Construction Obstructions: A Walk in a Wheelchair Gets Complicated

This past weekend, we headed towards the ferry dock to go to the Islands. Because I haven’t been to the Islands yet this summer and I’ve been having a hankering. 

Getting there was an interesting challenge.

There’s been some road work along Queens Quay, the street that runs parallel to the lake in downtown Toronto. Big chunks of road have been cut out near the sidewalks, especially by corners and curb cuts. And then these chunks were covered in the initial rough asphalt and left sitting over the weekend. The stretch of road thus being decidedly uneven, and therefore inaccessible to people in wheelchairs, stretched from Lower Jarvis Street to Yonge Street.

Because of those chunks being cut out of the road right by the curb cuts by Queens Quay and Lower Jarvis, Cooper and Friedland Streets, there was a 1.5-2 inch drop between the sidewalk and the street, followed by another significant lip to get from the rough asphalt to the regular street. Repeat at every curb cut.

I’ve served on a construction liaison committee to the Waterfront Revitalization and because of that, know enough about the process of paving that I am pretty sure things need to sit for a couple of days after that rough asphalt has been put down. It has a name. I can’t remember it. The point is that as far as I remember, you can’t pave it with the smooth asphalt right away (it was done by yesterday).

I am not arguing construction —we have good roads because of construction — nor am I arguing the choice to do a long stretch of road all at the same time. It’s efficient.

What I’m arguing is the resulting barrier to accessibility along the north side of Queens Quay.

Now, you might argue that I could have popped over to the south side of the street and I agree completely. The problem was that due to the cutting of the street surface, there was no way of popping over between the west side of Lower Jarvis and Yonge, a stretch of road to just short of 1 km. Only at Yonge Street had a ramshackle ramp been created.

Applying the D-test
In this case, D stands for discrimination. In other words, does the lack of access constitute discrimination to people with disabilities?

And it does.

What would happen if any other group — women, racial minorities, aboriginals, LGBT — and they would not be able to travel along this road due to a barrier that existed only for that group? Imagine someone had to backtrack half a kilometre to cross the road for the sole reason that they were gay ... black ... a woman. Think about it for a moment. 

It would be a major problem. Newspaper stories would be written about it. But despite this issue affecting a corner upon which is located the headquarters of The Toronto Star — our major daily newspaper — there has been no noise about this.

So I am creating some noise.

New standards required
Some construction projects do take the diversity of people travelling on the sidewalk into account when necessary disruption happens in a community. But in my experience, not nearly enough.

Sidewalks and intersections aren’t just for cars and the able-bodied. This is where people with disabilities travel, as well. People who use wheelchairs and scooters, and those who are ambulatory, but need mobility aids such as canes and walkers. A couple of years ago, the sidewalk in front of my building was being replaced. This created a situation where none of the wheelchair users who live in the building could leave by the front door for days. It affected how we travelled in the neighbourhood and pick-ups by WheelTrans, Toronto’s parallel transit service.. No notice had been provided from the City.

Creating better roads and sidewalks is important. It improves communities and make it easier to travel for pedestrians and drivers both. And it improves the conditions upon which those of us who use mobility aids travel. This has been recognized in my neighbourhood, where the corners of sidewalks have been marked with metal plates containing bumps as an indication to people who are visually impaired that it is a curb cut. 

This is fantastic, but this care is not reflected during most construction processes.

City governments and their departments should develop standards, not just for what the finished product should be, but how it affects citizens — and citizens with disabilities — during construction.

What say you, City of Toronto Works Department? 


Elizabeth said…
Well said - and so true - not just in Toronto, but all the rest of the cities in the world!