Daryl Newcombe CTV News London Reporter
Published Wednesday, March 10, 2021
LONDON, ONT. –Accessibility advocates are pressing city council to stick to its sidewalk installation policy, in the face of mounting opposition from homeowners.
There’ll be a showdown next week between organizations fighting for more sidewalks, and neighbourhoods actively opposing their installation across lawns and driveways, at a special meeting of council’s Civic Works Committee.
“It’s an active decision to exclude,” says Jay Menard, Chair of the Accessibly Advisory Committee at city hall.
Menard asserts that – systemic ableism’ must be confronted with the same vigour as systemic racism.
He says ableism excludes many people, including Londoners with disabilities, the elderly, and parents with strollers.
“We’re telling them you’re not welcome in this community because we’re not willing to support the infrastructure that would dismantle the systemic ableism,” he adds.
But homeowners behind the well-supported petitions against sidewalks see it differently.
“They should be listening to the people living on the street,” says William Yovetich, who has lived on Tarbart Terrace in Oakridge Acres for 50 years.
His street will lose six boulevard trees to road reconstruction and sidewalk installation this summer.
He warns, “This is supposed to be the forest city. We are already losing so many trees.”
Menard responds, “If we make our communities inaccessible, we’re going to be known for something else.”
Most of the 11 residential streets in line for new sidewalks when reconstruction of their underground infrastructure occurs this summer have sent petitions and letters to council seeking an exemption.
“This street (Tarbart Terrace) doesn’t go anywhere,” says 37-year resident Joan Stewart. “I think they’re wasting taxpayer money on a sidewalk.”
“Does a sidewalk give you any more accessibility than a road with very little traffic?” rhetorically asks 40 year resident of Tarbart Terrace John Edgerton.
Although it’s under appeal, The London Plan requires sidewalks to be installed on both sides (or at least one side) of a street when its rebuilt.
Council can, however, grant exceptions.
Last year, council granted three exemptions after residents of Fox Mill Crescent, Camden Crescent and Runnymede Crescent raised concerns about the loss of boulevard trees.
“At the time, we expressed concern that this was setting a precedent,” recalls Menard. “Now we’re seeing that manifest itself in continued opposition on other streets.”
Menard adds that there are design solutions that may satisfy homeowners, but they come with a higher price tag.
“me that’s the cost of dismantling a systemic ableist society that we’ve developed.”
On Monday, the Civic Works Committee will hold a special meeting to hear from stakeholders.