Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities
AODA Alliance Video Depicting New Toronto Sidewalk that is Dangerous for Pedestrians with Disabilities Stirs Up Great Media Coverage – City of Toronto Doubles Down with Inaccurate and Misleading Claims
November 22, 2023
This week, the AODA Alliance made public a video that shows a new Toronto sidewalk with a bike path on it, which endangers pedestrians with disabilities and others. Our captioned video has gotten an amazing response, including over 4,000 views in just two days. It spawned supportive media coverage on CBC TV, Radio Canada, CTV, City TV, CFRB Radio, the Toronto Star, and CBC Radio’s flagship Metro morning program. Below we set out the November 21, 2023 reports in the Toronto Star and on CBC News.
We have gotten a copy of the City of Toronto’s public response to this video. We set it out below.
The City of Toronto’s official response to the widely viewed AODA Alliance video is extremely disturbing. It did not admit that they’ve created a dangerous new disability barrier that they need to fix before someone gets hurt. It did not offer to fix this dangerous mess. The City instead has doubled down on its blunder. It includes statements that are misleading or inaccurate.
- The City claims that there is a cane-detectable marker between the bike path and the pedestrian area on this sidewalk. This is simply untrue. We respectfully suggest that a blind person like AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, who has travelled independently using his white cane for almost five decades, is better able to determine this than some City of Toronto bureaucrats.
- The City in substance suggests it is meeting or exceeding the AODA design standards. This is a meaningless statement. Regulations enacted to date under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act do not set any requirements for the design of bike paths. We wish they had. Making this misleading claim even worse, the City has not responded to the contention in this AODA Alliance video that the bike lane violates the rights of blind pedestrians guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code. Section 3 of the AODA provides:
- Nothing in this Act or in the regulations diminishes in any way the legal obligations of the Government of Ontario or of any person or organization with respect to persons with disabilities that are imposed under any other Act or otherwise imposed by law.
- The City claims it is improving the accessibility and consistency of our streets, bikeways and sidewalks. Yet to the contrary, the City has been made less accessible by building a new bike path situated on a sidewalk, which endangers both blind and sighted pedestrians.
- The City says it has an Accessibility Design Guideline. If those guidelines permitted this new sidewalk to be built, they are obviously inadequate and conflict with the fundamental rights of people with disabilities as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and the Ontario Human Rights Code.
- The City claims it aims to enhance the safety of all road users, in addition to people with disabilities, by separating people cycling from road traffic and ensuring that pedestrians are safe on sidewalks. Yet the AODA Alliance video conclusively shows that both blind and sighted pedestrians are not separated from bikes nor are they safe on the north-side sidewalk on Eglington Avenue West running east from Avenue Road.
- The City says that this sidewalk design is used elsewhere in the City. This means that the dangers that the AODA Alliance video depicts are not limited to one midtown city block. The need for immediate corrective action is all the more pressing.
- The City says this sidewalk design has been used in other jurisdictions. Yet two wrongs don’t make a right. Just because some other jurisdictions have chosen a design that endangers vulnerable blind pedestrians, that does not justify Toronto inflicting the same thing on people with disabilities.
- In its public statements, the City has publicly said that cyclists on the road are prone to suffer greater injuries caused by cars on the road. In effect it has argued that pedestrians on a sidewalk tend to have less severe injuries if hit by a cyclist. That reveals that the City has consciously decided to trade off and deprioritize the safety of vulnerable blind pedestrians. The City should not pick and choose who among these groups should be protected at the expense of the other. The City can and should design and build bike paths that protect the safety of both cyclists and pedestrians. The designs that the City has embraced for sidewalks do not do this. What the City has done treats people with disabilities as second-class citizens.
- The City’s public responses to this issue appear to concede that they now prefer a different sidewalk/bike path design than that depicted in the AODA Alliance video. We do not here comment on the sufficiency of that alternative design. However, this essentially concedes that there are problems with the design that is the focus of the AODA Alliance video. There can be no excuse for the city building a new sidewalk this way.
Please encourage others to watch this video! If you live in or near the City of Toronto, write Mayor Chow and members of Toronto City Council. Tell them not to use public money to create new disability barriers that make Toronto even less accessible to people with disabilities. Press them to retrofit any sidewalks that have a bike path on them so that the bike path is at street level, not sidewalk level. Tell them it is wrong for Toronto to treat any pedestrians with disabilities as second class.
Toronto Star November 21, 2023
Lawyer calls Eglinton bike lane ‘illegal’
Disability rights advocate says design not pedestrian friendly
Francine Kopun Senior Writer
A bike lane embedded in a sidewalk along Eglinton Avenue West is so poorly designed, it’s actually illegal, claims disability rights advocate David Lepofsky.
“Who designed this? Who approved this?” says Lepofsky, who is blind, in a video that shows him attempting and failing to safely navigate the sidewalk with a white cane – he keeps straying onto the bike path.
“If they had bothered to think about it, it would be instantly obvious that this is dangerous to people with disabilities.”
Lepofsky, a retired lawyer who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, says the problem is that there are no clear, obvious, tactile differences that can easily be detected by a cane, between the sidewalk and the bike path.
Lepofsky also spearheaded the campaign to win passage of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005, which commits the province to becoming accessible by 2025. The act includes provisions for getting rid of old barriers and not creating new ones, says Lepofsky.
He says that makes the new bike path illegal under the AODA, the Charter of Human Rights and the Ontario Human Rights Code.
He says the lack of differentiation on the sidewalk may also prove dangerous for pedestrians who are distracted because there isn’t enough to signal that they’ve wandered onto a bike path.
The city says the new bike lane is in compliance with AODA legislation.
Becky Katz, manager, pedestrian and cycling projects, transportation services, City of Toronto, said bikeways at the same level as sidewalks include a textured surface between the sidewalk and the raised cycle track and is meant to be detectable underfoot or by a long white cane.
“Toronto followed universal standards in the construction of tactile pavers to provide consistent indicators to persons with low or no vision,” said Katz.
However, Katz acknowledged that “many site visit participants” preferred a beveled curb between a bikeway and sidewalk, and beveled curbs have become the city’s default design for raised bikeways, “as the preference is for a change in elevation between the bikeway and sidewalk.”
She said the beveled curb was recently used in projects along Murray Ross Parkway and College Street, and is expected to be used more often in future, including the upgrades to the cycle tracks on Bloor Street West, between Avenue Road and Spadina Avenue.
“It is not reliably cane-detectable, and I have decades of experience,” said Lepofsky.
He said the city’s response suggests that the bike path is “compliant” with AODA, when, in fact, it’s not.
“The AODA public spaces standards set absolutely no requirements for bike paths, we regret,” said Lepofsky. “We need them to be revised to set safe bike path standards that honour accessibility for people with disabilities like me.”
David Lepofsky shows how the lack of clear tactile differences make the new bike lane along Eglinton Avenue West dangerous. youtube
CBC News November 21, 2023
Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/blind-advocates-toronto-bike-lanes-1.7034433
Blind advocates say a bike lane design on this Toronto street spells danger
City says putting pedestrians, cyclists on the same level not the ‘preferred design’
Clara Pasieka CBC News
Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance David Lepofsky says he was shocked to learn from a sighted friend that he was about to wander into a bike lane he could not detect on his own because it was at the same level as the sidewalk. (Paul Smith/CBC)
David Lepofsky was shocked to learn he was about to cross from the sidewalk into a bike path during a walk with a friend earlier this month — something he only learned because his sighted friend pointed it out.
A section of bike lane on Eglinton Avenue, beginning east of Avenue Road, is at the same grade as the sidewalk.
“I was shocked,” said Lepofsky, who has been completely blind for decades and uses a white cane to navigate the streets of Toronto.
“Then I was disgusted … how on Earth did they do this with such callous disregard for the safety of blind pedestrians?”
bike lane Eglinton
A bike lane on Eglinton Avenue puts bikes at the same level as pedestrians, something blind advocates say is a major concern. (Paul Smith/CBC)
He says his friend told him there was a line of dark stone pavement seemingly indicating the transition to the bike lane.
The surface of the bike lane and the sidewalk were different colours from each other — something that’s irrelevant to people like Lepofsky, who use a cane to feel out the difference in the ground’s texture to get around.
“The texture of the ground of sidewalks in Toronto changes from one metre to the next,” said Lepofsky. “There’s no reliable pattern. You can’t depend on it.”
He says even if a change in texture is detected, it doesn’t tell people unfamiliar with this marking that it’s a path for cyclists.
Lepofsky is calling on the city to make changes to this bike lane immediately, placing it lower than the sidewalk for the safety of all blind pedestrians and cyclists who shouldn’t have to worry about hitting pedestrians or their canes.
Bike lane design differs from what was recommended
The City of Toronto told CBC Toronto in an interview it held “accessibility site visits” throughout the city that included people with disabilities and found the type of dark pavers used were detectable by participants.
However, these accessibility visits, among other factors, resulted in a bike lane design different from the one put in place on this section of Eglinton Avenue.
City committee endorses staff recommendation to make Yonge Street bike lanes permanent
“Our preferred design today is to have the street and then the bikeway to be 50 millimetres above the streets, and then the bikeway to be 50 millimetres below the sidewalk… so everybody’s raised,” said Becky Katz, manager of cycling and pedestrian projects for the City of Toronto.
In the case of the section of Eglinton described by Lepofsky, she said the street was designed at the same time as the Eglinton Crosstown project — a design over 10 years old. However, she said the bike lane was completed recently.
She says there are several instances throughout the city that use the design of concern to Lepofsky, and more are still occasionally constructed using this design.
‘Scares the living daylights out of me’, disability advocate
Marcia Yale, National President of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, who relies on a guide dog to navigate, said having bikes at sidewalk level “scares the living daylights out of me.”
In this case, she said the city’s handling of bike lane designs endangers both cycling and pedestrian road users if a blind person wanders into the bike lane because they cannot feel or otherwise detect they are no longer on the sidewalk.
“It’s like saying we know that seatbelts are really good for you and just deciding not to put them in a car,” said Yale. “Why would you use an old design, if you know that there are newer ones?”
Marcia Yale, the National President of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, says continuing to build outdated designs that don’t protect road users with disabilities is problematic. (Submitted by: Marica Yale)
Yale, a longtime Toronto resident who now lives outside of the city, says choices like this erode the confidence of people with limited to no vision when it comes to navigating the city.
“It doesn’t encourage me to wander on my own, that’s for sure … I don’t want to be run into by a bike,” she said.
Opportunity to prevent future issues: professor
Ron Buliung, a professor in the department of geography, geomatics and environment at the University of Toronto Mississauga, says sometimes a design element can get trapped in a bureaucratic cycle.
He says this issue is an opportunity for the city to consider if another review of bike lane plans should take place before shovels hit the ground elsewhere.
David Lepofsky says he doesn’t want to see bike lanes on the same level as sidewalks, calling on the city to fix the issue on Eglinton Avenue and anywhere else it has taken place. (Paul Smith/CBC)
“These kinds of design gaffes are very serious … there’s a genuine safety risk posed to users of the space,” he said.
“The solution is not rocket science … a grade separation or a short curb put in place.”
Katz says the city is “always trying to evolve our design and make streets safer and more accessible for all,” and welcomes the feedback from those with disabilities who experience the environment differently.
Lepofsky says while he wants to see more bike lanes, this design can’t stay.
“They’ve got to remove it … we deserve better.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Clara Pasieka is a CBC journalist in Toronto. She has also worked in CBC’s national bureau and as a reporter in the Northwest Territories, Ontario and New Brunswick. Her investigative work following the Nova Scotia Mass Shooting was a finalist for a CAJ Award. She holds a Masters degree in Public Policy, Law and Public Administration from York University.
November 20, 2023 Statement by the City of Toronto, Which the AODA Alliance Has Gotten Its Hands On
Toronto’s streets are vital places that should be designed to improve safety and accessibility for all ages and abilities. The City works with consultants,
specialists, advocates and people with disabilities to receive feedback on transportation projects and programs and to ensure they meet the standards for accessible design.
We recognize that each individual experiences the road uniquely and are dedicated to creating a barrier free city in compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). By meeting or exceeding the AODA design standards, the City is improving the accessibility and consistency of our streets, bikeways and sidewalks.
In addition, the City has an Accessibility Design Guidelines reference applied to all City infrastructure and conducts annual accessibility site visits with people with disability to identify areas for improvement and to improved design standards for future projects.
The City aims to enhance the safety of all road users, in addition to people with disabilities, by separating people cycling from road traffic and ensuring that pedestrians are safe on sidewalks. Most traffic collisions that result with fatalities or serious injuries are a result of interactions involving a person operating a motor vehicle. Bikeways at the same level as sidewalks, such as the bikeway on the north side of Eglinton Avenue West east of Avenue Road, have shown to increase road safety by reducing such conflicts. This design is being used elsewhere in the city and in other jurisdictions.
In compliance with AODA legislation, bikeways at the same level as the sidewalk include a tactile paver strip, a textured surface that delineates the sidewalk from the raised cycle track and intended to be detectable underfoot when walking or by a long white cane. Toronto followed universal standards in the construction of tactile pavers to provide consistent indicators to persons with low or no vision.
While many of the site visit participants stated that the pavers were detectable under foot and by cane, the overall preferred detection between a bikeway and sidewalk is the beveled curb. The beveled curb is now the City’s default design for raised bikeways, as the preference is for a change in elevation between the bikeway and sidewalk. This curb is similar to a traditional six-inch curb, features a slight slope that is detectable by cane and provides safe and easy access for people with disabilities, especially those who may require “shorelining.” The beveled curb exists in recent bikeway projects in Toronto along Murray Ross Parkway and College Street and is expected to be used more frequently in the future, such as in the upgrades to the cycle tracks on Bloor Street West between Avenue Road and Spadina Avenue.
Design standards evolve time and the City is dedicated to the ongoing refinement of Toronto’s public spaces by making adjustments whenever possible. The City will continue to engage with the disability community to ensure that all future designs align with their needs and safety expectations.