete communities as part of efforts to fight climate change.

DRA board member Sara, whose multi-generational family lives in the neighbourhood, stressed the importance of convenient transit for seniors and families alike. Pointing around her, she said the area of the meet-up has many schools, playing fields, parks and churches, all well-served by the stops at 27th and 29th. Removing them and replacing them with one less-convenient stop at 28th “is not helpful,” she said.

The 27th stop serves the grocery store, the apartment building above it, and two coffee shops; the 29th serves the library and its small plaza, and is across the street from a medical clinic, drug store and new rental building. Fellow board member McIntyre noted that 27th runs west all the way to Camosun, and 29th all the way to Imperial while 28th dead-ends in less than a city block. “So let’s have everyone who wants to walk down 27th or 29th walk that extra block to get there. Hello?”

Sara, who is also a member of the City of Vancouver’s Seniors Advisory Committee, said longer distances between stops will discourage seniors and those with disabilities and mobility issues from using transit, especially in a hilly area like Dunbar. She noted that her mother, who lives in the apartment building above Stong’s, is one of those who will have to travel farther once the stop near the grocery store is gone, something she finds very difficult due to health and mobility issues.

 Jackie Weiler, who sits on the city’s Seniors’ Advisory Committee with Sara, stressed the importance of transit in enabling seniors to remain independent, healthy and active. Weiler, a longtime Dunbar resident who now lives at Arbutus, said one reason she moved was the difficulty and danger of accessing transit in Dunbar in snowy conditions, when everything shuts down because of the hilly terrain. “Lack of accessibility was a real issue for me.”

Convenient transit is also crucial for businesses, said Jeffrey Ho, owner of Blight’s Home Hardware at 3322 Dunbar. He spoke up after St. Philip’s verger Brandon stressed the importance of transit to Dunbar businesses, singling out Blight’s as an important part of the community, much used by her church. “It’s important for stores like that to survive, unless you want us all just to use Amazon,” Brandon said.

Following up, Ho noted the city is encouraging people to get out of their cars, and questioned how that fits with TransLink’s cuts. “I don’t understand how taking away bus stops is helping.” Plus, he said, the city is increasing density, and soon there will be apartment buildings all along Dunbar St. “Somebody has their messages mixed up.”

LISTEN TO:  CBC Radio One, The Early Edition segments, on bus stop cuts: Interview with DRA President Bruce Gilmour and Board Member Andrea Sara from November 30, 2021 and follow-up interview with TransLink’s Director of Systems Planning, aired December 1, 2021.

The DRA’s McIntyre, a retired long-time bus driver, said Dunbar is already so poorly served by transit that he calls it a “transit desert.” Large areas, like that between Dunbar St. and Pacific Spirit Park, have no transit service at all, he said, meaning some people must walk as far as 1.3 kms to get a bus. Given the poor service and long distances, he said, stops on Dunbar St. shouldn’t be farther than two blocks apart.

McIntyre also questioned the fairness of the cuts, saying it was like a “slap in the face” to discover how differently the Dunbar and Nanaimo ends of the No. 7 route are being treated. While stops will be mostly four blocks apart from 16th to 41st on Dunbar St., a similar distance on the Nanaimo end will have stops every two blocks.  “What is that all about?” he asked. “Is that balancing?”

McIntyre was also dubious that the cuts will achieve the promised result of increased reliability, saying it’s the traffic, not the stops, that make transit unreliable. He handed out a downloaded Next Bus map from 7:19 p.m. on Oct. 29 showing the already balanced No. 25 route had several bunched-up buses, and long gaps elsewhere. “Every rush hour morning and evening the service is no more reliable, or faster, than it was before because of traffic,” he said. Instead of cutting bus stops, he said, TransLink should focus on priorities for buses, such as queue jumpers at signals and bus lanes.

TransLink’s consultation process also came under fire, with McIntyre noting that residents’ first notice of the program was signs on bus stop poles announcing that the stop would either be removed or retained as of Jan. 17. Such wording sounds “pretty final,” McIntyre said. It’s “confrontational, even nasty,” to come into a community and “put up all these signs and get everyone upset,” he said. “What about some engagement first, and then see what happens?”

What did the walkabout accomplish?

In a follow-up email to participants, TransLink’s Sonia Takhar called the visit “extremely productive,” adding that all members of the team “commented on how much they were able to learn from you all.” She said the team would take time over the holidays “to look at the proposal again based on your feedback.”

McIntyre said he believes the Dunbar representatives were able to point out many things the transit officials hadn’t been aware of, including a bus stop relocated on one map and not changed on another.  The stop involved is the No. 7 southbound at 10th and Alma, currently shared with the 9, 14 and 99 routes. One map indicates no change for the No. 7, while another shows it being relocated to Alma on the south side of 10th Avenue, meaning Dunbar passengers would have to cross a busy intersection to transfer to another bus.

“I really think that TransLink staff had more than ‘a-ha!’ moment,” McIntyre said. When he told a Toronto friend, a city councillor there for many years, about the walkabout, “he said, ‘You can’t go into a neighbourhood with a long-established bus service and yank out almost half the stops.’”

Sara said she thought TransLink staff were able to see a “major disconnect” in their decision making on some points – such as removing bus stops in front of new buildings, in front of coffee shops and plazas, in front of new traffic-controlled intersections or removing bus stops where there is already foot traffic in dire need of a crosswalk.

Sara even dared to hope that TransLink might play a positive rather than a negative role in Dunbar. By making the right decisions about bus stops, it could help support local business, facilitate public space and encourage active transportation, she said. It could also help the community’s voice be heard on such things as traffic lights and crosswalks: “Having TransLink on board as a community partner who can assist with supplying dollars to fund the safe street infrastructure is a win-win.” 

Butterflies, benches & a boost for those living with dementia

Angus McIntyre demonstrates part of the history of Balaclava Park

By Andrea Sara

Imagine a lovely bench in a boulevard garden where people, especially those living with dementia, can rest in the sun or shade, surrounded by pops of bright flowers while listening to the sounds of birds and bees and watching butterflies dance and play.

That idyllic scenario is the potential outcome of two Dunbar-area initiatives that have coincidentally been developing together over the past year. One initiative encourages the creation of habitat for pollinators; the other encourages those with dementia to participate in community life and works to ensure their access to physical and social opportunities.

The dementia project, combining the efforts of the DRA, the Westside Seniors Hub and UBC Nursing, grew out of a desire by many in the community to find ways of helping isolated seniors during the early days of the pandemic. Since the DRA is not a United Way-sponsored community services organization, it was outside its scope to assist with delivering groceries and medications.

 Instead, the DRA worked with the Dunbar Youth Network to develop a database of neighbourhood benches and picnic tables that could be used in creating a map of supportive walking routes. All along the routes would be stops where people could rest on a bench or share a socially distanced conversation at a picnic table over a coffee and a sandwich.  A big thank-you to Sophia Bi for compiling the database and riding her bike around the neighbourhood snapping photos of all the benches and picnic tables.

Separately, but at the same time, a group of neighbourhood parents began an environmental stewardship project. The Balaclava Pollinators, part of the David Suzuki Foundation Butterflyway program, have been building indigenous-plant butterflyway pollinator habitat gardens on boulevards, pathways, front yards and Green Street corner gardens. https://davidsuzuki.org/take-action/act-locally/butterflyway/vancouver/.

The DRA hopes to integrate these garden plots into the walking map so people can plan neighbourhood walks that include beautiful boulevard gardens. Ideally, as in the scenario described above, benches could be incorporated into the gardens so walkers can stop to rest amidst flowers, birds and butterflies.

The dementia and pollinator projects are also coming together at Balaclava Park, where the Balaclava Pollinators have built a demonstration butterfly pollinator habitat garden to educate people about native pollinator plants that attract B.C. butterfly species. A wheelchair-height raised planter box has been added to the garden, so those who use a wheelchair or walker can participate. This new initiative, called the Fireweed Club, is part of the dementia project, which is officially known as ‘Building Capacity for Meaningful Participation by People Living with Dementia’ under the Public Health Agency of Canada and a new federally funded Dementia Community Investment strategy.

A celebration was to be held October 1st at Balaclava Park to showcase all the 2021 Building Capacity initiatives by the partner organizations of the Westside Seniors Hub. Due to the continued social restrictions of the pandemic, many of the partner initiatives focused on outdoor programs and virtual programs. The partner projects can be seen at these websites: https://www.westsideseniorshub.org/ and https://www.buildingcapacityproject.com/.

At the October 1st event, the DRA showcased its 2021 contributions to building a Dementia Friendly Dunbar via the mapping project, as well as showcasing the self-guided and virtual walking tours developed for Salmonberry Days.

This fall and winter, the Balaclava Pollinators will focus on planting perennial herbs and greens and on workshops with eco-artists to learn about the various uses of fresh dried herbs. If you would like to participate, please email Andrea at balaclavapollinators@gmail.com.