Q&A - Panhandlers on Medians

Q&A ImageMetro Vancouver has several panhandlers who walk on the raised median in the middle of the roadway soliciting money from occupants of vehicles in the left turn lane waiting to turn at the intersection ahead.

My safety concerns are that these panhandlers (1) create a distraction to motorists that may cause a vehicle accident and (2) may fall off the narrow raised median into the path of traffic in the other lane that is often travelling at 60 km/h.

MVA s. 182 makes it an offence for pedestrians to be on a roadway (1) when there is a sidewalk on a least one side of the roadway and (2) to solicit business from an occupant of a vehicle.

Is a raised median in the middle of a roadway included as part of the roadway?  Does soliciting business include panhandling?  If the answers to these questions is negative, it may explain why the police have not been addressing this issue.  Perhaps they are waiting for a serious accident to occur before they can justify enforcement.

In my view the vehicle occupants who give money to these panhandlers are partially to blame for providing the incentive for these panhandlers to be on the raised medians thus (1) creating a distraction to motorists and (2) placing the panhandlers at risk of being injured by moving vehicles.



Here's the section of the Motor Vehicle Act that was referenced:

Pedestrian walking along highway

182  (1) If there is a sidewalk that is reasonably passable on either or both sides of a highway, a pedestrian must not walk on a roadway.

  • (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.
  • (3) A person must not be on a roadway to solicit a ride, employment or business from an occupant of a vehicle.
  • (4) Except for a person who solicits a ride in an emergency situation, a person who contravenes this section commits an offence.

What is critical here is the definition of roadway:

"roadway" means the portion of the highway that is improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular traffic, but does not include the shoulder, and if a highway includes 2 or more separate roadways, the term "roadway" refers to any one roadway separately and not to all of them collectively;

The median is not improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular traffic, so it does not qualify as a roadway. This means that it is not illegal for a person to walk on it, although I agree with you, it is not a good thing for pedestrians to be there, panhandling or not.

The word business is not defined in either section 1 nor section 119 of the Motor Vehicle Act, the Interpretation Act or the Offence Act. In that case, one could look to federal statutes such as the Criminal Code (not found). Finally, the common meaning of the word in a current dictionary is what the court would apply. The dictionary definitions that I read would exclude panhandling.

The City of Vancouver Street & Traffic Bylaw 2849 does not completely prohibit this action either:

70A (1)(e) to solicit from an occupant of a motor vehicle in a manner which obstructs or impedes the convenient passage of any vehicular traffic in a street;

"solicit" means to, without consideration, ask for money, donations, goods or other things of value whether by spoken, written or printed word or bodily gesture, for one's self or for any other person, and solicitation has a
corresponding meaning, but does not include soliciting for charity by the holder of a license for soliciting for charity under the provisions of the License By-law;

Being on the median by itself is not an impediment to traffic but could be considered so if traffic is not moving when it should in order to make a donation. I would be surprised if this would proceed to the point where it was inconvenient and expect that the court would allow some few seconds before it changed from convenient to inconvenient.

Undercover agent ...

... my favourite item in the newspaper earlier this year was about a cop - I think this was in Chilliwack - who dressed up as a panhandler and stood on the median with a sign around his neck.

The sign however didn't ask for money - it advised of who and what he was, so that when he flagged drivers to the side of the road for chatting on their cell phones, they would know that they were well and truly busted! surprise

Submitted by E-mail

A quick comment on the link to Panhanders, and the wording on people who stand at the side of the road waving placards.
The corner at the Pearson Bridge in Nanaimo has seen numerous people lately who's sole aim IS to distract drivers with their message.

This is a dangerous enough corner, with two lanes turning left and a third merging, and with drivers incessantly switching over two lanes from the centre lane to the curb lane.

And it has been going on for some time.

Perhaps they should all be ticketed with a Distracted Driver provision till they get the message.

Wishful thinking.

Surrey Bylaw 13007 s. 9

I live in Surrey BC which has Bylaw 13007, s. 9 of which reads as follows: "No person, whether as a pedestrian, passenger or driver and whether or not with the use or aid of any animal, vehicle or other thing, shall perform or engage in any stunt or other activity on a highway that is likely to distract, startle or interfere with other users of the highway."  See the bylaw.

In this Bylaw the definition of "'HIGHWAY' includes every highway within the meaning of the Highway Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 323 and amendments thereto; every road, street, lane or right of way designed or intended for or used by the general public for the passage of vehicles; and every private place or passageway to which the public, for the purpose of parking or servicing of vehicles, has access or is invited; and includes disabled zones and the roadway, shoulder, boulevard, ditch and sidewalk and whatever lands lie between the property lines of the highway."

The last part of this definition would appear to incude a raised median in the middle of a highway because it would fall within the phrase "whatever lands lie between the property lines of the highway."  I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

In my view the presence of a pedestrian on a raised median "is likely to distract, startle or interfere with other users of the highway" especially to motorists such as myself who do not expect to see a person standing on a narrow median in close proximity to the travelled roadway on which my vehicle is travelling at the posted speed of 60 km/h.  I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

Are you aware of any other law that would prohibit a pedestrian/panhandler from being on a raised median in the middle of a highway or roadway?  Thank you.

Pedestrians on the Freeway

This is the only other prohibition that I know about. Pedestrians are forbidden on Schedule 1 highways unless they are attending to a broken down vehicle.

Schedule 1 highways

The Schedule 1 Highways listed in MVR 19.07 are freeways that generally have on and off ramps.  I am not aware of any that have a a left-turn-lane and, if they exist, these locations doe not appear to have a problem with panhandlers.  I am aware of several panhandlers who focus on the left-turn-lane at a number of roadways that are not Schedule 1 highways.

Safe Streets Act - panhandling on roadway

BC Safe Streets Act s. 3(5) states: "A person commits an offence if the person, while on a roadway, solicits a person who is in or on a stopped, standing or parked vehicle."

In this Act, "solicit" is defined as "to communicate, in person, using the spoken, written or printed word, a gesture or other means, for the purpose of receiving money or another thing of value, regardless of whether consideration is offered or provided in return."

In this Act, a "roadway" is defined as "a highway, road, street, lane or right of way, including the shoulder of any of them, that is improved, designed or ordinarily used by the general public for the passage of vehicles."  At issue is whether a raised median is included within the definition of "roadway".  Any thoughts on this issue?


Safe Streets Act 3(5)

Surrey RCMP advised me that the median is part of the roadway for purposes of the Safe Streets Act.

Numerous studies have shown that it is not uncommon for panhandlers to suffer from alcohol and drug addiction as well as mental illness.  A 1996 survey by the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba found that 46% of Winnipeg panhandlers were intoxicated while panhandling.

In Feb 2014 a Federal Judge in Maine USA ruled that panhandlers had the First Amendment (Freedom of Speech) to panhandle from medians on highways.  I hope this ruling is appealed and overturned.  There are situations where safety ought to take priority over free speech, and panhandling on highway medians is one of them.

I'm Glad You Are Persistent

Thanks for taking the time to make sure that we got the situation on this topic understood correctly.

Looks like I'm going to bed one less dumb again tonight.

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