Sidewalk debate: London, Ont., Civic Works Committee grants no exemption for any street – London

London, Ont., city council’s Civic Works Committee has voted against exempting any street that’s set to receive a new sidewalk this summer.

The debate, which took place during a virtual meeting Monday afternoon, heard both sides from members of city council as well as 31 delegates.

Eleven streets were set to get new sidewalks installed once underground infrastructure reconstruction takes place, but this didn’t sit well with some homeowners.

Read more:
London petition demands improved sidewalk maintenance in winter

Speaking at the meeting, more than 10 homeowners brought up the issue of tree removal that comes with installing new sidewalks.

“It appears that there are 14 trees on 13 properties slated for removal,” said a resident of Bartlett Crescent, one of the streets on the city’s sidewalk installation list.

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“We will be left with three trees on 13 properties… This is an unnecessary loss of trees that are integral to the charm and beauty of our landscape.”

Click to play video: 'Icy sidewalk dispute in Saint John'

Icy sidewalk dispute in Saint John

Icy sidewalk dispute in Saint John – Mar 8, 2021

Others said the roads are safe for both pedestrians and drivers. One resident also brought up the mental health benefits that comes with a greater number of trees.

On the other hand, accessibility advocates argued sidewalks are vital to ensuring London is moving towards becoming more inclusive.

“Older adults with mobility challenges, young families pushing strollers… neither of whom should be on the street,” said Jay Menard, the chair of London city hall’s Accessibility Advisory Committee.

“From city parks to sidewalk debates over the past few years, disabled Londoners have routinely been told to go somewhere else or to wait for the next time around,” added Jeff Preston, an assistant professor in disability studies at Western University.

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Read more:
Accessibility advocate invites Londoners to ‘roll a mile in my wheels’

The debate also heard from a resident with a disability who disagrees with sidewalk installations.

S. Skelton lives in the St. Anthony Road area and has lived with the challenges of a traumatic brain injury for more than 20 years. St. Anthony Road is set to get sidewalks this summer.

“I speak for six per cent of households (in my neighbourhood) with a resident who meets the criteria of an Ontarian with a disability,” she said. “What we are unanimously opposed to is the assumption that sidewalks in our neighbourhood will improve our accessibility (and) safety.”

Skelton said sidewalks often cause more trouble for those with disabilities because ridges can make walking or wheeling uncomfortable and difficult. Snowy and icy conditions means sidewalks are unusable at times.

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S. Connolly, who lives in the Friars Way area expressed similar concerns. He’s the stepfather to a 21-year-old who uses a wheelchair.

“I am opposed to the sidewalks because (they) reduce Noah’s accessibility and they are a potential safety hazard.”

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“We have never (experienced) any issues or problems using the roadways… Just because we have no sidewalks doesn’t mean the neighbourhood is not accessible to all. In our neighbourhood, (the) quiet roads without sidewalks are more accessible.”

Click to play video: 'Green access road prompts heated debate'

Green access road prompts heated debate

Green access road prompts heated debate – Aug 22, 2018

Towards the end of the meeting, members of the Civic Works Committee voted against exempting any street that’s set to receive a new sidewalk.

Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen was the sole member of the committee that voted to grant exemptions for all streets.

Councillor Elizabeth Peloza also voted to grant an exemption for Bartlett Crescent only.

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The final decision goes to city council on March 23.

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The following streets are part of the city’s sideline installation project:

  • Abbey Rise
  • Elm Street
  • Friars Way
  • Imperial Road
  • Paymaster Avenue
  • St. Anthony Road
  • Tarbart Terrace
  • Bartlett Crescent
  • Doncaster Avenue
  • Doncaster Place

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Smiths Falls Accessibility Advocate Applauds Beckwith Street Improvements

The town has a newly formed accessibility committee
By Evelyn Harford
Smiths Falls Record News
Friday, November 13, 2020

For Lucie Bingley, the redevelopment of Beckwith Street isn’t just about esthetics, it’s about an improvement in accessibility downtown.

As a person with spina bifida, Lucie uses a walker to help with mobility and balance.

The wider sidewalks and curbless design employed as part of Beckwith Street’s redevelopment means she can move around easier downtown.

“Anything that doesn’t have a curb is wonderful,” she said. “It’s very evident that accessibility requirements are a consideration for council and the town. I think they certainly have done a good job.”

Mary Pat Bingley, Lucie’s mom, explained that before the redesign, the parking configuration meant they’d have to get Lucie’s walker out into traffic. With the new design, the walker can be unloaded more safely. An added bonus: Lucie doesn’t need to head down to the nearest intersection from where her car was parked to access the sidewalk via the ramp. Previously, curbs would limit where she could access the sidewalks.

Lucie explained that with the redesign, it’s also easier to get into some stores downtown, as the sidewalks are more level with business entrances. Before, she said, it was “quite difficult” to get into some places.

“That has really changed,” she said.

Lucie explained that previously, she could do it with assistance, but she feels she has more independence now.

“I feel a lot more confident with it,” she said.

The Record News met with Lucie in downtown Smiths Falls to check out the improvements to accessibility and explore what barriers remain. As we walked from the old post office at the corner of Russell Street East and Market Street North, it became abundantly clear why wider sidewalks in town are needed. As people approached Lucie with her walker, there wasn’t an easy flow. Either those approaching, or our group needed to move over to let the other party pass.

“The sidewalks being widened are very crucial,” said Lucie. “People in wheelchairs, particularly a larger one, would really need that clearance to be able to get down the street and feel safe.”

While crossing at the intersection of Beckwith and Russell, the light turned red just before we could make it to the other side. While standing on that street corner, Mary Pat pointed out why accessibility issues are so important.

“There’s more people than you think,” she said motioning to others on the main street using walkers and scooters.

In her 27 years, Lucie said, people and institutions are now starting to take accessibility issues more seriously and they’re coming to the forefront of discussion and decision-making.

“I really do see that as an evolving discussion that does come up a lot more now,” she said. “People are really realizing their role in how they can contribute to accessibility issues and what can I do to help.”

Lucie is the chair of the newly formed accessibility committee in town. It’s a committee that will help advise council on accessibility issues. The committee is working to improve the accessibility of Smiths Falls by removing existing barriers and by preventing new barriers from being created.

Lucie said when most people think about accessibility, they think of wheelchairs.

“I think it’s really important to know that there are different kinds of disabilities ” visual, audio,” she said. Lucie said those diverse voices and needs are represented on the committee.

“It’s great to see the different perspectives,” she said.

Troy Dunlop, the town’s director of public works and utilities, reported that the redesign incorporated new accessibility elements, including accommodation for side and rear loading accessible vans, barrier-free roadside parking (which includes no vertical barriers between parked cars and adjacent sidewalks), tactile markers for persons who are visually impaired, audible signals and high visibility crosswalks.

“I am very pleased to hear that accessibility improvements are well received in the downtown,” he said.

Dunlop said that town staff sent out invitations and assembled a group of stakeholders in the accessibility community and held a focused workshop last year, which helped inform an improved design of Beckwith Street.

Dunlop explained that the designated accessible spaces are located in areas where vehicles can readily enter and exit the spaces conveniently and the roadside environment could accommodate the space requirements for exclusive off-loading area for ramps.

The designated spaces are situated in the first parallel parking spaces on your right in the direction that drivers enter into each block, Dunlop noted. There are two designated accessible spaces per downtown block ” six in total.

This is the same number of designated spaces prior to the redevelopment, at which time none of the spaces accommodated dimensions or functionality for side-loading or rear-loading accessible vans.

As for the timing of the lights on Beckwith Street, Dunlop said the three signalized intersections on Beckwith are still working off of the old traffic controller systems.

“The new controllers that will work with the audible upgrades will be installed in the near future,” he said. “The delay on this work is directly related to the delay in obtaining the black traffic controller boxes.”

Dunlop said once the controllers are swapped out, the timing will be changed and the pedestrian crossings will be timed accordingly. “Regretfully, that step cannot be carried out right now,” he said. “In all cases, the timing is developed to meet the guidelines of the Ministry of Transportation.”

To learn more about the town’s accessibility committee visit:

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When Street Design Leaves Some People Behind

Expanding road space for bikes can limit accessibility for others – a balancing act for street planners and disability advocates. By John Surico
August 13, 2020

A person in an electric wheelchair crosses a street in Hawthorne, California. Adding bike infrastructure is a boon for cyclists, but some street redesigns can make getting around harder for disabled road users.

Last month, cycling advocates in the U.K. cheered the opening of Manchester’s “CYCLOPS.” Short for “Cycle Optimised Protected Signals,” the redesigned junction is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom, land of the difficult roundabout. Cyclists can ride seamlessly around the “external orbital cycle route,” separate from pedestrians, who cross cycle lanes and traffic islands, and in sync with motor vehicle traffic. It will act as a blueprint, advocates say, for future junction design.

But for some pedestrians, CYCLOPS is riddled with conflict. Those who are blind or partially sighted told me that the flattened curbs offer little indication that cyclists are approaching from either direction. The traffic-island-hopping produces multiple pressure points. People with hearing issues have trouble picking up the quiet hum of bicycle traffic. If this is the future, then accessibility advocates are concerned.

The disabled community is no stranger to shaping street design. As Sara Hendren recently wrote in CityLab, it was the work of activists who called out the normative “user” that paved the way to the Americans With Disabilities Act and made curb cuts mainstream. Projects like CYCLOPs represent the newest chapter of that same struggle, as cities shift from car-centric infrastructure toward “complete streets”-style redesigns meant to promote bikes, pedestrians and other forms of “active travel.” But what may be heralded as expanded space for one kind of road user can be a new hurdle to overcome for another. And as the Covid-19 pandemic accelerates such street reconfiguration, activists are worried that new changes will not take their experiences into account.

Growing up with a disabled parent in New York, I learned early on that every curb cut matters. Accessibility can be particularly tricky in underground mass transit: Only a quarter of New York City’s subway stations, for example, are ADA-accessible. It’s an issue of growing global importance. The number of people with disabilities living in cities around the world is estimated to reach nearly a billion by 2050. And solutions can be hard to come by.

Street access disputes are a hot topic in London, as I found out after moving to the U.K. capital last year. Last September, during London’s “Car-Free Day,” Will Norman, the city’s “cycling mayor,” was giving a speech on future plans amongst a favorable audience, before activists confronted him to ask about what they perceived as systemic design flaws in new bike-friendly street changes that made life more difficult for those on foot.

One big issue is the bus stop bypass, where cycle lanes go around floating bus stops in order to avoid entering traffic. At least 50 of these new features have been installed along London’s “Cycle Superhighways” since 2010 as a means of boosting bike ridership. But there’s a catch: Essentially, bus riders getting on or off from the sidewalk must first cross a cycle lane.

Later, activists also showed me videos on Twitter of other schemes I had taken for granted. In Glasgow, a new pedestrian crossing fell in the middle of a busy cycle lane. In Amsterdam, where conflict between pedestrians and cyclists is rising, a woman with sight issues had her cane whisked away. In London, dockless e-bikes left on sidewalks are blocking access and leading to injury.

“In London, often streets cannot be widened in any way, so when you wish to include cyclists, you could do something with regards to the outer lane, but that’s impinging on motor traffic,” said Karl Farrell, a member of the National Federation of the Blind of the U.K. and Transport for All, who is featured in the London video at the link below. “Or you take away from the footway. There’s obviously a lot of pressure on main roads, and the problem is there’s so much motor traffic. It’s hard to resolve that in a hurry. Normally, it’s the footways that have to yield and take the pressure, and society is likely to ignore those people.”

The U.K.’s Equality Act, which bans discrimination against disabled users, clearly states that local planners should push forward with a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate claim.” But it can be difficult in practice, as interpretations vary in what is ultimately a complex environment. (Advocates also argue that models for bike infrastructure in the U.K. are based on examples from Dutch or Danish cities, which can ignore local realities.)

Bike activists tend to stress “subjective safety,” or how one experiences the street – but often only for cyclists.

Take, for example, this issue of cycling near bus stops. Bike riders could just go around the bus stop and enter the motor traffic lane, but that may discourage cyclists (and also slow down buses, which move more people). The bus stop bypass idea may be thought of as the proportionate response – except it also yields issues of accessibility.

As cyclists, walkers, bus riders and drivers duel over the same real estate, this give-and-take leads to disagreement, said John Dales, an urban designer and planner who advises City Hall on these issues. (So much so that in 2018, Westminster actually issued a temporary moratorium on new “shared space” plans.) Bike activists, he told me, tend to stress “subjective safety,” or how one experiences the street – but often only for cyclists. Similarly, disabled advocates can sometimes be quick to shoot down a project, if it doesn’t meet demands. And that, too, is problematic, considering the citywide goal for 80% of trips to be done by sustainable modes by 2041.

“Start with: We have a problem. It’s what we have to work out to solve,” Dales told me. He advocated for a reasonable adjustment approach: “It’s then the job of practitioners and public authorities to say, “OK, we hear that, we’ll do the best we can.’” (It’s not always that easy, he admitted.)

But cities should consider a third option, Dales says: “Nobody’s questioning the traffic on the route. It’s the bullet that nobody really wants to bite. In several of these high streets, it’s the logical conclusion that traffic will have to be reduced.”

By instituting things like congestion pricing schemes that reduce the number of cars on the road, Dales says, cyclists would feel more comfortable navigating around buses, more space can be given to pedestrians, and streets wouldn’t need to have expensive new design features installed. “That’s just where we’re headed.”

But how can cities be proactive, rather than reactive, to accessible design?

Activists told me that social-media-bolstered advocacy must be paired with institutional representation. The number of local “access officers” in London, who typically work on these issues, was cut dramatically during post-2008 austerity. (London does not have a designated “accessibility” commissioner, either.) That lands this work on the desks of busy planners and designers, who hold varying lived experiences.

“They’re designing things that are causing problems that they don’t even realize they’re causing,” said designer Ross Atkin. “There’s an expectation to follow the standards to build an accessible street. But if you’ve got a situation where the space and geometry is different, or you’re building something that didn’t exist when they created it, then the standard is very brittle. It doesn’t tell you what the next best thing is, because the standard doesn’t tell you anything about the needs behind the standard.”

Atkin is an urban designer who follows social model theory: that is, it’s the built environment and cultural norms that disable people, not the impairments themselves. (Social model theorists opt to use the phrasing “disabled people,” instead of “people with disabilities.” I followed that notion here.) He’s working to create an accessible city through assistive and smart city tech, like “responsive street furniture” that communicates with disabled users via Bluetooth, or plans that can be read by blind or partially sighted users, so officials can effectively consult beforehand. (He provided similar materials for CYCLOPS.)

What is needed, he said, is a codified method of compromise. Case in point: tactile paving. These textured street surfaces help those with sight issues navigate seamless curbs – a popular traffic calming measure. They also partially hinder wheelchair users. But without it, blind or partially sighted users are entirely excluded, which is a greater net loss. “The important thing is acknowledging that in some cases, you might be making things a bit more difficult for one group in order to include another group,” Atkin said. “It’s all trade-offs. What we want to be doing is making the best trade-offs we can.”

This is the idea behind a new street accessibility standard Atkin, Dales and others are helping to design for the City of London Corporation, the body that oversees a tract of central London called the Square Mile. It studies the journeys of numerous user categories through various experimental models. The criteria is a spectrum: easy, frustrating, difficult or uncomfortable, and excluding or unpassable. “You can model a street that wasn’t included on the route, and work out how accessibility would be to these different groups,” Atkin said. “From a standards perspective, you can say, “Well this is the first step that we’re going to get our streets to.’ We’re going to ensure that nobody is excluded by anything on the streets.”

For advocates like Farrell, a city isn’t truly livable to the growing number of disabled people in cities like him until its streets feel safe to walk down, no matter what condition. But often he feels overlooked by design and planning processes. While cities everywhere are more formally recognizing accessibility as a key pillar of cities, he said that decades worth of work from advocates shouldn’t disappear in the name of sustainability. Solutions, he said, will come faster if everyone works together.

“These near-misses or low-impact collisions, they’re not recorded anywhere. But these things are important in society,” Farrell told me. “People should feel free, and anyone that is in the modern categories of vulnerability shouldn’t feel vulnerable using things like bus stops or walking along pavements.”

“That’s part of the quality of life: life itself.”

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