The City of Vancouver is planning to install up to 600 more curb ramps over the next few years to help make the municipality more accessible.
The initiative comes after the city’s engineering department identified about 5,000 locations “where curb ramps are missing” from Vancouver’s infrastructure, according to a recent request for proposal. The city plans to award a one-year contract to install 150-200 curb ramps, and may extend that contract at its discretion, according to the proposal.
But wheelchair users such as Gabrielle Peters, a disabled writer who used to sit on the City of Vancouver’s Active Transportation Policy Council, believe much more can and should be done to open the city for all to use.
In a 2017 motion passed by council, Peters identified that 8,000 of the city’s 27,000 intersections had no curb ramps whatsoever. Peters also calculated that the city budget allowed for 40 curb ramps to be built per year, meaning that it would take 200 years for Vancouver to be fully outfitted with ramps.
Asked what she thought about the city’s plan to put in another 150 ramps per year for four years, Peters said it was “raising a shockingly low number to an embarrassingly low number.” She said she believed the city had prioritized other things over ensuring access for many of its residents and users.
“What do you think that says to a disabled person living in Vancouver?” Peters asked. “Thank you eternally for almost treating me like I matter to you as a leader running my city, the city I live in.”
Micaela Evans, a wheelchair user who lives in Port Moody, said she doesn’t frequent many parts of Vancouver, but said older areas of most towns tended to be worse on wheels than newer areas. Still, she said she felt accessibility remained an afterthought rather than an integral part of design.
Eric Mital, a senior head of engineering with the city’s Streets Design Branch, said all new sidewalks in the city are now built with curb ramps. The 600 that have been prioritized were requested by members of the public, he said.
Peters has been a wheelchair user for over a decade now, so she has experienced the space by foot and by wheel. She said that when she started to use her chair, the Vancouver she knew suddenly transformed.
“I felt like I’d moved to a different city,” she said.
Peters described the place as a constant source of barriers, and most of them human-made. Asked if there were specific locations she could point to that were particularly accessible, she said “everywhere.”
Peters gave as an example the seawall ,”a spot where I tend to say that would be one of the more accessible, and it’s (still) not.” Accessing it around Denman Street near Beach Avenue involves crossing at least two intersections and a bike path, each of which includes its own set of challenges. Peters said she at times has needed to wait several lights to cross due to drivers who have blocked curb ramps with their vehicles. Once in the park, a relatively steep ramp that is not evenly surfaced descends to the path. And once there, wheelchair users will notice it is sloped, making for a tricky travel route.
Even sites that have curb ramps are not as accessible as some may think, Peters said. Some of the curb ramps at Burrard St. and West Georgia St., for example, unsafely exit wheelchair users directly toward the centre of the intersection, rather than into crosswalks, Peters said. There is a similar setup across the street from City Hall at 12th Ave. and Cambie St., she said.
Asked if she could compare Vancouver’s accessibility to other cities, Peters’ motion noted that for several years Calgary and Edmonton had budgeted for 250-350 curb ramp installations per year in intersections that had none.