The challenges of getting around certain parts of Salmon Arm via scooter were recently impressed upon me during a tour of some of the city’s trouble areas given by Piccadilly Terrace resident Frank Andrews.
Andrews a mobility scooter user invited Mayor Nancy Cooper and me on the tour in hopes of identifying key issues that affect scooter operators. Andrews already relies on a scooter to help him get around, while Cooper and I had a pair loaned to us by Lakeside Medical.
My scooter was not a Cadillac model – a faint blue colour with a basket on the front and hardly enough power generated by its electric motor to get me up to a walking pace. My companions easily zoomed ahead on their more powerful machines leaving me bringing up the rear.
The scooter’s controls were simple enough; it was steered by handle bars like a bicycle and with a handle-mounted accelerator lever. It braked itself to a stop automatically and quickly when I released the accelerator. I found that the difficulty in getting around on a mobility scooter was not in the controls but in the acute awareness that you are traversing a world that was not designed with you in mind.
Early in our ride, which began at the Piccadilly Terrace retirement home, it came time to cross a street. Andrews and Cooper got across without difficulty, but I reached the crosswalk just as a car was passing through. The driver had plainly not seen me as I was screened by a telephone pole; however, they might have seen a person standing. I consider myself a courteous driver, but the incident made me wonder how many times I had forced someone on a mobility scooter hidden by an obstacle to quickly stop as I went through an intersection.
Andrews pointed out a small but deep pothole in the crosswalk at Fifth Street SW and Fifth Avenue SW.
“If you’re crossing with a stroller or a baby carriage or a walker, any wheeled piece of equipment that can drop in that hole, could cause the whole thing to flip, maybe throw the person into the traffic,” he said.
On our way from Piccadilly Terrace to downtown we encountered some sidewalks whose ramps down to the crosswalks faced out into traffic slightly, forcing scooter users to make a wide turn out into the crosswalk, which motorists may not be expecting.
Andrews said one of these crosswalks, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Third Street SW, causes him extra trouble because of broken and pitted pavement in front of the ramp.
Jennifer Wilson with the City of Salmon Arm’s engineering department said many of the crosswalk let-down ramps in the area around Blackburn Park are designed to an older standard, making them less mobility scooter friendly than those on the sidewalks in newer developments.
She said improvements to the sidewalks can be made as part of capital projects to upgrade the road in the future, but the issue of the let-downs could also be addressed through the maintenance budget.
“I would just like to let council know that each year in our budget we allot $15,000 to $16,000 for access awareness improvements, so we do change out those approaches and letdowns where needed, but it does’t go very far unfortunately,” said City of Salmon Arm Director of Engineering Rob Niewenhuizen in a presentation to city council.
As we neared downtown, Andrews pointed out that the signage and walk light button to cross the highway at Shuswap Street are placed on the pole in such a way that he has to either get out of his scooter or reach around the pole to press the button.
Once we were across the highway and into downtown, poorly-placed telephone poles and sandwich boards made getting around some areas of the sidewalks difficult.
“Just about every spot in Salmon Arm, it’s either people have signs parked on the sidewalks or there’s construction. I’ll tell ya it makes it a hell of thing to try to get around it,” said Bruce Jones, a fellow mobility scooter user who we encountered downtown.
An issue I had noticed even on foot is vehicles in the stalls at the Askew’s parking lot nearest to the sidewalk. Vehicles sometimes park so they protrude into the sidewalk, making it difficult for someone on a wide scooter who doesn’t have the option of stepping down onto the road. Andrews noted that trucks with large trailer hitches attached sometimes also make getting around parking lots more difficult for him.
Andrews gave special praise to Shuswap Clothing and Shoe, one of the businesses downtown which makes wheelchair and scooter access easier with a ramp.
Andrews said constant attention is required by mobility scooter users traversing the world around them, and not enough is done to educate both scooter riders and those around them about the hazards they have to deal with.
“When a person buys one of these in a medical supply place they can take a machine and go out on the sidewalk with no operational skills whatsoever, whereas if they had just a small road test, a little information, it would make things a lot safer, make people more aware of what’s going on.”