The town has a newly formed accessibility committee
By Evelyn Harford
Smiths Falls Record News
Friday, November 13, 2020
For Lucie Bingley, the redevelopment of Beckwith Street isn’t just about esthetics, it’s about an improvement in accessibility downtown.
As a person with spina bifida, Lucie uses a walker to help with mobility and balance.
The wider sidewalks and curbless design employed as part of Beckwith Street’s redevelopment means she can move around easier downtown.
“Anything that doesn’t have a curb is wonderful,” she said. “It’s very evident that accessibility requirements are a consideration for council and the town. I think they certainly have done a good job.”
Mary Pat Bingley, Lucie’s mom, explained that before the redesign, the parking configuration meant they’d have to get Lucie’s walker out into traffic. With the new design, the walker can be unloaded more safely. An added bonus: Lucie doesn’t need to head down to the nearest intersection from where her car was parked to access the sidewalk via the ramp. Previously, curbs would limit where she could access the sidewalks.
Lucie explained that with the redesign, it’s also easier to get into some stores downtown, as the sidewalks are more level with business entrances. Before, she said, it was “quite difficult” to get into some places.
“That has really changed,” she said.
Lucie explained that previously, she could do it with assistance, but she feels she has more independence now.
“I feel a lot more confident with it,” she said.
The Record News met with Lucie in downtown Smiths Falls to check out the improvements to accessibility and explore what barriers remain. As we walked from the old post office at the corner of Russell Street East and Market Street North, it became abundantly clear why wider sidewalks in town are needed. As people approached Lucie with her walker, there wasn’t an easy flow. Either those approaching, or our group needed to move over to let the other party pass.
“The sidewalks being widened are very crucial,” said Lucie. “People in wheelchairs, particularly a larger one, would really need that clearance to be able to get down the street and feel safe.”
While crossing at the intersection of Beckwith and Russell, the light turned red just before we could make it to the other side. While standing on that street corner, Mary Pat pointed out why accessibility issues are so important.
“There’s more people than you think,” she said motioning to others on the main street using walkers and scooters.
In her 27 years, Lucie said, people and institutions are now starting to take accessibility issues more seriously and they’re coming to the forefront of discussion and decision-making.
“I really do see that as an evolving discussion that does come up a lot more now,” she said. “People are really realizing their role in how they can contribute to accessibility issues and what can I do to help.”
Lucie is the chair of the newly formed accessibility committee in town. It’s a committee that will help advise council on accessibility issues. The committee is working to improve the accessibility of Smiths Falls by removing existing barriers and by preventing new barriers from being created.
Lucie said when most people think about accessibility, they think of wheelchairs.
“I think it’s really important to know that there are different kinds of disabilities ” visual, audio,” she said. Lucie said those diverse voices and needs are represented on the committee.
“It’s great to see the different perspectives,” she said.
Troy Dunlop, the town’s director of public works and utilities, reported that the redesign incorporated new accessibility elements, including accommodation for side and rear loading accessible vans, barrier-free roadside parking (which includes no vertical barriers between parked cars and adjacent sidewalks), tactile markers for persons who are visually impaired, audible signals and high visibility crosswalks.
“I am very pleased to hear that accessibility improvements are well received in the downtown,” he said.
Dunlop said that town staff sent out invitations and assembled a group of stakeholders in the accessibility community and held a focused workshop last year, which helped inform an improved design of Beckwith Street.
Dunlop explained that the designated accessible spaces are located in areas where vehicles can readily enter and exit the spaces conveniently and the roadside environment could accommodate the space requirements for exclusive off-loading area for ramps.
The designated spaces are situated in the first parallel parking spaces on your right in the direction that drivers enter into each block, Dunlop noted. There are two designated accessible spaces per downtown block ” six in total.
This is the same number of designated spaces prior to the redevelopment, at which time none of the spaces accommodated dimensions or functionality for side-loading or rear-loading accessible vans.
As for the timing of the lights on Beckwith Street, Dunlop said the three signalized intersections on Beckwith are still working off of the old traffic controller systems.
“The new controllers that will work with the audible upgrades will be installed in the near future,” he said. “The delay on this work is directly related to the delay in obtaining the black traffic controller boxes.”
Dunlop said once the controllers are swapped out, the timing will be changed and the pedestrian crossings will be timed accordingly. “Regretfully, that step cannot be carried out right now,” he said. “In all cases, the timing is developed to meet the guidelines of the Ministry of Transportation.”
To learn more about the town’s accessibility committee visit: http://www.smithsfalls.ca/government/committees-of-council.