Strolling along 35 Street between 31st and 32nd will become safer this year with the addition of a new stretch of sidewalk, and that's alright with an older couple who take the route to downtown Vernon every day.
For Norm and Grace Kramer, the new sidewalk will make part of their daily trek a little safer. Norm, 79, suffers from a bad back and heart condition while his wife Grace, 72, lives with the daily pain of a spinal condition. Both describe themselves as disabled. Walking is what makes them feel better.
"It feels terrible when we don't walk," Norm says. "Our health deteriorates."
The project is one of six new sidewalks which will help address dangerous areas for pedestrians in Vernon. In the 35th Street location, a sidewalk will replace an icy strip of metered parking spots frequently trod upon by walkers. And the Kramers are dedicated to the passtime.
For a long time, Norm couldn't drive. That's when walking became both a necessity and a joy. He and his wife moved to their downtown Vernon location so they could walk everywhere—the grocery store, the doctor, the optometrist. And while they agree new sidewalks are a start, they say maintenance of existing ones is more important.
"You need hiking boots to walk some of them," Norm says. Some areas have been ground down to smooth out the bumps, but he says that can't go on forever. Eventually, they'll need to be replaced. In some places, grooves in the concrete collect water which turns into mini ice rinks in the cold.
"For people like us, it's suicide," Norm says of the sidewalk conditions.
The Kramers say snow removal is another big issue affecting pedestrian safety, and wonder if the new 35th Street sidewalk will get covered in snow when the road gets ploughed. Grace says she has gone to city meetings to vocalize some of her concerns, including the brickwork on 30th Ave. which she says is too bumpy for people with walkers or scooters. She says the vibrations caused from the uneven surface inflict waves of pain on walkers with spinal conditions.
They say rough sidewalks are enough to stop seniors from walking in those areas.
The city's transportation technician, Amanda Watson, is passionate in her vision of eliminating walking barriers for all demographics in Vernon.
"We're concentrating on schools, senior centers and the city center," Watson says.
She says her department has a long list of identified problems areas, and that the city is doing what it can to chip away at them.
Along with 35th Street, areas of 43rd Ave., 37th Street, 32nd Ave., and Okanagan Landing Road will see facelifts on their roadsides. Watson notes that walking has both health and environmental benefits. She says that though the focus areas are schools and senior centers, the overall goal is a system of walking routes throughout the city. Through the years, as more and more gaps in waking infrastructure get filled in, Vernon will approach a pedestrian friendly status. But, it will take time—and money.
To address aging infrastructure—including sidewalks—the city recently decided to implement a 1.9 per cent tax increase.
The streets of Vernon are both friend and foe to the Kramers who risk their well-being every time they endeavour to fortify it by walking. But they, and their fellow pedestrians, will be a bit safer with a swath of pavement on 35th Street they don't have to share with oncoming cars.