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City urged to think about people with disabilities in CurbTO plan to create space on sidewalks

'Accessibility doesn't happen by accident,' says disability rights advocate David Lepofsky

An advocate is urging the City of Toronto to make sure its plan to ease sidewalk crowding takes into consideration the needs of people with disabilities amid COVID-19.

David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said the new CurbTO program, in which the city will make room for pedestrians and delivery drivers through the creation of "curb lane pedestrian zones" and "temporary parking pickup zones," is a good one. The alliance is a consumer advocacy group.

Through the program, the city is aiming to enable people on city sidewalks and drivers picking up and dropping goods off to engage in physical distancing to slow the spread of the virus.

But the program will actually make things worse for people with disabilities if city planners fail to think about accessibility for all people, Lepofsky told CBC Toronto on Sunday.

"The real question that I would ask is: What are they doing to ensure that, in altering this part of the built environment, that the alteration will increase and not decrease accessibility?

"In other words, the idea of creating more space for social distancing is obviously important and good. And the fact that they are looking at that is, regardless of disability, good."

City to create more space for pedestrians, delivery drivers at hot spots amid pandemic

"If they don't plan for its accessibility, they will likely screw up its accessibility. That's what we find over and over. Accessibility doesn't happen by accident. Inaccessibility happens by accident."

City to make room at 'hot spots' or 'pinch points'

Under the program, the city will make room at "hot spots" or "pinch points" where it is challenging for people to practise physical distancing because of lineups or congestion outside essential businesses.

These areas include sidewalks outside grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and community agencies that offer pickup, takeout and delivery services, the city has said.

Customers line up outside Sanagan's Meat Locker, a butcher shop in Toronto's Kensington Market, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

The city said it will initially target hotspots along 10 busy retail main streets for curb lane installations before the program is expanded to more than 100 locations across Toronto.

Lepofsky said the program raises several issues around accessibility.

For example, if people in a lineup outside a drug store are rerouted onto a curb lane, then it would be difficult for a person using a mobility device, such as wheelchair, scooter or walker, to enter that fenced-off lineup because it would involve stepping down onto the road.

"If they build accessibility in by making sure that the route has level access to get down into the street and so on, that could be an improvement," he said.

And if, as an additional example, the city sets up a sign outside a drug store indicating where pedestrians should line up, that sign itself could become an obstacle for people who are blind or who have vision loss.

"What kind of prompting will there be to let me know where to go to line up? If they stick a sign on the road or on the sidewalk, which they might want to do, they have now created a new obstacle I could whack into," he said.

"What are they are going to do to plan for safe navigation?"

Mayor John Tory told reporters at a recent daily news briefing that staff will use signs and barriers to create additional space. 'Each location will have unique conditions that will be assessed carefully by Toronto Public Health and Transportation Services staff to develop the most appropriate solution.' (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

In its April 27 news release in which it unveiled the program, the city did not address these concerns. The city has yet to respond to questions posed by CBC Toronto.

Signs, barriers to create additional space, mayor says

Mayor John Tory told reporters at a recent daily news briefing that staff will use signs and barriers to create additional space.

"Each location will have unique conditions that will be assessed carefully by Toronto Public Health and Transportation Services staff to develop the most appropriate solution," Tory said.

"In some cases, city staff may be able to suggest line-up configurations to the business operator that alleviates crowding concerns. In other cases, a temporary curb lane closure may be the most effective response."

"Curb lane pedestrian zones" are defined as areas in which pedestrians trying to move past lineups outside essential businesses will have more space.

"Temporary parking pick-up zones" are defined as areas in which drivers delivering food and medicine will be allowed to park for up to 10 minutes near an essential business where they are picking up or dropping off goods.

These zones could be created in areas that are now restricted parking zones.

Physical distancing difficult downtown, councillor says

A downtown councillor, meanwhile, has enlisted the support of residents to propose locations that the city could fix when it expands the program.

Coun. Joe Cressy, who represents Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York, said he is recommending 18 new additional spaces in his ward for "immediate improvements" under the CurbTO program where room could be created to allow people to distance physically during the outbreak.

"Notwithstanding the overarching advice to, where possible, stay at home, we know that in many neighbourhoods, especially in downtown Toronto, there are immediate spaces where it's not possible to walk on the sidewalk without coming into contact with lots of people," Cressy said.

His office has worked with local residents, community organizations, businesses and institutions to identify where there are issues around crowding, he said.

"We know that in this dense, crowded city of ours, the overarching message to stay at home works for some, but depending on how busy and crowded the sidewalks are, it doesn't work for everyone, and that's why we're proposing these changes."

Cressy said to make streets safe and accessible for all requires a "fundamental" redesign of city streets.

He said of CurbTO: "We need to include an accessibility focus around that."

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