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Letter: Neighbourhoods must be planned to encourage mobility

A motorist goes through a faded crosswalk located on George Street across from Centre 200 in Sydney.
Crosswalks need to be highly visible, in daylight and at night. This one has faded significantly. — SaltWire Network file photo

Planning a walkable and accessible community is significant because it directly affects an individual’s life. People want to live in a community that they can walk, bicycle and enjoy recreation. If people are not walking, this means they are disrupted by physical barriers and insufficient infrastructures.

Pedestrian design is significant and pedestrian walking areas have to be accessible to every walker, including people with mobility issues.

Walkability contains four main themes: land use, emotion, transit and streets.

Land use involves creating walkable communities, like having destinations close to each other and creating commercial districts that people can access by foot and wheelchair.

Second, people walk where they feel safe. I notice that people with mobility issues often fear poorly maintained sidewalks; bad road conditions such as bumps and cracks might cause them to fall from the wheelchair. Fear is an important component of walkability. Concerns about walking after dark can also be barriers to walking. Abandoned buildings or vacant lots, the presence of trash, graffiti, broken windows and abandoned cars on the street may create fear for walkers.

Walking and transit are both important. Good pedestrian conditions encourage the use of public transportation, since most public transit trips include a pedestrian trip. These include the existence of steps, difficulty finding the way for people with visual impairment, lack of curb ramps, insufficient time to cross at pedestrian crossings, poor quality pavement, no sidewalk on either side of the street, and a sidewalk on one side of the street only.

Sidewalks should be wide enough for two people to pass comfortably or walk side by side. Wider sidewalks should be installed near schools, at transit stops, in downtown areas and near hospitals for all pedestrians, including wheelchair users. Curb ramps are significant; they give access to sidewalks and roads for people with wheelchairs, strollers, walkers and crutches. They should be located at all intersections and midblock locations where pedestrian crossings exist. Crosswalk materials and sidewalk conditions should be noticeable. All crosswalks should be visible, particularly at night.

My argument is that society disables people with inappropriate services and facilities. In other words, it’s not only people with mobility issues who face problems of walkability and accessibility; people who do not have any biological impairment can also face those problems.

The problems are embedded in people’s negative attitude towards disability and inadequate services. Social discrimination is the most significant problem to people with disabilities.
The difficulty happens when cultural, physical and social barriers limit accessibility to various services in society. People without visible disability can also have a handicap due to inappropriate social services. This means everyone — not just people with a disability.

The main problems people with mobility issues encounter in the neighbourhood is in their daily commute. It can be measured in terms of distance, time or cost.

I discovered considerable problems, including poor quality of sidewalks and ramps, lack of crosswalks that allow safe street crossing, too-short traffic light timing for pedestrians, and lack of snow removal on sidewalks during winter.

People request more crosswalks or islands for crossing, and better snow removal on sidewalks during winter.

The overall condition of facilities is poor because they include narrow sidewalks, poor road surfaces, no curb ramps at major intersections and faded crosswalks. The traffic light’s duration is too short, particularly for the people using walkers.

As I explore areas, I realize neighbourhoods have seriously poor accessibility.

Disability is not really about individual’s impairment but can be created by lack of appropriate facility and services. In order to make an accessible community, municipal governments should reconstruct and reinforce current infrastructure and facilities rather than creating new services.

I hope to see further improvements for this community.

Sheldon Crocker
St. John’s

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