My City Hates Pedestrians
A few years ago I worked as a home aid for adults with disabilities. One of the guys I worked with, let’s call him Ray, had mental and physical disabilities and was (as a complete understatement) difficult to work with. One of the only activities that he genuinely liked, that he would participate in without getting violent or abusive, was going for walks in his wheelchair. I would strap him into his chair and the two of us would bomb around town for hours. I would talk in a rambling stream-of-consciousness kind of way about my life, and he would call me a hussy, or say “fuck” every once in a while. We were pals.
What made these walks difficult was not my stamina, Ray’s attitude, or anything like that – it was the city’s complete disregard for the challenges of pedestrians and people in wheelchairs. Ray and the other guys he lived with were in a group home, and since group homes are notoriously underfunded (although the director of the company drove a Mercedes), the home was on the poor side of town. I don’t mean falling-apart, dilapidated, inner-city slum poor, I live in a small Canadian city that doesn’t have an area that bad, I just mean mostly rental homes, lots of apartments and townhomes, and old-ish. None of these brand new “Beach Forest Paradise Cove Canyon Lawn” planned communities/concrete monstrosities.
Regardless, poor people obviously don’t deserve proper sidewalks. The sidewalks would often be cracking and falling apart, and it would be a miracle if they sloped down at the corner in order to let you cross the street. You could probably get a stroller down from the sidewalk with difficulty, but a wheelchair with a 150lb man, who will kick you in the face if you try to pull the chair from the front? No. To get Ray across the street I would often have to walk a block or more out of my way, get off the sidewalk at someone’s driveway, cross the street illegally, and get back up on the other side at another driveway (which may not line up with the first one, requiring walking for a ways on the street).
As a person without significant physical limitations, it took Ray to show me just how unfriendly the city is to people with wheelchairs. I can’t imagine needing to get around in one, and being stymied at every turn by ignorant planning. A few years ago, the disability services office on campus ran a study where they paired a worker in a wheelchair with one who was walking, and had them roam the university, taking notes of where they could and couldn’t go. This led to new paths, new elevators, and all sorts of other innovations. I was so proud of my university for approaching the issue from the point of view of the people it actually effected. Walking around my city, even without a wheelchair, I am constantly faced with the fact that city planners and policymakers are so rich and entitled that they have no idea what it is like to be a pedestrian.
Case in point: the sidewalk this morning, as I walked to the bus:
Yes, yes, I understand. I live in Alberta, sacred land of oil. I have some spectacular gall to choose to walk and bus instead of drive. Still, I think that I deserve better than to have the whole pedestrian area covered in sludge from the road. I had to walk on the road (a major thoroughfare which turns into a highway just a short way past) for a time, because the sidewalk was completely blocked off – two-foot high snow drifts obstructing any pathway.
I imagine that anyone in a wheelchair would just have to stay home.