At least one crosswalk in front of Cowichan Secondary School on James Street will soon be be painted in rainbow colours.
North Cowichan’s council made the decision at its meeting on June 6 after a delegation from the school’s Rainbow Club asked that the project be considered to show respect and tolerance for others.
But the request faced a long debate at the council table, with some council members expressing concerns around costs, public safety and other issues before the motion was finally passed.
Rainbow crosswalks have become associated with acceptance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in recent years in many communities around the world.
Students Victoria Chumsa-Jones, Arica Windsor and Madeline Moroz asked that consideration of their request be expedited to allow the painted crosswalk(s) to be completed by the end of the school year.
Coun. Tom Walker commended the students for making the requests, but asked what they intended to contribute to the costs of paint and maintaining the crosswalks.
“I’ve looked into the costs of painted crosswalks in other municipalities on the Island, and they usually cost local governments about $1,500 each just to paint them,” he said. “Some of these crosswalks have also been targeted by vandals so are you organized enough to repair them when required?”
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The students responded that they were prepared to help with costs of the painting and work with municipal staff to paint them, as well as maintaining the crosswalks when the painting is complete.
Coun. Joyce Behnsen said James Street is a busy public road and expressed concerns around a multi-coloured crosswalk becoming a distraction to drivers.
“I’d rather see it on a lower-use road,” she said.
Teacher Mike Moroz, who was with the delegation from the school, said the choice of James Street as the location for the crosswalk(s) was intentional because it is such a busy road and a centre of the community.
“We hope that it won’t be too distracting, but it is a school zone and traffic is expected to move slower there,” he said.
“We could put them in an area with less traffic, but the overall value of the project would be lost.”
Mayor John Lefebure said he thinks brightly painted multi-colour crosswalks would actually be an enhancement to safety because drivers would see them from far away.
Coun. Al Siebring said council has a policy of not endorsing specific causes through proclamations and he’s concerned about the implications of using the municipality’s infrastructure to send messages like this to the public.
“I mean no disrespect to this group, but if we do this for one, then we would be expected to do it for all,” he said.
“I fear that we would be opening ourselves up to human rights challenges. I feel rushed into making this decision without a staff report.”
Lefebure said all groups have the right to come forward and make requests, and each would be considered on its merits as the request for the painted crosswalks was.
A motion to have staff work with the school to install the painted crosswalks was passed in a 5-2 vote, with Siebring and Behnsen opposed.