It could take anywhere from dozens to hundreds of years to fix all of the Vancouver curbs that remain impassable to people who use wheelchairs, according to city documents obtained by CTV News.
Despite a promised $1 million in 2019 to replace upwards of 150 corners with sudden drops to slopes, thousands remain, each of them an insurmountable barrier to many people with disabilities.
“It’s frustrating,” said Kerry Gibson, the CEO of EcoCentury Technologies who has used a wheelchair since she was injured in a crash when she was in her 20s.
“In most cases you have to backtrack. You lose time. It might as well be a wall,” she said.
And that’s when she’s prepared. At night a surprise curb can send her flying, she said.
“I’d flip backwards and hit my head and be stunned, hoping that someone would help me out while I’m shaking the stars from my eyes,” she said.
A city document from 2013 estimated that there are some 27,000 corners in the city. Nineteen thousand have been done over the past 60 years, but there are about 8,000 corners left over.
With $200,000 a year budgeted for curb ramps, and a budget of $8000 per ramp, the city could fix 25 curbs each year. At that rate, it would take 320 years to finish them all, the document said.
“I’m quite speechless when you told me that stat,” said Jane Dyson, the retired director of Disability Alliance B.C. “That is not good enough. Not even close.”
The city should consider every policy on this with a final date in mind that city streets will be accessible, she said.
In August, TransLink funded 140 curb ramps close to transit routes. The city also upgrades curbs near reconstruction projects, and the city asks developers to upgrade curbs near major construction, which has resulted in as many as 100 more curb ramps each year.
The city also responds to complaints – though in February there was a backlog of 600 requests to fix those curbs, city documents say, with a wait time of several years.
Since 2015, the city has put $325,000 to make around 50 ramps per year, and with the other methods, city documents say it now upgrades around 100-200 a year.
The city’s most recent budget and capital plan allocates $1 million in 2019 for curb ramps.
“It should be a priority to speed it up,” said Christine Boyle, a Vancouver City Councillor with OneCity. She said it’s important for people with disabilities, but also for other groups like parents with strollers, for whom a high curb can be a problem.
“It’s certainly a commitment of OneCity’s to support moving that strategy forward,” she said.
Melissa de Genova, a city councillor with the NPA, said she didn’t like hearing stories about people who were going blocks out of their way before finding an accessible crossing.
“I was happy to see money in the budget for that. We definitely need to do what we can to make the city accessible,” she said.
But even at 100-200 curbs per year, it could take 40-80 years to upgrade all the curbs that are left in the city.
“In 80 years I’ll be dead,” said Gibson with a laugh. “You have to laugh. It’s a coping mechanism.”
“Any increase is obviously welcome. But – another 20 years to navigate your own neighbourhood. We need to move beyond that attitude,” she said.