City council votes to improve accessibility issues around Calgary pop-up patios

Although pop-up patios have been a popular pandemic choice for Calgarians, there are concerns the barricades are creating barriers for those with vision loss or who use a mobility device.

An urgent notice of motion from Ward 7 councillor Druh Farrell asked for accessibility improvements around the pop-up patios and the adjacent sidewalk detours.

“What isn’t working is the implementation,” Farrell told Global News. “It’s been very awkward and not accessible for people with disabilities.”

Farrell’s notice of motion outlined changes to space between the ramps to the sidewalk and the barricades, more stable ramps, and appropriate indicators and routing for those with vision loss.

City council voted unanimously to move forward with the changes on Tuesday.

As a response to COVID-19 health measures that limited capacity and prohibited indoor dining at restaurants and bars, the City of Calgary waived permit fees for establishments interested in setting up pop-up patios.

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Read more: Indoor dining ban spurs jump in temporary patio applications in Calgary

Most of the expanded patios extend into parking lots or onto sidewalks, which required city officials to set up detours for pedestrian traffic onto the street around them.

“Sometimes they’re set up in scenarios that aren’t safe for persons with disabilities, or they put us in danger,” said Darby Lee Young, principal accessibility strategist with Level Playing Field.

Young uses a motorized scooter to get around, and said the placement of the ramps at many of the pop-up patio detours are unsafe with little room to navigate onto the ramp on and off the sidewalks.

She said some of the detours, including one on 16 Avenue S.W., have been set up in accessible parking zones.

“I love the pop-up patios,” Young said. “I’d rather sit outside, so I love it when we can actually do this, but in these scenarios where we have fencing right up against these ramps, it becomes dangerous.”

The most popular places for pop-up patios in the city include 17 Avenue S.W. and Kensington, an area that has already made changes to the detours around the patios.

The head of the Kensington Business Improvement Area flagged down a few workers in the city’s roads department who happened to be in the area to outline the concerns they had heard.

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“Correcting this problem was certainly top of mind as soon as we realized there was an issue,” Annie MacInnis with the Kensington BIA said.

In response, the wooden ramps in the area were replaced with asphalt ramps with more rounded edges, and the barricades were moved to create more room.

An asphalt ramp in Kensington used to replace the original wooden ramps on the pop-up patio detours. Tom Reynolds / Global News

“We want to be inclusive, we want anyone to feel they’re welcome to come to Kensington regardless of mobility or sight issues,” MacInnis said.

Read more: Quadriplegic living in Calgary wins award for making spaces more accessible

Farrell said she is hoping for a more permanent solution, as she wants pop-up patios to return each summer.

According to the city, there are 195 pop-up patios in place across Calgary with another 25 waiting for permits.

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“They look like detours. The orange barricades aren’t particularly attractive. Frankly, they’re unsightly, and pop-up patios should be beautiful,” Farrell said. “I really want to give kudos to city staff who’ve been able to implement these so quickly, but learn from what we didn’t do right.”

According to city officials, there have been six complaints about accessibility at pop-up patios sent through 311.

City officials added that crews have been looking at alternatives like parking restrictions, and new ramps. Councillors heard some of that replacement work is already underway.

Farrell’s motion also asked for a broader approach to accessibility in the city, including crossing standards and signal operations, the removal of pathway maze gates and bollards, as well as the removal of obstacles like utility poles, light standards, signposts, ParkPlus machines and sandwich boards from the middle of sidewalks.

The motion also calls for annual reports on progress and priorities for accessibility across the city.

“We need to do better,” Farrell said. “Accessibility should not be seen as optional.”

Young said she is advocating for more changes to improve accessibility, including with building codes during renovations to downtown buildings.

“Accessibility is just not thought of, or it’s an afterthought… instead of actually being thought of when we look at spaces for everyone,” Young said.

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