On the afternoon of November 19th, representatives from Ecology Ottawa, Walk Ottawa and the Bel-Air & Copeland Park Community Associations, joined volunteers of the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society for a transportation audit which began at the MS Society on Woodward and culminated on Navaho.
An audit sees volunteers walking and rolling a predetermined route to identify obstacles to pedestrian and public transit.
Copeland Park was identified as an ideal location for an audit because it is made up of schools, a church, a large shopping complex and numerous office buildings, including the MS Society. Although the MS Society building itself is entirely accessible, the roads and pathways surrounding it poses certain challenges. “The Society is an important source of information, assistive devices and support for people living with multiple sclerosis,” says Rebecca Cooney, of the MS Society’s Education Committee. “It’s vital that we can get there safely.”
Auditors found, among other things, the following hazardous conditions for wheelchair users:
- The lack of a sidewalk on the south side of Woodward forces wheelchair users to either wheel beside traffic or cross Woodward mid-block.
- A construction zone on Agincourt means pedestrians of any ability must travel on the street.
- The pedestrian light at Garfield is too short for safe passage by manual wheelchair users.
- Lack of curb cuts at all eastbound bus shelters means winter conditions would render them inaccessible.
- Heaving of asphalt sidewalks presents dangerous conditions in winter.
Says Karen Scott, who lives with MS and is a member of the MS Society’s Social Action Committee, “Inaccessible pedestrian routes are a universal problem and not unique to this particular site. But it is essential that pedestrian infrastructure support those of us who cannot step over curbs.” A recent U.S. Study reports wheelchair users are more likely to be killed in traffic than any other pedestrian but says Scott, “there are steps we can take to reduce that likelihood.”
During the winter, conditions become even more of a hazard, so much so that an audit would not have been considered during the winter, as icy conditions would have made it too risky. “It’s important that wheelchair users be included in audits,” says Jamie Rice, Co-president of the Bel-Air Community Association. “Areas that are accessible to able bodied people can present real hardships to those in wheelchairs.”
”Active transportation is especially important to wheelchair users,” says Scott. “It offers independence and freedom to alter plans, and can often be the only form of affordable transportation available.”