The city will explore lighting options for a downtown area known for loitering, after hearing safety concerns from residents.
A petition with more than 100 signatures is calling for the removal of a staircase connecting West Seymour Street and McIntosh Street downtown. The staircase is behind The Mustard Seed New Life Community Kamloops outreach centre.
On Monday, the city’s development and sustainability committee learned that the city’s bylaws department received 48 calls in connection with that location in 2018. Calls were related to transients and health and safety (including sharps), graffiti and alcohol.
Additionally, the RCMP received 15 calls to that location in the past 18 months, calls linked to unwanted persons, loitering and drug use.
City engineering manager Deven Matkowski said the incidents have occurred about once per week in the last year.
The city received the petition in May, with the majority of signatories appearing to be from the downtown area.
The petition notes: “Countless times the presence of the police and or bylaw has been needed due to people setting up tents, using drugs and exhibiting disturbing behaviour in and around the stairwell. There is already a heavily used walking path along West Victoria Street that bypasses the stairs to connect to West Seymour Street, rendering the stairwell useless.”
It urges the city to remove the stairwell “to lessen the incidents requiring the need for bylaw and police to respond and upgrade of the walking path to make it fully functional and wheelchair friendly.”
However, city staff advised against removing the staircase, noting the area’s problems are part of larger social issues that are unlikely to be resolved with its removal. In addition, staff said the sidewalk adds to the pedestrian friendliness of the area, noting that leaving it saves the city money.
It would cost $11,000 to remove the sidewalk as part of the West Victoria Street improvement project, which is underway, or $18,000 at a later time.
The city is also concerned about setting a precedent amid growing requests to have walkways adjacent to residential homes removed. The city said it sees increasing neighbourhood resistance to projects that add sidewalks, walkways or bus routes to a neighbourhood and it is also receiving more complaints about walkways or bus stops.
During discussion over the issue, councillors were mixed in their responses.
Coun. Dieter Dudy agreed with staff, calling it “ridiculous” to shut down the staircase, which he said wouldn’t solve the problem.
Coun. Arjun Singh, however, empathized with the safety concerns of those who live in the area and wanted to consider the possibility of removal, despite such a move being contrary to the city’s active transportation plan.
Coun. Sadie Hunter suggested staff look into additional lighting to address issues in that area, noting she was concerned about the safety issues presented by residents after speaking to them.
In the end, councillors voted to direct staff to return with a report examining the costs of lighting the area to enhance safety. That report is expected to come to the next development and sustainability committee meeting.