Roadside memorial restrictions in the works for Abbotsford

Shrines to lost loved ones can ‘look really bad’ after awhile: Councillor

This file photo shows a roadside memorial on Whatcom Road placed to honour Erica Schmidt

This file photo shows a roadside memorial on Whatcom Road placed to honour Erica Schmidt

Abbotsford is considering putting restrictions on roadside memorials.

They’re a common sight flowers, crosses, stuffed animals and other memorabilia on the side of the road there to remember a loved one lost in a motor vehicle crash.

There might be a limit to how long they can stay up, though, depending on how council responds to a proposal brought forward by a concerned resident.

Gerald Cuthbert put forward the idea of a roadside memorial policy on Sept. 21, at a presentation to the transportation advisory committee. Cuthbert had concerns about whether memorials could obstruct the view of drivers or harm real estate values.

The recommendation to set restrictions on the shrines was passed at a Nov. 2 executive council meeting, with Couns. Patricia Ross and Dave Loewen voting against.

Loewen said a formal policy wasn’t needed.

“My fear/concern would be that the policy would act as an invitation to erect roadside memorials,” Loewen said, adding that he wants to “move toward removal of these memorials in a sensitive and timely manner.”

Coun. Sandra Blue wants to have roadside memorial policy information distributed where grieving families can easily find it, like at Victim Services and local funeral homes. She noted that some items chosen for memorials, such as teddy bears, can deteriorate when exposed to the elements.

“After awhile, they look really bad,” she said.

About 15 roadside memorials currently exist in Abbotsford, according to city staff. They currently follow an informal policy, checking for safety concerns and notifying families if a memorial is to be cleaned, removed or altered.

Coun. Moe Gill said over his long tenure on council, responses to roadside memorials were frequently discussed on the traffic safety committee. Rather than having to spend time deliberating each case, he’d prefer an overall policy to guide the city’s actions.

No other municipalities in the Lower Mainland have roadside memorial restrictions. In Calgary, metal bands are used for a longer-lasting remembrance. It’s an oft-discussed issue in Ottawa, where white-painted “ghost bikes” memorializing cyclists are installed in various locations.

The topic of roadside memorials has been discussed by the city previously. In 2006, they considered partnering with ICBC to offer small, permanent memorial plaques to grieving families.

In 2009, council considered erecting black coffin-shaped “FATALITY” signs at intersections where traffic collisions have caused loss of life. The proposal was made in partnership with UFV, with researchers hoping the signs would encourage safe driving. That proposal was rejected.