AS sure as summer brings heat, it brings ripped-up streets, closed-off sidewalks and rows of orange pylons bottlenecking traffic.
Navigating Winnipeg construction season presents challenges for many each year, and for those with mobility issues, those challenges can multiply.
“If we see construction, and it’s not far enough ahead of time, it’s not like we can just jump off the curb and cross the street,” said Rosalie Best, accessibility services co-ordinator at the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities and a wheelchair user.
One improvement should be obvious, said Best: better signage. She wants the City of Winnipeg to mandate clear signage well in advance of any construction that could make passing impossible for people with mobility issues.
But that wouldn’t solve all the issues.
“For people who are blind, like my husband, there’s not really any way to tell until you hit that roadblock, and you’re unfortunately trying to find your way around,” Best said.
Even with a guide dog, getting around these unexpected barriers can cause real difficulty, she said. “It’s rough.”
Allen Mankewich, a wheelchair user who lives downtown, a hot spot for construction, said he’s frustrated he has to deal with this problem every year.
“The city hasn’t really taken any action to resolve this issue.”
He wants construction contracts to include measures to improve accessibility, and wants the city to enforce them. In addition to better signage, that would mean alternate pathways for long-term sidewalk closures, said Mankewich.
“This is a problem that’s easily fixed,” he said. “It just needs to be thought out and considered.”
Both Best and Mankewich said these oversights seem part of an overarching attitude, in which people with disabilities are often left to fend for themselves.
Mankewich said, in the past, he has called the city to report construction that appears to violate the Accessibility Act for Manitobans. The response: call the construction company, he said.
“The city is absolving themselves of any responsibility for monitoring these construction zones,” he said.
A city spokesman said in an email nearly 150 road construction projects are planned in 2021, about 95 per cent of which have been contracted out to successful bidders. The city’s amended budget sets out more than $92 million for these projects. Just under $2.9 million of that amount is set aside to build or maintain pedestrian and bike paths.
For Winnipeg Trails Association executive director Anders Swanson, the city’s dedication to pedestrian and bike paths falls short.
“We won’t settle for anything less than a commitment to having high-quality, family-friendly bicycle facilities included in every road construction project,” he said.
Swanson said construction often pushes cyclists into motor traffic, even where bike lanes exist. Construction projects either extend over the lanes or force cars into them, he said.
Construction companies should set up paths of pylons around their sites cyclists can use as makeshift bike lanes, Swanson said.
Businesses that rely on foot traffic, too, can feel the reverberations of construction season.
Kevin Schmidt, owner of Downtown Family Foods on Donald Street, said he’s worried about what will happen if construction shuts down the sidewalk in front of his store. Construction on Donald Street is scheduled until Oct. 1.
“I don’t know how it’s going to affect how people come in and out of the store, because on the other side it’s completely closed,” he said.
Both east and west sidewalks are expected to close during the road work.
“Hopefully, we don’t see any kind of decline in business because of that,” Schmidt said.