Sad state of sidewalks
The Editor, As a 27-year resident and disabled citizen of Alexandria, the feature of this town that grabs my attention more than anything else is the horrible, deplorable condition of the sidewalks. For most pedestrians, these sidewalks may present the occasional obstacle, or perhaps a turned ankle once in a while. Yet to those of us with disabilities, these same sidewalks present us with danger, inaccessibility, and a sense of rampant apathy by the Public Works department, and by extension, the North Glengarry Township Council.
This is 2018 and accessibility laws have been in place across the province of Ontario for a decade and a half. These are statutes that belong to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, AODA. Yet here is Alexandria with more than a dozen street corner curbs still impossible for wheelchair access, the worst of which exisis at one of the busiest corners of Main Street, namely, the northeast corner of Centre and
Dominion Streets, directly beside the post office. Here is Alexandria, with four light-controlled intersections and a light-controlled crosswalk that remain fully and completely void of any audio signals for the vision impaired and blind. Here is Alexandria, with so many sidewalks with holes, gaps, and abrupt driveway gullies, as well as cracks and crevasses large enough in which to easily break an unsuspecting ankle or to grow a plentitude of grass and weeds to the point that these sidewalks must be actually mowed. Consider that for
a moment: grass and weeds dense and tall enough that the very sidewalks must be mowed.
The worst of these unintentional greenbelt sidewalks is the one on Main Street North between Bishop Street and the railway crossing. At one point in 2017, the herbage on this sidewalk actually caused my guide dog to stumble.
Another offender of similar magnitude isn’t far away. On the west side of Main Street North, the sidewalk begins at the property line between Glengarry District High School and the
Ultramar gas station. The entire length of this particular sidewalk, from the high school to the curling club at the corner of Kincardine West, is so perilous that for several years, my guide dog was hesitant to walk upon it. Luckily, I now live south of these atrocities, and no longer must I test my dog’s guiding abilities and courage on these two stretches of concrete and grass.
It is far, far beyond the scope of this writing to list each and every one of the literally hundreds of such sidewalk dangers. Yet I will point out two other areas perilous to those of us with mobility difficulties and disabilities. The first is the construction that supposedly exists as the sidewalk over the bridge on Centre Street, just east of Bishop Street. The surface of this sidewalk is greatly uneven and crumbling in several spots. Its very decrepitude is shameful. A second sidewalk of particular menace exists directly in front of St. Finnan’s School, between the
walk to the front doors and the school’s curved driveway. Again, at the spot, my dog tends to guide me onto the grass as we pass these cracks and cave-ins. That’s fine in the summer, yet the cracks and cave-ins exist all year round, with snow and ice filling in such hollows and creating their own obstacles and hazards. Pity and prayers to any person requiring the help of a walker or cane upon such sidewalks and God alone must know how anyone in a wheelchair would ever be able to safely and securely proceed from one end of town to the other, or for that matter, from east to west. Regarding wheelchairs, the most blatant obstacles in town, other than the inaccessible curbs at corners, are embedded into the centre of the sidewalk along the north side of Elgin Street West: telephone poles. It would be literally impossible for a person in a wheelchair to navigate along this stretch of Alexandria
sidewalk without risking personal safety by heading out upon the street itself. I have also wondered how on Earth the sidewalk snowplow adequately clears that particular area.
There is one more insidious and seemingly immutable tradition that takes place during Alexandria winters. As a result of early morning sidewalk cleaning, the sidewalk plow completely clears the snow from the sidewalks. As a result, they are wonderful, clean and easy to walk. However, and this is a huge concern for many citizens. The most frustrating thing of all is that once the sidewalks are clear, the road plows then go out...and as they turn the corners, they bury any access to these sidewalks! Here are the sidewalks, fresh and clear and safe. It’s just that no one can get them without climbing snowbanks. There appears to be a simple solution to this: get the road plows out first. Yet several years of requests for such action have fallen upon deaf ears.
Another factor for all Alexandria pedestrians and the sidewalks of the town is a perceived failure of bylaw enforcement. In numerous places along the north/south streets of Main, Dominion and Bishop streets, are a large number of hedges, shrubs, low-hanging trees and other greenery that overtake more than half the width of the sidewalks. Just think of the potential revenue should the bylaws be applied! There’s a gold mine in greenery there for the taking, should the Township ever give a damn.
Solution lies within the community
I invite the Township Council to walk their own streets, to witness for themselves the inadequacies, ineptitudes and inherent perils to all pedestrians, but mainly and mostly to those of us with disabilities.There is no justifiable reason, no legal excuse as to why and how such blatant disregard of the AOTA standards can and does exist.
There are a few people without disability who can truly, honestly, and completely understand the frustration, irritation and irresponsibility of the barriers that the disabled must cross each and every
day. Take, for example, the absolute impossibility of someone in a wheelchair independently obtaining access to either the Home Hardware store south of town, or the butcher’s shop at the far northeast of town. We, the disabled community, have become the people who cannot shop at either location, the people who cannot independently access these stores and spend our disposable income, simply and solely because of their inaccessible locations. There are no sidewalks, there are no shoulders alongside the road, there are absolutely no accommodations whatsoever for a mobility-impaired person to independently get to these retail outlets. This is a direct and explicit defiance of the AOTA standards of Customer Service. These laws came into effect in 2014; as of September 2018, these retail outlets remain inaccessible.
In this election year of 2018, I urge all citizens of North Glengarry to look into their hearts at what the future may hold for them. Are you willing to be ignored, denied and refused your
most simple of accommodations? As of this writing, vision-impaired people have no safe, secure of accessible way to perform such a simple task as crossing Main Street. We are denied the simple courtesy of not walking into shrubbery, of allowing us into retail stores, or even having the privilege of safely and effortlessly gaining access to a sidewalk without barriers. What does this mean for your later years? Will you matter, or will you be cast aside due to something as insubstantial as a budget? The AOTA standards prescribed and advised responsibility for accommodating disabilities more than fifteen years ago.
The ineffectual incumbents have failed us. The solution lies within the community, the disabled as well as the fully abled.
This concerns itself with much, much more than sidewalks. It concerns itself with respect, dignity, and application of existing laws, standards, and accommodations laid out in provincial laws more than 15 years ago.
Bob Berrigan, Alexandria