Residents with disabilities take to the street to oppose sidewalks
LONDON, ONT. -- Residents of St. Anthony Road are challenging city hall’s assertion that installing sidewalks would make their street more accessible.
Dozens of homeowners in the west London neighbourhood took to the street this afternoon to oppose city hall’s plan to install sidewalks.
The group includes several people using wheelchairs and walkers.
"There’s an automatic assumption that sidewalks mean safety and accessibility,” explains Dr. Susan Mahipaul near her St Anthony Road home. “We have people with acquired disabilities, people like me born with our disabilities, and people who are aging in place. They have very different needs.”
Another neighbour, Susan Skelton, says her challenges would not be improved by a sidewalk in front of her St Anthony Road home.
“Sidewalks can be uneven, built with a slope, icy and inaccessible in the winter. They do not provide accessibility for people with mobility challenges,” adds Skelton.
On Tuesday, city council will decide if it will grant exemptions to any of the 11 residential streets where road reconstruction will include the installation of sidewalks this summer.
Almost all of the streets are mounting campaigns and petitions against sidewalks.
On March 15, the Civic Works Committee was told by city hall’s Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC) that not installing sidewalks prevents people with certain disabilities from living on that street in the future.
“I’m not saying everyone who doesn’t want a sidewalk on their street is ableist,” explained AAC Chair Jay Menard to the committee. “But it is reflective of our societal beliefs that have enable the establishment and maintenance of barriers.”
The London Plan, though under appeal, requires that all streets under reconstruction receive at minimum a sidewalk along one side.
But Dr. Mahipaul says policies have to take into account the needs of various levels of ability.
She says some people will be less mobile on sidewalks, than on the road.
“A disability policy, if it’s very broad, can unintentionally exclude or actually disable people,” she asserts.
The residential streets poised to receive sidewalks are:
• Abbey Rise (plus Scarlett connection to Wychwood)
• Bartlett Crescent
• Elm Street
• Friars Way
• Imperial Road
• Paymaster Avenue
• St. Anthony Road
• Tarbart Terrace
• Doncaster Place
• Culver Place
• East Afton Place
Last year, council exempted three streets from sidewalks to preserve mature boulevard trees, they opened the door to the tidal wave of resistance this year.
“They can make an exemption for certain streets, so I hope they understand this (St. Anthony) is a unique street,” says Skelton.
Councillor Steve Lehman, who represents the neighbourhood, says his council colleagues need to consider the lived-experience of residents.
“Different streets have different needs, and we have to listen to the voice of residents, especially those who have challenges getting around,” Lehman says.