British Columbia

Rainbow crosswalk drawn in chalk after Valemount council rejects proposal

After Valemount village council rejected a proposal for a rainbow crosswalk at their community's busiest intersection, citizens in support of the project broke out the chalk and drew their own.

'They defaced public property ... it was a rebellious act,' mayor says of rainbow crosswalk's supporters

Advocates for a rainbow sidewalk in Valemount say it is needed to show support for the LGBTQ community. (Laura Keil, courtesy Rocky Mountain Goat newspaper)

People in support of installing a rainbow crosswalk in the Robson Valley community of Valemount aren't backing down from their request, despite village council voting unanimously against the proposal.

Mayor and council in the small community roughly 290 kilometres southeast of Prince George rejected the request at a meeting held July 26. Undeterred, a group of residents decided to show its support for the LGBTQ community by installing its own, temporary crosswalk.

Kimberley Duncan organized about 50 people to use sidewalk chalk to draw a rainbow on the cobblestone street along Fifth Avenue, one of Valemount's busiest intersections. 

"Valemount is a really small community and we're known for being so accepting and so kind," she said, adding she was surprised council voted against the rainbow crosswalk proposal.

"We figured sidewalk chalk was washable. It's not going to damage anything. It's not going to vandalize anything. We hoped it would show support for the community, and it's all about love and acceptance."

Mayor Jeanette Townsend says she was disappointed by the act.

"Preparing a petition and asking people to sign it is their prerogative and their right," she told CBC.

"However, they defaced public property and it has caused a great deal of division in town. Residents were very unhappy that it was a rebellious act and that public property was defaced."

Advocates for a rainbow crosswalk in Valemount broke out chalk to draw their own after village council rejected a request. (Laura Keil, courtesy Rocky Mountain Goat newspaper)

Townsend says she doesn't think the colours of a crosswalk have much to do with how her community treats people of different gender and sexual identities. 

"To me, it's more important to accept all minority groups and to treat them as my neighbours and everybody else," she said of her vote against the crosswalk. "Outward signs like this don't necessarily mean sincere and genuine acceptance."

Dan Kenkel, however, believes a rainbow crosswalk is an important symbol of support. As principal of a local high school, he says he's learned how difficult it can be for young people to come out publicly in a small town.

"I think, if you're not a part of the queer community, you don't understand what it's like to have to wonder whether someone is gonna call you a gender slur or some sort of a sexual slur," he said. "Whether someone is going to make fun of you, whether you're going to be welcome or accepted whether people are going to give you that look."

Kenkel is helping run a Facebook group aimed at getting council to change its mind, saying he thinks a rainbow crosswalk would be an important symbol of what Valemount stands for. 

"We know who we are. We know that we're an accepting and welcoming community but having a crosswalk is a visual representation of that."

Cost and safety given as reasons for rejection

A rainbow crosswalk was recently installed in Prince Geroge at a budgeted cost of $6,000 (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Townsend says the main reasons she voted against the crosswalk were cost and safety. 

A report from chief administrative officer Mark Macneill recommended turning down the application, citing the same concerns.

Macneill's report estimates the cost of maintaining a rainbow crosswalk at between $2,500 and $10,000, which would eat up the village's entire road-line painting budget.

"There is also the added element that the particular street location requested consists of cobblestone which makes painting more difficult and more expensive," the report said. "If the rainbow crosswalk were to be targeted by vandals, additional maintenance costs would also be incurred by the village."

Advocates, however, say they would be willing to fundraise to cover the costs of the initial crosswalk installation, as well as ongoing maintenance costs. 

In Prince George, a rainbow crosswalk was recently installed using durable cold plastic, at a budgeted cost of $6,000, while Prince Rupert painted a crosswalk at a cost of $1,850

We know that we're an accepting and welcoming community, but having a crosswalk is a visual representation of that.- Dan Kenkel

The other primary reason for rejecting a rainbow crosswalk in Valemount was safety and liability, according to Townsend, who highlighted concerns over  accidents from drivers distracted or confused by the coloured street markings. 

"A traffic policeman from another city said — and I don't know if this is an actual case — the example that he gave to me was this: 'I'm a tourist in your town and this is the busiest crosswalk in your town, and it is painted and it's cobblestone, and I'm driving and I'm looking at it, and oh goodness, I hit somebody by mistake — an accident. But it's the municipality's fault because I was distracted by the colours of that crosswalk,'" she said.

Again, advocates point to cases in other communities where rainbow crosswalks have been installed, particularly a report from the City of Edmonton that found, if anything, drivers seem to be more likely to stop at multi-coloured crosswalks.

Both sides trying to avoid controversy

One thing both the mayor and the rainbow crosswalk advocates say they don't want is for the issue to become divisive.

"I don't want to create controversy," Townsend said. "To me, they're my neighbours, OK? And, all minority groups are important, and all minority groups should be accepted into the community as a regular citizen."

Kenkel agrees.

"We elect people to represent and make decisions for us," he said of their choice to reject the crosswalk.

"Having said that, I also want to make sure council has all of the information that it requires to make a good decision, and I think because of the strong backlash ... that it's a good idea in a peaceful and proactive and supportive way, let them know what the numbers are, let them know who is standing up to support this project, and hopefully they'll be able to reconsider."

To hear more about this story, listen to the audio labeled Rainbow crosswalk drawn in chalk after Valemount council rejects proposal.

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