Letter: Ferry Hill needs to be safer for all

Wednesday, November 18 2020


Current access to the BC Ferry Terminal along “Ferry Hill” on North Road is potentially dangerous to all ferry users including pedestrians, cyclists, GERTIE and school bus passengers, vehicle and truck drivers, and those with mobility issues. 

The approximately 500 metres of North Road from the ferry terminal to the intersection of North and South roads is a well-travelled roadway used by every Gabriola resident. Yet this stretch of road lacks basic features needed to ensure and enhance the safety of all who access the terminal.

There are no dedicated pedestrian or cyclist paths on Ferry Hill, forcing walkers and cyclists to share narrow shoulders with vehicle traffic including heavy trucks and industrial vehicles. The narrow road shoulders are poorly marked with faded lines or no markings at all.

There is no road lighting beyond the terminal parking lot, making it extremely difficult for vehicle drivers to see pedestrians, especially in the poor visibility of winter darkness and inclement weather. 

There is no signage that warns drivers to watch for pedestrians and cyclists on the dark stretches of road. Nor is there signage advising pedestrians and cyclists of the safest pathways up Ferry Hill.

At the entrance to the ferry terminal there are no marked pedestrian crosswalks, nor any form of separation of vehicles and pedestrians with an often chaotic situation of pedestrians and cyclists dodging vehicles as they enter or leave the terminal.

And the current design channels pedestrians and cyclists disembarking from the ferry into walking on the right side of the road up Ferry Hill with their backs to oncoming traffic - a dangerous and illegal practice.

BC Ferry Corporation is well aware of these hazards. Their March, 2019, Descanso Bay Gabriola Island Terminal Development Plan, notes that, “At the terminal itself there are no pedestrian facilities, except for a barrier-separated walkway and waiting area between the parking lot and the terminal ramp. Outside of the terminal area there are generally no dedicated pedestrian or cycling facilities (or even shoulders that could be used), and thus these road users share the road with motorists.”

BC Ferries planners point out that, “It is expected that as traffic volumes increase to and from the island, the level of exposure for vulnerable road users (e.g., pedestrians and cyclists) will increase. While on-street parking and ferry queues take up much of the off-road space, cyclists and pedestrians are travelling on the road and amongst traffic with uncontrolled and unpredictable movement.”

Gabriola’s Official Community Plan (Bylaw No 166) also identifies the need for safe roads for pedestrians and cyclists. Section 7.1 states the goal of “provid(ing)  a network of bicycle routes and ensur(ing) island roads are able to accommodate cycling safely,” and “encourag(ing) the provision of a network of public pathways island-wide and safe pedestrian access along the Island’s main roadways.”

Current practices are, moreover, illegal. The BC Motor Vehicle Act (RSBC 1996) states in Chp. 318, Sect 182, (2) If there is no sidewalk, a pedestrian walking along or on a highway must walk only on the extreme left side of the roadway or the shoulder of the highway, facing traffic approaching from the opposite direction.” 

North Road is defined as a provincial highway. Almost every pedestrian leaving the terminal and walking up Ferry Hill with their back to traffic is breaking the law and subject to potential legal penalties.

So what can be done? The current construction of the Village Trail is a good start. The next step is to plan for an extension of the trail from the post office down Ferry Hill to the Descanso Bay terminal.

That is why we support the Local Trust Committee’s application for a UBCM grant to begin the much needed process of creating safe and accessible access to and from the ferry terminal for all Gabriola ferry users whether walking, riding, driving or using mobility vehicles. 


~ Bob Andrew, Penelope Bahr, Ivan Bulic, Charlotte Cameron, Tom Cameron, Steve Earle, Tim Leadem, Q.C., Cameron Murray, Chris Straw, Fay Weller