Sad state of side­walks

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page -

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

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