Painful Truth: Ramps don’t work in Willoughby

The Township of Langley really doesn’t know how to develop in ways that don’t inconvenience, isolate, and frustrate people with physical disabilities.

That’s not to say that new developments aren’t intended to be wheelchair friendly. They are. There are quotas set aside in every new condo complex for some units to be made more accessible, or able to be modified to be accessible. New condo parking often features nice, wide handicapped parking spots.

But, in practice, the way new neighbourhoods are developed creates barriers that are invisible to the able bodied but often insurmountable to wheelchair, scooter, or walker users.

Let’s take a look at crosswalks.

I live in, and actually like, Willoughby. Go back twenty years and Willoughby had more livestock than people; now it has more than 26,000 people, with a few hundred more arriving every few months.

This means that Willoughby is a patchwork, a messy one. Compared to a settled neighbourhood that developed years ago like Brookswood or Fort Langley, it looks chaotic.

Part of that is the way Langley Township chooses to build new infrastructure.

They have chosen the thriftiest of several routes available: make the developers do it all.

This is why Willoughby looks weird. It’s why the roads go from four lanes to three to two and back to four. It’s why there are street lights and sidewalks and artfully sculpted street trees, and then an abrupt transition to a 30-year-old cracked and rutted asphalt path, drainage ditches, and vacant lots.

But even if a developer has finished, say, 80 per cent of the houses on a lot, they aren’t considered done. They don’t have to finish up all of that infrastructure they’re building. Not quite.

This is why you can have a beautiful, smooth wheelchair ramp, that ends an inch or two above the road surface, leaving anyone who actually needs it a short, sharp, jarring drop.

And that’s getting down. Imagine trying to get back up this little step. If your motorized wheelchair can’t manage it, or your muscles can’t shove mightily enough, you’re stuck in the crosswalk. Maybe you can get into a bike lane or onto a shoulder (watch out for the broken glass, gravel, bits of construction lumber, etc.) and try your luck at the next ramp. Maybe it actually meets the road. Maybe not.

These useless wheelchair ramps are proliferating because the Township allows developers to put off the last paving of streets in front of their projects until the entire development is done. Roads are sandwiches of different layers of asphalt. Until the last layer is put down, the road doesn’t meet up with the wheelchair ramps.

And guess what? Some of those developments are one five, 10, or 15 year schedules. The last condos, townhouses, or homes won’t be finished until well into the next decade. So the wheelchair ramps? Totally useless. White elephants.

More and more seniors are moving to Willoughby, not to mention the residents with disabilities who already live there. We’re finally getting bus stops on 208th Street, and transit can allow a lot of people the ability to move around our community with greater freedom.

But that won’t help if they can’t get to the actual bus stop in the first place!

The Township needs to actually pay attention to what its development policies mean in practical terms. They mean a lack of access, and they mean that no one at the Township has bothered to notice this problem, which has now been going on for several years.


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