Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Lancaster wheelchair users blocked by high kerbs, Councillor finds

Mary Kinane
blocked at the kerb
Local Green City Councillor Jon Barry and Disability Activist Mary Kinane have begun a series of walkabouts in Lancaster to help highlight the plight of wheelchair users who are facing daily challenges getting around Lancaster’s pavements.

The first of these walks went from Lancaster train station, at West Road, down to the Marsh Community Centre on Willow Lane.  Jon Barry explained: “The problems started almost immediately. There are few properly dropped kerbs on the left side of West Road at key “radius” points.  We had to meander almost halfway back along Fairfield Road, just to cross over it,  before we found a level enough drop to the road from the pavement.  We then had to double back to re-join West Road and continue our walk to Willow Lane.”

The route to Willow Lane continued to be quite challenging, with stretches of old and broken paving, much of which hasn’t been repaired or replaced for many years.

City Councillor Barry said, “I found the walk to be educational and eye-opening.  As a cycle network user, I take for granted the joined up nature of most routes. But for Mary, who uses a mid-wheel drive outdoor electric wheelchair, the obstacles were frequent and numerous.”

Mary added: “We kept coming up against barriers to getting to our destination quickly or easily, despite the fact that the wheelchair I use is designed for outdoor use.”

Jon added: “Wheelchair users are being blocked at many points of assumed access on both the cycle routes and on many of the main pavement routes around the city.  We decided to begin this trial from the rail station, as this is a busy route in the centre of town.  I was astonished to find that Mary was prevented from accessing the short-cuts which cyclists, and many pedestrians, take for granted – for instance, coming up against footpath drops that, in places, were almost a foot high.”

Similarly, other groups affected by poor pavements and a lack of dropped kerbs include: mobility scooter users, parents with buggies & prams and people who use rollator-walkers.

Mary is part of Kerbs4All, a campaign for improved pavements, kerb drops and joined up routes for people living with mobility and/or sensory impairment. She explained: “This is not the first time issues of poor access have been brought up by me or other people with disabilities.  Some of us have been campaigning for many years, sitting on national committees, with charities whose funding has since been cut; writing to county councillors with varying degrees of response ranging from none at all to quite positive.

"However, even when we get the attention of the authority which can make a difference, issues are too often addressed in a piecemeal fashion, if at all.  Many parts of the city and suburbs remain inaccessible to people like me because local authorities, local businesses and other service providers are not meeting the requirements of the Equality Act 2010”.

The issue of bad access along poorly maintained pavements, as well as poor accessible public transport in many of Lancaster’s suburbs, demonstrate how people with disabilities are often, literally, trapped at home and isolated when they could and should be able to access their communities and manage their lives more independently.

Mary added, "Lancaster is a vibrant city and we are coming up to a busy time with a number of festivals in October and November which promise access to a range of arts and music experiences for all.  While the Square Routes initiative made some improvement by clearing the cobbles that made the pedestrian precinct impassible for many, we still have some way to go to make routes and events accessible to people with physical and sensory disabilities.  Our aim is to expand the campaign into other areas such as tourism, arts and community venues.

"Places4All will focus on encouraging local providers to look at what they can do to improve access, rather than focussing on what they can’t do”.

Meanwhile, Cllr Barry will be reporting the need for dropped kerbs between the railway station and the Marsh Community Centre to the County Council’s Highways Department.

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