Wednesday afternoon was full of ups and downs for Penticton Mayor Garry Litke.
Litke got a very small taste of life on the streets of Penticton in a wheelchair, complete with all the bumps and jars the disabled have to take as they navigate the streets and sidewalks of the city.
The tour guide was Doug Pichette, who loaned Litke his power chair to experience the problems firsthand.
“You see the world from a completely different angle,” said Litke, adding that one of the most telling moments was when another man in a wheelchair passed him on the same crosswalk he was trying to navigate, one with an extra island marking out a turning lane.
“I watched him completely skirt around the entire island. He went right into the driving lane rather than try to cross that island.”
“It hurts too much to go over, it’s a rough ride,” said Don Sismey, who also asked why there was a sidewalk hump in the island, rather than being cut down to pavement level.
“It’s elevated up about four inches. What’s the matter with taking that right out of there? Leave the island, but make it smooth across,” said Pichette.
Litke said it was a whole different experience travelling by wheelchair, especially using the sidewalk let-downs that are supposed to create greater accessibility.
“It’s pretty rough and it’s a little intimidating, because when you look at the height of the lip you have to climb, you kind of wonder whether you are going to make it or the chair is going to tip over, something like that,” he said.
He thinks the problem appears to be in the original design of the let-downs.
“Whoever designed them did not account for even the width of a wheelchair, so first of all they are not wide enough. Secondly, they are not very well marked, so they need to have some wide yellow stripes guiding users into those ramps and thirdly, they don’t line up with crosswalks,” said Litke.
The mayor got a look at a variety of problems including let-downs with utility poles in the middle and sidewalks where roots have lifted the pavement and remediation efforts haven’t helped.
“There is one that is real bad down there, and again it is from the trees, the roots lifting the sidewalk up there; there is a jump,” said Litke, noting that the lifted edges had been ground off and asphalt applied.
“Along Power, two sections of concrete have lifted up and effectively created a ramp for the wheelchair to go flying over,” said Litke. “The current practice is they go grind down the edge, which takes away the sharp edge, but it doesn’t address the problem of the slope.”
“All that is a very poor temporary fix. What they have done with the concrete, instead of it coming out square, you have a two-inch lip,” said Pichette.
Litke said the city needs to consider using other materials than concrete when planning future sidewalks, materials like the surface used on the Okanagan lakeshore walkway. But as much as he has seen the problems, change comes slowly.
“Where there can be some remedial action taken for low cost, that can be our first step,” said Litke, who plans to look at the let-downs with city staff.
“I need to collect a bit more information from our engineering staff, but definitely, the way they are currently constructed is just not sensible from the user’s point of view.”